Want to buy the Sutter’s sign?

This sign hung on the Third Street side of the Tama Building. 

On my recent trips to Burlington,  Iowa, it’s been so great to see the steady progress being made on renovating the Tama Building, where my great-grandfather founded his first store at 311 N. Third St., before moving it in 1929 to the prime spot at the corner of Jefferson and Third.

Now you might be able to own a piece of that history. Steve Frevert, executive director of Downtown Partners, Inc., has obtained the Sutter’s sign that hung on the Jefferson side of the street. The sign was covered by other signs for years after the store closed in 1981, but in recent years it was visible again.

With the new owners of what’s called the Historic Tama Complex making great progress on the building, it was time for the Sutter signs (one on Jefferson, the other facing Third) to come down. In an email, Steve told me, “The sign they removed was on eleven porcelain enamel panels on the Jefferson St. side. Much of it has brown paint on it, but I think we can figure out a way to strip it off. I took the panels to Preservation Station, and hopefully sometime this summer we can get them stripped.”

This photo shows Sutter Drug Store in 1976. (Photo courtesy of Downtown Burlington Partners.)

When I asked what might happen with the sign after the stripping, Steve wrote, “I imagine we will sell it, either in the shop or online.”

So there you have it! I do hope the sign gets a good home in Burlington. As the Tama building renovations began, I did think about the future of the signs, but where the heck would I put them?

I understand the sign on the Third Street side of the building went to someone named Sutter in Wisconsin, who contacted the building’s owners about it after seeing it while visiting Burlington. As far as I know, this person is not related to my family but I would love to find out his/her plans for it.



Tama Building looms large in downtown Burlington, Iowa

The Tama Building and Sutter Drug Store in the 1940s.
The Tama Building and Sutter Drug Store in the 1940s.

This photo of the Tama Building practically takes my breath away.

You can really see what an imposing building it was in the 1940s. Here are a few things that I love about the photo:

  • Notice how the law offices on the second and third floors had their names in the window: “Conrad and Conrad Law Offices” and “Wilson and Jackson Law Offices.” I certainly remember Max Conrad as an imposing figure when I was growing up. And as a teen, I babysat for his grandchildren a few times.
  • The “Sutter’s Sodas Satisfy” slogan was prominent on the Jefferson Street storefront, as was “The Rexall Store.” Having a great soda fountain, and being affiliated with Rexall, were two big keys to my family’s success, I’m convinced, based on my research.
  • The photo shows the hustle and bustle of Jefferson Street at Third, as people hurry along, crossing the street. The good ol’ days when downtown was so vibrant!
  • My great-grandfather made good use of the Third Street side of the building to advertise Ideal Ice Cream, Kodak film and finishing, truss fitting, and more.

This photo doesn’t appear in my book, but I will be sharing it and some other photos that didn’t get published (along with some that did) when I speak at the Des Moines County Historical Society’s Heritage Center on Tuesday, July 28, at 7 p.m.

I’m looking forward to sharing memories and hearing from those in the audience. Hope you’ll join us. Please call the Heritage Center at 319-752-7449 to reserve a seat. The program is free, but in case it fills up, please call and get a seat reserved. I’ll also be selling my book, “Sutter’s Sodas Satisfy: A Memoir of 90 Years of Sutter Drug Co.” for $17 cash or check. You can also purchase the book in advance at Burlington By The Book.