Disembark in 1907 New York, trek a few blocks into the city, and what do you see? The glittering Great White Way of Broadway, where even the most dazzling vaudeville >>>>
star can’t hold a candle to the brilliance of a billion light bulbs. For one awestruck 13-year-old immigrant, newly arrived from Ireland with nothing but $10 in his pocket (“Literally,” his great-grandson says; “I have the charter"), the view was enough to inspire a dream that would fuel four generations, to date, of filial pride.
Fast-forward to 1923, and Thomas F. Flannery Sr. has settled in Chicago with the basics of electrical engineering under his belt. With the memory of Broadway’s bright lights burning in his brain, Thomas launches a sign maintenance company. He calls it White Way. “Back in those days, the only thing that was really lit up, whether it was New York or Chicago, was these theatres,” says the great-grandson, Robert “Bob” Flannery III. And the signs? “That was their calling card.”
By 1940 White Way Sign and Maintenance Company had branched into the business of manufacturing marquees. From Beverly to the Far North Side, Chicago’s theatres bore the White Way stamp, albeit in much smaller type than the names of the stars promoted above.
Today, in the post-post-golden era of the silver screen, the 150-employee company, headquartered at 1317 North Clybourn Avenue, traffics more in scoreboards than in movie marquees. But for the Chicago and other legendary theatres that still employ its service, White Way continues to clean and repaint and renovate signs. “That’s our bread and butter,” Bob says. “That’s how we started.”
Here’s a look back at a shining past:
photography courtesy of White Way Sign and Maintenance Company