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Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town

From ‘Crazy Hillbillies’ To The Rolling Stones: The History Of Wicker Park’s Iconic Double Door Sign

The neon Double Door sign was around long before the iconic Wicker Park music club opened in 1994.

The former Double Door building at 1572 N. Milwaukee Ave. [Alisa Hauser/Block Club Chicago]
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This story was originally published by DNAinfo Chicago in 2016. It has been updated.

WICKER PARK —  The now-vanished neon Double Door sign was around long before the iconic Wicker Park music club opened in 1994.

“It’s good old rare stuff,” said Tom Brickler, owner of Bucktown’s Neon Shop Fishtail, which repairs and restores neon signs.

Brickler said the 16-foot-tall sign, made of red and white porcelain with neon lettering on both sides, dates to the 1950s.

Prior to Double Door opening in June 1994, the corner spot at 1572 N. Milwaukee Ave., just a few feet south of the Damen, Milwaukee and North avenues intersection, was home to a unique hybrid: Double Door Liquors and a country and western bar, Main Street Tavern.

RELATED: Wicker Park’s Famed Double Door Sign Is Gone After 70+ Years: ‘It Was A Tombstone That Honored Our Cultural Past’

“Country in the front and liquor in the back,” was how Brickler — who was hired in the early 1980s to maintain the sign’s neon lettering — described the layout.

Main Street Tavern’s clientele were part of “a crazy hillbilly crowd,” who were not happy about the “corporate” encroachment of the Double Door music club, which adopted the name of the liquor store, Brickler recalled.

Double Door co-owner Sean Mulroney told the Wicker Park Insider’s Guide that back in 1994, the Main Street Tavern owners would put glue in the locks to prevent the new tenants from getting inside.

Twenty two years later, Mulroney and co-owner Joe Shanahan found themselves in a similar battle: fighting to stay when the building’s owners wanted the club gone. Ultimately, they lost and the store will soon be home to Yeti, a Texas-based high-end cooler and outdoor supplies company.

William Dorsey, a lawyer for the building’s former owner Brain Strauss, said in 2016 that the neon sign would stay with the building. 

“It’s what is known legally as a fixture,” Dorsey said.

On Wednesday, however, the sign was removed by Loop-based development firm CA Ventures, which bought the building from Strauss for $9.1 million in 2018.

In 2016 when the future of the Double Door was still uncertain, Mulroney did not respond to inquiries about Double Door’s plans for the sign. He didn’t respond Thursday, either.

A copy of a purchase and sale agreement from a now-failed deal with Speedwagon Properties to buy the Double Door building defined the sale as including all of the building’s “fixtures.”

Brickler said “It’s difficult to put a value on a liquor sign like” Double Door’s.

“That is the true signage of what’s left in America. It defines the 1950s. A lot of sign companies replaced porcelain signs with florescent backlit lights because they were brighter and servicing was easier,” Brickler said.

Brian A. Bernardoni, local government affairs director of the Chicagoland Association of Realtors, said that the question of who owns a sign, particularly one that was in existence before a tenant was, is one that “can’t possibly be guessed on.”

“The most professional thing I can tell you is that it is more than likely a litigable question. We don’t know what the eviction terms are. If Double Door had use of the sign in the lease, it does not mean they have ownership of the sign. That is something that would have to be determined by a judge,” Bernardoni said.

Credit: Provided/Ron Seymour Photography
A man at the main corner, with Double Door sign in the background, 1990. [Ron Seymour Photography]
Credit: Provided/Ron Seymour Photography
Two children at the corner, 1990, four years before Double Door opened.