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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Iconic Christmas display donated by Macy’s to downtown Spokane group

The Madonna on Macy's was created in 1957 and remodeled in 1973 is a holiday tradition in downtown Spokane. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
The Madonna on Macy's was created in 1957 and remodeled in 1973 is a holiday tradition in downtown Spokane. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

When the downtown Spokane Macy’s closed in March, a big question mark hung above a big empty building and almost an entire city block where the department store stood for decades.

One question, however, has been answered as the Downtown Spokane Partnership announced Wednesday that it had acquired the iconic Mother and Christ child holiday light display that has hung on the corner of the building nearly every Christmas season since 1957.

“Initially, my reaction was that this something that should go to the Museum of Arts and Culture and be part of our cultural history,” said Laura Becker, executive director of Spokane Arts, likening it to when the historic “R” sign on Seattle’s Old Rainier Brewery building was held by the city’s Museum of History and Industry. “The MAC doesn’t necessarily have the resources to take it. But the DSP has the resources to put it up every year. It’s the most responsible destination because it will continue to have a life.”

According to the DSP, Macy’s donated the sign and a one-time contribution to the downtown group to help cover the cost of moving and storing the the display at Baldwin Sign Company for the time being.

The backlit painted plastic display, a modern and Cubist-influenced image that is nearly 50 feet tall, was built by Spokane’s Baldwin Sign Company, which has installed and maintained the sign since, including a refurbishment in 1973. The sign remained even as the store changed its name from the Bon Marche, or “The Bon,” to Macy’s in 2005. In 2013, the sign company was commissioned by Macy’s to update the display with new panels and LED lights, replacing 500 incandescent bulbs with 1,000 LED lights, cutting the operating cost by 90 percent.

According to the DSP, the sign costs $13,000 to install every year, and the organization does not yet know where, or if, it will be hung this year.

Becker, with Spokane Arts, said there is a plan in the works to have artistic “not off-the-shelf” holiday displays downtown that work in concert with the Madonna displays colors or style. With that in mind, she was confident the display will be up this year in its usual location.

“It was built to be housed at that very location. It would be very expensive to rebuild the framework to display it,” Becker said. “For the meantime, it’s likely to stay there.”

Becker, like many people who come to downtown Spokane during the holidays, said the season isn’t quite complete without the sign.

“It is a cultural asset,” she said. “I will be happy as long as I still see it out on display.”

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