Beloved Orchard Supply Hardware sign disappears from oldest retail site in San Jose

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- People and preservationists in the South Bay are looking for the beloved, vintage neon sign that vanished without a trace.

The sign once welcomed customers to the oldest Orchard Supply Hardware location in San Jose, at the corner of West San Carlos Street and Royal Avenue.

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Santa Clara County officials told ABC7 News the sign also served as a beacon for the once booming canning business.

"Everybody who has been in San Jose is aware of that sign," County Supervisor Ken Yeager told ABC7 News. "You know, in the days of the prune orchards and Valley of the Hearts Delight."

However, delight has recently turned into disbelief. The neon sign, which sat at the site for decades, vanished in the last few days.

"We've heard from some of the people nearby that they saw somebody with a big truck somehow enter the property. So, it sounds like they were connected with that," Supervisor Yeager said about the future development of the site. "They then cut the wires and then took the sign away."

"We just don't know where it is," Ken Middlebrook with History San Jose said.

Middlebrook is the Curator of Collections at the museum. He was in touch with Orchard Supply Hardware and its parent company, Lowe's, about keeping the sign for preservation.

He explained Orchard Supply is a focal point at the history park, since the retailer was founded in San Jose in the 1930's.

On Wednesday, Middlebrook showed ABC7 News a preserved boxcar with the words "Orchard Supply Hardware," painted on both sides.

"We already have the boxcar," Middlebrook said. "Makes sense for the sign to come to History San Jose, too."

According to Middlebrook, in the 1960's, the retailer wanted a second sign at its Royal Avenue retail site.

Back then, the city of San Jose denied the request, and only allowed Orchard Supply to keep the now beloved and missing neon sign.

Middlebrook said the president of Orchard Supply Hardware went ahead and instead painted this boxcar and parked it at the back of the business.

"The boxcar is a wonderful piece," he said. "But the sign tells another part of that story."

Middlefield said the best case scenario would be liquidators took the sign for safe keeping. His fear is someone may have simply taken the sign, and it could be gone for good.

"To do so, it would've required a large crane and a lot of heavy equipment," he said. "We just don't want to think about that possibility. We think that somebody has it for safe keeping."

Google currently owns the property and tells ABC7 News it is looking into the disappearance of the sign.

Supervisor Yeager said, "We assume it was Lowe's or Hilco, which is the company with the demolition rights to this property."

Lowe's released a statement saying: "Lowe's did not authorize the removal of the sign, and we are actively looking into the situation."

This story will be updated to reflect the response from Hilco.
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