Long Extinguished Neon Sign To Shine Again
By JIM KEVLIN
The Tepee has long been a beacon of novelty for Route 20 travelers from Boston to Newport, Ore., and points in between.
It’s about to get moreso.
Sister/proprietors Donna and Dale Latella, who have operated the landmark since 2000, plan to relight “The TEPEE,” a red neon sign they estimate has been dark for 30 years, during a reception 7:30-9 p.m. Saturday, July 12. (RSVP on Facebook or at 264-3987.)
For years, the sisters have wanted to fix it. “Everything in time,” said Donna, adding, “We’ve been working on other repairs.”
Looking at the metal-sheathed upside-down cone, the height of four or five tall people standing on each others’ shoulders, you can see how that has been the case. Most recent, the structure was repainted.
Fixing the neon sign, however, was always on the sisters’ minds, and no doubt brother “Tepee Pete” Latella’s as well; he operates the adjoining hot-dog stand that specializes in seven-pepper chili.
The family got a nudge from Jeff Friedman, operator of the Let There Be Neon, a lighting studio in New York City, who also owns a weekend home down in the village.
The Latellas turned the sign over to Friedman, who “lovingly restored it” over the winter, a project that involved removing a bird’s nest, Dale said.
Inside the workings, Friedman also discovered the sign had been repurposed for a souvenir show; previously, it had served an ice-cream stand.
The sisters surmise the sign goes back to 1950, when Ken and Iris Gurney erected The Tepee at Route 54 and North Road, just past today’s Cherry Valley-Springfield Central School.
Or perhaps it was added in 1954, when the Gurneys, realizing the new Route 20 was about to divert their customers away, bought the present site on the rise that opens up to a 90-mile panaromic view of the Adirondacks.
The Stehr family bought The Tepee in the mid 1970s and operated it until 1994, when they sold it to the Latellas’ dad, Demetrio (Dee). By then, the neon sign has been extinguished for at least a decade, the sisters said.
In 2011, the landmark was listed on both the state and national registers of historic places, and it’s part of many people’s personal histories.
“What’s wonderful is people who have been here for years – for years,” said Donna. They show up and declare in astonishment, “I can’t believe you’re still here. This is wonderful.”