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The Bozeman City Commission is scheduled to vote next week whether to allow a vertical, 10-foot “blade sign,” on the exterior of the Ellen Theatre downtown.

The sign is the final touch on the years-long renovation of the Ellen’s facade. The doors and marquee were finished last October, but the vertical sign needed a separate application because it’s larger than the city generally allows.

John Ludin, the Ellen’s executive director, and other supporters of the theater will ask the commission to approve the sign at its meeting March 2.

“I feel good about the presentation,” said Ludin. “I think the fact that the sign was there at one time is very, very helpful, and certainly the Rialto is a good precedent.”

The Rialto has a similar sign across the street from the Ellen, though it’s mostly neon as opposed to the backlit metal letters proposed for the Ellen.

While the sign is larger than the city allows without a separate approval, it’s smaller than the original. The original sign was roughly 14 feet from top to bottom. Ludin said that size overwhelmed the building, so it was scaled back.

“I think it’s very fitting for the building. It’s a very nice little addition, and so I feel good about it,” Ludin said.

Much of the Ellen’s restoration has been based off of architect Fred Willson’s original blueprints, which Ludin discovered after his company, Montana Theatreworks, raised the money to buy the building in 2008.

Because those blueprints don’t include plans for the sign, the design is based off of a photo that Ole Nelson, the owner of Media Station Design Works, found in the Gallatin History Museum’s photo archives. The same photo also existed in the Museum of the Rockies archives, along with the negative so it could be printed in the highest quality possible.

“We’ve recreated the artwork based off this old black-and-white photograph and plan on making the blade sign out of a combination of materials,” said Nelson. The body of the sign will be welded aluminum, with details in brass and steel. There will also be crushed glass laid on the background behind the letters to create texture and blue LED lighting to give the letters a soft glow.

Nelson also crafted the Rialto’s blade sign and was on the team that most recently renovated the Baxter Hotel sign. He estimates that he’s built about 50 of the signs hanging downtown.

“Bozeman is encouraging these historic elements of Bozeman’s history to be either recreated or restored,” Nelson said. “I’m super grateful to be involved in these things.”

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at or at (406) 582-2651.

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