Three years after being blown down in a storm and $50,000 later, the Starlight Drive-In Theatre sign is to finally be reinstated beside the Federal Highway.
The sign, made in 1956 in Sydney, is thought to be the only original drive-in theatre sign in the country still in its original location, according to Planning Minister Mick Gentleman, who will unveil the restored sign on Tuesday.
Now on the ACT heritage register, it was "the only tangible reminder in the ACT of the iconic era of drive-ins", he said.
Mr Gentleman has fond memories of the venue himself, recalling visiting as a child in pyjamas and playing in the playground when the movie got boring, and as a young man, when he saw the 1974 movie Stone about an undercover policeman in a bikie gang. What got this bike enthusiast (he owns five) was the "great motorcycle action on Sydney streets".
Liberal Steve Doszpot remembers visits in the late 1970s with his wife and two toddlers, parked up in his red Leyland P76. It was a good way for young parents to get entertainment without the need for a babysitter, he says.
The Starlight sign marked the entrance to the drive-in movie venue at Watson from 1957 until the venue closed in 1993, and stood for almost another decade before it was blown off its footings in a storm in 2012. It has spent the intervening time in a Fyshwick depot, with a campaign more recently to have it restored, including a change.org petition from a group calling itself the Starlight Rescue Committee.
Irene Hazilias told supporters she was ecstatic the sign was back in place, although disappointed it was missing its title boxes.
"Although the majority of Canberra were supportive of us during this endeavour, Laurie, Jay and I did cop some flack and it was a bit disheartening but we feel it was well worth it to get a fragment of Canberra's soul reinstated," she said.
The site is now home to the Starlight apartments but a spokesman for Mr Gentleman said the restored sign was on public land adjacent to its former site.
The body corporate of the Starlight apartments gave the sign to the government after it blew down, he said.
Much "meticulous work" had gone into the restoration, with "substantial community interest and lobbying" for the work.
The wording had now been repaired, the rusted panels and frame had been treated, a matching panel had been reconstructed on one side, lighting had been replaced, and the two panels below the main sign had been removed because of the risk of vandalism and for public safety.
"Drive-in theatres across the country had their peak popularity from the 1950s until the 1970s, and have formed a strong component of the psyche and consciousness of the community who attended them," Mr Gentleman said.
The sign did not meet Heritage Council criteria for design or aesthetic qualities, nor creative flair, but was listed for its importance "as evidence of a distinctive function that is no longer practised".
"Drive-in theatres were immensely popular as a form of entertainment of which the sign remains as an iconic symbol," the heritage citation says.
The architect appointed to the job was Phillip Leeson and the work was done by Queanbeyan firm Screenmakers, whose director Tony Mostert said it had taken months of planning and about six weeks of construction.
With only one panel remaining from the original sign, a second back-to-back panel had been made to match. While the original sign had been lit in neon, the new sign was in neon-look LED, a safer, longer-lasting and more environmentally friendly technology with less chance of being damaged.
"We tried to keep it much the same as the original," he said. "All restoration work is usually quite involved because you've got to be delicate at handling everything. A lot of care and time went into it."