Starlite sign

After being stolen recently, the iconic Starlite sign has been returned to its owner.

After being stolen last weekend, an iconic piece of Bozeman history has been returned to its owner.

On Saturday, Media Station Design Works owner Ole Nelson first noticed the “lite” half of the Starlite sign was missing. The sign sits on the ground against a wall outside his studio on Mendenhall Street.

The sign was originally built for Bozeman’s old Starlite Drive-In, which opened in the ‘50s. Nelson obtained the sign in the early ‘00s, with the previous owner giving it to him on the condition that he never sell it and put it up somewhere where the public could enjoy it.

When he realized part of the sign was missing last week, he filed a police report and made a Facebook post asking for help in getting it safely returned. The post got hundreds of shares, likes and comments.

A few days later, police received a tip on where it might be, and they contacted the two college students who stole it, Nelson said. The two had carried the sign eight blocks away. He said they both wrote him extensive letters of apology, and he thinks they know it was a mistake and maybe didn’t realize how significant it was when they stole it.

Now that Nelson has it back in his possession, he said he plans on installing the sign on the wall, where it will be difficult to remove. It will also include a line that went out under the word “Starlite,” something he wasn’t able to use when the sign sat on the ground.

People really love his sign, he said. It’s folk art, made in a way that isn’t very common anymore.

Nelson said people come into his shop all the time to share stories about proposals and first dates with spouses at the Starlite Drive-In. It’s a part of the community, he said.

“It helps people keep those kind of stories alive,” he said.

Abby Lynes can be reached at or 406-582-2651. Follow her on Twitter @Abby_Lynes.

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