Neon sign restored 30 years after demolition of iconic Tee Pee restaurant

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (WTHR) – Inside a garage in Carmel, nostalgia hangs from a sign that reads “DINNERS,” shining brightly in neon yellow light above a 1951 Studebaker Champion convertible. The sign is back on for the first time in more than 30 years.

"Neon, it will always be here. You'll never get rid of neon," said Rick Sebanc, owner of Neon Signs Inc.

In a little shop on Gasoline Alley in Indianapolis, Sebanc’s business remains one of the few places still making and repairing neon signs in an industry taken over by LED lights.

"When you drive down a street and you see a neon sign, you always look,” Sebanc said. “If you drive down there every day, you always look."

Sebanc spent the past few months restoring the 8-foot-long “DINNERS” sign rescued from demolition by Dave Arland.

"I can't believe I had this icon for 30 years kind of gathering dust in the basement,” Arland said. “But now it's going to go in a place of honor. To me, it's a real important part of Indianapolis history."

The sign originally hung from the Tee Pee Restaurant at the northwest corner of 38th Street and Fall Creek Parkway. City records indicate the drive-in likely opened in 1932 and eventually had three locations in town featuring the famous Big Chief sandwich and at your car window service.

This article shares more of the Tee Pee’s history.

"In my younger days, I was a hot rod nut.” said Sebanc. “I was there a lot. Back then there was neon everywhere. It was so inexpensive and just such a great advertising tool. I think it takes you back to them days. There were good times back then. The whole world was different then. It was cars and just going out and having a good time."

But the good times for the Tee Pee were long over in the 1980's. The fair board voted in February 1982 to tear down the original restaurant at the corner of the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Historic preservationists fought to save the landmark for six years. But 30 years ago this month, on June 21, 1988, the restaurant was flattened.

Arland was a WIBC radio news reporter who lived close by and was following the story.

"The bulldozer was stationed ready to take a big chomp out of the Tee Pee and they had these signs,” he said, standing near the restored sign. “There were not just these, there were a few others. One of the foremen looked at me and said, 'Would you like to have a sign?' So I said, ‘Yes.’ It was not an easy thing to watch, to be honest with you. It was kind of painful because a big part of Indiana, in my opinion, was going away that day."

Thanks to Arland's rescue and Sebanc's restoration, part of the Tee Pee now lights up again in bright neon yellow letters in Arland’s garage.

"I'm delighted with the work here and really excited that we were able to do this here in Indianapolis,” Arland said. “I guess it's my own little private way to remember what used to be but also support a local business.”