Historic Preservation Department Revives Original Leopold’s Ice Cream Sign

#1329 | December 10, 2012

SAVANNAH – Savannah Technical College’s Historic Preservation Department recently renovated Leopold’s Ice Cream’s original building sign. It was presented to Stratton Leopold, the College’s 2012 Opportunity Award recipient, at the Opportunity Award Gala on Friday, December 7, 2012.

   “I am very proud of the way our faculty and students work with the community,” said Savannah Technical College President Dr. Kathy Love. “At Savannah Tech, we are always looking for ways to connect our instruction with things that are meaningful whether in historic preservation, culinary arts, welding or the film industry.”

   A few months ago, while meeting with Love and other college staff members to plan the Gala, Stratton told the story of the original Leopold’s sign. The circa-1920 sign fell down in a windstorm in the mid-2000s. Mary Leopold was in Savannah and received the call when the sign fell down. She made arrangements for the sign to be taken to the dump. She called Stratton, who was working in California, to let him know the sign had fallen. Imagine her surprise when he told her to have them turn the truck around and deliver the sign to the house. He has stored it in his garage ever since. At the meeting with the College, he mentioned he wanted to find a way to use it again someday.

    “It seemed like a great project for our students,” said Love. When asked if he would like the sign to be renovated by the College’s historic preservation department, Stratton beamed. Immediately following that meeting, he visited the historic preservation lab at the Savannah campus and began making plans to have the sign delivered. He was involved every step of the way to approve paint colors and sign design once it emerged during the restoration.

    The sign remained hanging even after the original shop at the corner of Gwinnett and Habersham closed. Stratton had rented the bottom floor to a laundromat called “Wash House.” According to Stratton the sign had been damaged several times during its life and had seen many changing times in Savannah including wars, celebrations and various events during the decades. He has a photo from the 1930s, which shows damage to the sign, as well as trees down on Gwinnett Street.

    “I can recall damage during a hurricane when I was little,” he said. “After Wash House moved out, the sign actually fell off of the building because, I suppose, of the rotted wood on the second story. We thank goodness no one was harmed.”

    For the first step of the renovation process, students carefully removed the paint on the sign with tools like tweezers. The layers of paint included “Wash House,” which had been painted over the Leopold’s Ice Cream design.

    Then, the damaged sign’s bent arm and rust holes were repaired with help from STC welding students. While damage was being repaired, historic preservation students created a template of the original sign with help from STC Community Council Co-Chair and local architect Steven Stowers, who “exploded” letters to create the template. Historic preservation students then used a phosphoric acid for an acid wash after repairs were complete.

    “Given the amount of leftover paint from the ‘Wash House’ era, we treated the sign with a phosphoric acid wash, which also helps act as a first coat rust inhibitor,” said STC Historic Preservation Department Head Stephen Hartley. “Once we put the acid wash on, all of the original Leopold’s letter appeared, but disappeared again when the acid dried.” The letters were visible just long enough to for students to get a tracing of the “Purest” lettering. This also helped confirm there was an apostrophe on “Leopold’s.”

    Students then painted primer on the sign. The template was traced, cut, transferred onto the sign and painted by students. Finally, Doug Bean Signs installed neon lighting, prior to the sign’s reveal at the Opportunity Gala to more than 300 of Stratton’s closest friends including James Cromwell.

    Savannah Tech’s Historic Preservation Department typically only works for certified non-profits, as to not compete with local companies. “Given Stratton’s commitment to the College and his overall excitement that we could potentially bring his old sign back to life, we couldn’t turn this down,” said Hartley. Most projects the students do around town for class are structural or for interior jobs.

    Stratton plans for the sign to return to its original location. “Thanks to Historic Savannah and the staff at the Metropolitan Planning Commission, the sign will be returned to its place on Gwinnett and Habersham.” said Stratton. “We plan to add two bands of neon around the sides of the building, also from the 1930s.”

    Soon Savannah Tech students will be able to take people to the corner of Habersham and Gwinnett, point up and say, “See that? That’s my work!”

    This year, Leopold’s Ice Cream celebrated its 93rd anniversary and is recognized the world over for its delicious treats and its trademarked VeriBestTM ice cream. All flavors are made on the premises, one batch at a time, using top-secret family recipes handed down from the original Leopold brothers.

    Savannah Tech has the only public hands-on preservation program in the state. The program has gained international recognition, was recently approved for associate membership with the National Council for Preservation Education and has contributed to a number of community-based preservation projects in the surrounding communities. Historic Preservation is the cornerstone of new instructional programs in Green Building Technology, which focuses on a comprehensive view of systems and efficiencies in construction. For information about Historic Preservation events and projects, like the department’s Facebook page at


Historic Preservation Department Head:
Stephen Hartley or 912.443.5864

Media Contact:
Amy Shaffer, APR

Savannah Technical College serves Coastal Georgia with quality, market-driven technical education with campus locations in Chatham, Effingham and Liberty Counties. Serving more than 10,000 credit and non-credit students annually, Savannah Tech offers nearly 150 different instructional programs in Aviation Technology, Business and Professional Services, Industrial Technology, and Health Sciences in addition to Adult Education classes, industry-specific training and continuing education. The College serves as an economic and community development partner for the region, offering corporate and customized training and assessment programs for business and industry.

Savannah Technical College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) to award associate degrees, diplomas and technical certificates of credit. Questions about the accreditation of Savannah Technical College may be directed in writing to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, GA 30033-4097, by calling (404) 679-4500, or by using information available on SACSCOC’s website (