It took Jay Mitchell and his restoration team very little time to uncover part of the lost history of North Platte’s Hotel Pawnee.
Canteen District passers-by were stunned Wednesday to see a neon sign for the hotel’s 1941 Tom-Tom Coffee Shop revealed above the first-floor entrance to 217 E. Fifth St.
Its exposure was the first tangible outward sign of the 1929 hotel’s renovation, launched by Mitchell this week. It’s been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1985.
Mitchell, a California-based historic redeveloper, acquired full ownership last October. He bought out the interest of the North Platte Area Chamber & Development Corp., which had bought the Pawnee’s tax sale certificate in February 2019.
The outdoor Tom-Tom sign had been covered up so long — since former Gov. Keith Neville’s family sold the Pawnee in 1973 — that two North Platte historians had no idea it was there.
“Way cool!” exclaimed Kaycee Anderson, co-author with Steve Olson of the 2012 book “City Bones,” as she spotted the sign on a downtown walk while on the phone with a Telegraph reporter.
She said Olson, an almost lifelong North Platte resident, told her “when it became a retirement hotel, it was covered up.”
A Telegraph file photo confirms the sign was still there around the time the Neville family sold the Pawnee in September 1973. Its new owners operated the hotel as a retirement home until its August 2013 closure.
Olson “said he was really excited to hear” about the Tom-Tom sign’s uncovering, Anderson added, “because he thought it was torn down.”
Mitchell said Wednesday he knew the Tom-Tom sign was there. “It has always been the plan to uncover it,” he said. “It’s another feature that is critical to preserve.”
He told The Telegraph Tuesday he wants to revive the Tom-Tom and 1936 White Horse Bar as businesses as he renovates the first-floor retail spaces off both East Fifth and Bailey Avenue and finds new tenants.
Jim Griffin, director-curator of the Lincoln County Historical Museum, also didn’t know about the Tom-Tom sign and was thrilled to see it uncovered.
“As far as I’m concerned, seeing this, if you had this lit up and (the sign) lit up at the Fox Theatre and they get the Paramount sign (back), it’s going to make downtown pop,” Griffin said.
Condon Signs of North Platte last fall completed a full restoration of the original vertical blade sign at the Fox, which was dedicated Nov. 24, 1929. Friday is the 91st anniversary of the Pawnee’s dedication.
Neville built the Pawnee, the Fox and the 1931 Paramount Theatre Building at the “Neville Corner” at East Fifth and Bailey, then known as Pine Street.
Mitchell said he intends to restore or replicate the Pawnee’s blade sign. Shae Caldwell, current Paramount co-owner with husband Jeff, has said they plan to install a replica blade sign like the one that hung there until the movie theater closed in 1963.
The Tom-Tom, previously named the Pawnee Coffee Pot, was a coffee shop from the hotel’s 1929 opening as the Hotel Yancey until it closed July 1, 1973.
The Neville family remodeled and reopened it as the Tom-Tom on Aug. 3, 1941, with entrances both off the street and inside the hotel lobby. The coffee shop’s lobby sign still survives there.
Former Telegraph reporter Bill Eddy wrote on June 27, 1973, that the Tom-Tom would close the following Sunday due to the opening of the Hump restaurant and motel by the Union Pacific Railroad.
Both the coffee shop and White Horse Bar disappeared as businesses in North Platte’s 1974 city directory, after the Neville family sold the Pawnee.
Part of the Tom-Tom space held a barbershop under different names from then until the hotel’s 2013 closure. Sew What Alterations & More also shared the 217 E. Fifth address for many years.
The White Horse space, vacant since 1995, held the White Horse Art Gallery and later the offices of the Weekly Round-Up shopper newspaper.
Hotel Pawnee's Tom-Tom Coffee Shop sign uncovered
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