MANCHESTER — The iconic blue neon sign atop the Pandora Mill graced the city skyline for more than 50 years.
“Home of Pandora Sweaters,” it read. It was a landmark for those driving on Interstate 293 and synonymous with the Queen City, much like the famed Citgo sign in Boston’s Kenmore Square.
The Millyard Museum now hopes to restore the “sweaters” part of the sign to display indoors, but has run into a slight problem — an “E” and “S” are missing. According to the Manchester Historic Association, the scripted “Pandora” portion of the sign once atop 88 Commercial St. is beyond repair.
With the sign in storage for nearly 15 years, the museum decided now is the time to take on the project as a nod to Pandora Industries and the city’s textile history. The sign came down in the early 2000s because of disrepair and the building changing hands, according to John Clayton, executive director of the association.
“There was no plan with what to do with the sign, so they simply propped it against the side of the building,” he said. Three of the letters disappeared before the association took ownership several months later. Clayton speculates that people wanted to make sure the sign didn’t end up scrapped.
About six weeks ago, the other missing “S” anonymously showed up in the breezeway of Clayton’s North Street home after the museum began asking around.
“I walked out and it was there,” he said. “It was better than FedEx.”
Clayton and Director of Operations Jeff Barraclough hope the remaining two letters reappear to complete the sign.
“Toward the back of the museum there is a brick wall and we are envisioning a place high up where we can have it displayed with the neon on,” Barraclough said.
The museum has $3,100 set aside for restoration by First Sign of Manchester.
“If it comes to it they will actually fabricate the two letters we need to make it complete,” Clayton said. “But we would much rather have the original letters because we are not a fantasy museum, we are a history museum.”
The “Pandora” letters were crafted from the penmanship of May Gruber, CEO of Pandora Industries. They were made of hammered tin, and would be much harder to restore than the boxy uppercase “sweaters,” Clayton said.
Pandora Industries operated in Manchester’s Millyard from the 1940s through 1990 as a major sweater and sportswear maker, with as many as a 1,000 workers and producing as many as 60,000 sweaters per week, according to the association.
The Pandora Mill is now home to the University of New Hampshire Manchester campus.
“We are excited to be able to display this piece of the sign, it really represents an important symbol of Manchester,” Barraclough said. “We hope that if anyone knows the whereabouts of those letters they can help them be reunited with the rest of the sign.”
The museum hopes to be able to display the sign by the end of the year.
If anyone has any questions or information about the missing letters, contact Barraclough at 622-7531.