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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘No matter what, I have to restore it’: Ming Wah owner says iconic neon sign will rise again

April 14, 2020 Updated Tue., April 14, 2020 at 8:18 p.m.

The Ming Wah sign lays broken on the ground, Monday, near the corner of Third Avenue and Maple Street. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
The Ming Wah sign lays broken on the ground, Monday, near the corner of Third Avenue and Maple Street. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Ming Wah Chinese restaurant owner Kam Kwong isn’t sure how his business’s iconic neon sign fell over during the weekend, but he does know one thing: The damaged sign will go back up, one way or another.

“It’s a landmark,” said Kwong, who has owned the restaurant on West 3rd Avenue since 1997. “No matter what, I have to restore it.”

Kwong said he believes the sign fell some time between Friday night and Saturday afternoon, when he got a call around 3 p.m. from a friend asking if he knew his sign was down.

He asked the staff at the gas station next door if they saw or heard anything, but they hadn’t.

Kwong also called the Spokane Police Department. According to Sgt. Terry Preuninger, officers responded and had the city personnel move the sign out of the roadway but learned little about what happened.

Officers told Kwong there weren’t any reports of injuries to people or damage to cars in the area, he said. The restaurant owner said he hoped it wasn’t the work of vandals.

Spokane did experience windy weather Friday and Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. NWS recorded gusts as strong as 28 mph at the Spokane International Airport Saturday morning.

Photos of the base of Ming Wah’s sign revealed a large amount of rust.

“The sign is an old antique,” said Kwong.

It likely even predates Ming Wah.

Gung Ho Restaurant, which also served Chinese food, opened in that space in 1966, according to newspaper records.

And vintage Gung Ho matchbooks for sale on the Internet depict the same design as Ming Wah’s sign, minus the name of the restaurant. Longtime Spokanites also recall the original sign and restaurant.

About eight years after Gung Ho opened a second location on North Division Street, King Chu bought the downtown building and opened Ming Wah in 1977 with his son Yui Shek Chu, according to newspaper records. The Chus sold Ming Wah to Kwong about 20 years later.

Kwong said the old sign came with his new restaurant.

“The only thing I know is people say this is a landmark for Spokane,” he said.

Local artist Chris Bovey went to Ming Wah on his first date with his future wife more than 15 years ago and later depicted the iconic signs in one of his prints, which were compiled into a book.

“The colors, the design of it is extremely bold,” said Bovey. “It is a style of sign you don’t see anymore. … It speaks of simplicity.”

Bovey initially thought the damage to the sign would mean another Spokane icon depicted in his artwork – like 2 Swabbies or Crescent – was also passing away.

But Kwong said he is in contact with his insurance provider and assessing the damage. He does not have a figure yet for what the repairs will cost.

The restaurant has been closed since mid-March as an extra precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic and has undergone some renovations in the meantime, Kwong said. Most of his several employees are family members.

Kwong said he is hopeful about reopening soon.

“Of course, everybody loves the restaurant. Everybody wanted me to keep it open,” Kwong said. “Hopefully we can have some good luck and continue the business. I have a lot of people who support me in Spokane.”

Anyone with information about the damage to Ming Wah’s sign can call the restaurant at (509) 455-9474.

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