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The signs they are a-changin'

A longtime weather forecaster will return to Salt Lake City late next week, and it's not Mark Eubank.

The Walker Center Building's blue-and-red electric sign that indicated coming weather for generations of Salt Lake Valley residents will be reinstalled atop the 20-story building at 175 S. Main, with letters in a vertical pattern on a steel tower harking back to the 1940s.

"As I grew up, throughout all my youth and post-youth, everybody in the valley looked to the Walker weather tower to figure out whether to wash their car or go skiing that day or whatever," said W. James Tozer Jr., a principal in Vectra Management Group, which formed Walker Center Associates to buy the building in April 2006.

"It was really a beacon and you could see it from everywhere in the valley. You couldn't read the letters, but you could tell whether it was blue or orange and whether it was flashing or it wasn't. It was a nostalgic part of a zillion people's lives."

With the exception of two years, the weather sign had been in place since 1953 until late August, when the horizontal "Walker Center" letters were removed.

The new 64-foot-tall structure will be installed starting Friday by Walker Center Associates and Jacobsen Construction Co. and will look like the weather beacon that towered over the building for nearly three decades.

What was known then as the Walker Brothers Bank Building opened in 1912

as the tallest building between St. Louis and the West Coast. The steel tower was added in 1947 for radio and TV station KDYL, currently Channel 4. The station stopped using the tower in 1953, and Walker Bank then opted to display its name on all four sides and have the 8-foot-tall electrified lettering serve as a weather indicator.

A constant blue meant clear skies or fair weather and flashing blue indicated clouds were on their way. Red portended precipitation — constant for rain and flashing for snow.

The configuration of the lettering changed from time to time, but the tower was dismantled in August 1982 by the then-owners of the building, First Interstate Bank of Utah, because it did not accommodate the architecture of a new bank building across the street. In June 1984, WTC Holdings, a New York-based pension group, owned the building and opted to reinstate the weather-forecast sign but without the tower — "Walker" on two sides and "Center" on the other two, with all the lettering horizontal.

The new sign will have "Walker" vertically from the top of the tower on all four sides, with "Walker" horizontally across two sides of the base and "Center" on the other two sides.

The tower and letters will be reinstalled Friday through early Monday, Oct. 12-14. Electrification will be completed by the end of the month. The reinstallation was postponed the weekend of Sept. 22 because of strong winds.

The weather tower is part of a renovation of the 140,000-square-foot Walker Center.

"When we bought the property and decided we were going to convert it back into Class A office space in a classic building and bring it back to its original luster, I was intrigued with the idea that we should bring back the sign because it was historic," Tozer said.

"We were able to convert the building to a historic landmark and were able to get permission to reintroduce the sign. We're bringing it back because it's fun and nostalgic. We said we were going to bring back Walker Center to its heyday and to downtown's heyday, so that's what we're doing."

The tower's reinstallation needed approval from the Salt Lake City Council and the Historic Landmark Commission. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places a year ago. Tozer pegged the tower's cost at more than $500,000.

"For people of certain generations ... it is part of their memory," Tozer said. "It doesn't make economic sense, but it makes emotional sense."