Restoration of the historic neon sign at the Tiffin Drive-In Theater began this week. Neon artist Michael Flechtner, originally from Tiffin but now living in Los Angeles, is heading up the project. (Provided photo)

TIFFIN — The first of five phases of the neon sign restoration project at the Tiffin Drive-In Theater is beginning to take shape.

Neon artist Michael Flechtner, originally from Tiffin but now living in Los Angeles, began installing the left vertical “Star Banner” of the huge 60-by-60-foot neon sign which originally graced the west side of the drive-in theater’s screen in 1949 on Thursday.

The project is being completed with help from a grant from the White Family Foundation, coordinated by the nonprofit Historic Drive-In Revitalization Fund.

Flechtner has invested countless hours over the past two years researching the original sign design. He visited libraries to search for photographs in old newspapers, met with local historians and those involved with the theater in its earlier years, mapped neon supports remaining on the screen tower and dug in the dirt under the screen tower looking for shards of broken neon glass.

Flechtner is also credited with designing the “Celebrate” Forever Stamp for the United States Postal Service.

The Tiffin Drive-In Theater has been in operation since 1949, and is celebrating its 70th anniversary this summer.

Rodney and Donna Saunders purchased the theater in 2011, making significant investment in electrical, plumbing, concessions and projection equipment.

Fundraising for the additional four phases is ongoing by the Historic Drive-In Theater Revitalization Fund. Cost for each phase is $10,000 or $20,000.

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