Building Owner Wants to Save All American Gym Sign

All American Gym sign
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It might not take an act of Congress, but it will take an act of City Hall to preserve the All American Gym sign painted on a downtown building in 1979.

The All American Gym has moved several blocks away from the building at 118 S. Kentucky Ave.  — and that’s part of the problem.

Lakeland’s sign ordinance calls for removal of signs when a business folds or moves. The gym’s sign — large red block letters on a white background — was hidden behind an awning for years. But city inspectors noticed it at some point after the awning was removed, and issued a citation.

Building owner Mary McHugh wants to preserve the sign as a piece of Lakeland history, and she got support this morning from the city’s Historic Preservation Board.

While the sign was painted after 1960, the current cutoff date to be considered historic, the gym is significant because it helped begin the revitalization of downtown, Lakeland, city historic planner Emily Foster said. It was Lakeland’s first co-ed gym, and founder Lou Baltz and the gym were honored by the City Commission in 2014, she added.

Foster’s plan to help McHugh save the sign involves changing the city ordinance that determines which signs are considered historic and therefore can be preserved.

The Historic Preservation Board began that process this morning by endorsing a proposal to change the 1960 cutoff date and give historical designation to signs that are 50 years old or meet several criteria, including reflecting the history of a building or the development of a historic district.

Before that change in a city ordinance can take effect, it needs to be approved by the city Planning and Zoning Board and the City Commission.

In addition to endorsing that change, the Historic Preservation Board this morning passed a motion saying the All American Gym sign should be designated historic if the new ordinance is passed.

If the sign is designated historic, owner McHugh would need to maintain it, which Foster said she is willing to do, and so would anybody else who eventually buys the building.

The building at 118 S. Kentucky Ave. currently houses the Chop Shop restaurant. The gym moved away about 15 years ago and was replaced by a bar appropriately named The Gym, which was owned by McHugh and her late husband, Gerry McHugh. All-American Gym now operates at  309 W. Main St.

During the meeting, board member John Hall lamented the loss of other painted signs downtown, including a Wrigley’s gum ad Florida Avenue and the Culbertson Hardware sign on Pine Street.