American Sign Museum hopes to move into renovated Camp Washington building by 2012

Tod Swormstedt has known for some time that he wanted to grow the American Sign Museum beyond its current 4,500 square-foot Walnut Hills location. He also knew that he wanted to grow the museum's scope as well, making it a landmark for those in the sign industry around the country. With the recent purchase of a Camp Washington factory attached to the Middle Earth Developers-built Machine Flats project, its now a reality. 

The American Sign Museum will eventually use more than 42,000 square feet of space at the factory, but is initially working on 19,300 square feet of space to get started. In addition to the expanded size, the facility boasts 23-foot high ceilings that are perfect for the museum's needs.

"I looked all over town and especially along McMicken Street near the Brewery District of Over-the-Rhine but I couldn't find what I needed in my price range," said Swormstedt.  "I wanted to be in OTR, but the structures there just weren't big enough, then an artist told me about the Camp Washington space and I knew right away that this was it."

The new museum space will dedicate the initial expansion to the history of signs that the Museum is well known for displaying.  The additional expansion will be used as a lab area for the development of new technologies and to show off high-tech products in the sign industry.  The development of new technologies is something that Swormstedt hopes to get DAAP students involved with especially with the new Terence M. Fruth/Gemini Chair of Signage Design and Community Planning endownment at UC.

"I'm hoping Cincinnati can become a signage research and resource capital," said Swormstedt.  "Having the main industry magazine based here, the museum, the University of Cincinnati's College of DAAP, and the sign conference that was held by UC late last year are all helping to accomplish this."

Signs of the Times magazine is the sign industry standard his great grandfather first edited in 1906, and the publication Swormstedt himself has worked on for close to 27 years.

The operations of the American Sign Museum are also handled by Swormstedt with the help of  volunteers that are often related to DAAP and College of Business students involved with the signage research endowments at UC.  But the work of renovating the Camp Washington space and moving from Walnut Hills is something that will take millions of dollars in addition to the valuable volunteer work on which the museum relies.

"So far we've raised and spent $1.5 million on the former Camp Washington factory, and we need another $900,000 to open up the first 19,300 square feet," said Swormstedt.  "Once we get the full amount we need we can probably build out the space in 8 months and would love to be moved by 2012."

The completed project will include the NeonWorks shop where visitors will get to see neon being made, 'Signs of Main Street' which will pay homage to the history of signs, a restoration shop, and a lab area for sign technology innovation.

Those interested in donating the project can do so in a variety of creative ways besides making an outright contribution to the museum's website, contacting Tod Swormstedt at (513) 258-4020 or [email protected]. You can also purchase a brick paver with your name on it, or purchase a panel that you can paint and design that will be mounted on the wall at the museum's front entrance.

Writer: Randy A. Simes
Photography by Tiffani Fisher
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