Exeter’s famed Ioka marquee has found a new home 900 miles away.
After much debate about its future, the historic theater’s iconic canopy and sign that once projected over Water Street is being donated to the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati.
“The Ioka marquee is looking forward to its retirement and next chapter of its career in the arts,” said Laurie A. Couture, a Newmarket resident who helped lead the effort to preserve the marquee after it was removed from the former theater building, which is being turned into residential condominiums and retail and commercial space.
Couture had worked with the theater’s new owners, David Cowie and Jay Caswell of Ioka Properties LLC, to find an appropriate place for the marquee to keep it in New England. After an exhaustive search, they concluded that its new home would likely be found outside New England.
“It became clear that I would have to expand my search past New England, and of course that was a disappointing realization initially. However, saving the marquee became the goal, even if it had to leave our region,” said Couture, who contacted former Ioka theater owners and neon museums, dealers and sign experts around the country.
Couture’s search led her to Tod Swornstedt of the American Sign Museum.
She described Swornstedt as an expert in the industry who plans to ensure that the marquee is restored and put on public display.
Couture said he told her that he’s always wanted a theater marquee for the museum.
“I could tell from Tod’s quick enthusiasm, industry knowledge, and honor for the marquee’s history that he would come to love our Exeter Art Deco-era icon as much as we do on the Seacoast,” she said.
Couture said she’s excited to know that Exeter will be on the map at the museum with people from around the country and the world learning about the marquee’s history.
“The Ioka marquee was one of the main focal points in downtown Exeter for 80 years. At the museum, it will again be one of the stars of the show, being a centerpiece for conventions, group events, weddings, and more,” she said.
Couture plans to travel to the museum for the unveiling, but she’s not sure when that will be as there’s no date set for the marquee to begin making its way to Ohio.
The trip creates some logistical challenges and will likely need some type of rig and crane, she said.
“It is a huge, 19-foot wide triangular shaped boat-like object that protrudes nine feet out from back to nose, so it isn’t as simple as throwing it in the back of a pickup truck,” she said.