Peabody Sign Co. owner knows his signs

Tor Larson, left, and Doug Hanson of Peabody Sign Co. are at the business, whose iconic neon signs have long lit up Route 1.KEN YUSZKUS/Staff photo

PEABODY — Doug Hanson, the co-owner of Peabody Sign Co., knows well the neon and other signs that dot the North Shore. His family installed and maintained many of these familiar landmarks.

Hanson recalls one Christmas morning when he was about 10 years old. His father got a call that someone had vandalized the giant Muffler Man/Paul Bunyan statue at Sea Crest Cadillac on the Lynnway, blowing the leg off the molded fiberglass statue. It was the late 1970s.

”My father put him there,” Hanson said. Hanson’s father, the late Douglas Hanson Sr., was the founder Star Sign Co. of Beverly,

The 2,500-pound statue had become unstable and needed to be lowered to the ground. Since it was Christmas morning, Hanson said his father had a hard time finding a crane operator to help.

After calling around, and not being able to locate anyone, the father enlisted the young Doug Hanson to operate the crane.

Doug Hanson’s father, who started Star Sign in 1956, died in 1997. After his father died, Doug Hanson decided to branch out from the family business that his two brothers and nephew were running.

He headed to Salisbury, to avoid competing with the family company, and started Signs by Doug. 

The original Star Sign is still in business in Beverly.

”Back when I worked for Star Sign, we made every single sign on Rantoul Street, every single sign on Cabot Street, and almost every sign on Highland Ave., literally,” Doug Hanson said. “You could drive down the street and say, ‘made that, made that, made that, made that,’ from one end to the other.”

In October 2013, Doug Hanson came back to Peabody where he and co-owner Tor Larson of Amesbury now run Peabody Sign Co. Signs by Doug is also still operational, Hanson said. 

The company’s bread and butter, so to speak, are large electric signs built for restaurants and sub shops, which he manufacturers. The small company not only manufactures its own signs, it has its a crane truck to install them — avoiding the possibility of Christmas morning emergencies.

Doug Hanson said he and his nephew, Jess Hanson, who now runs Star Sign alone after the death of Doug’s two brothers, now do a lot of work together.

”It’s come right around,” Doug Hanson said.

Doug Hanson said he had become the visible face of those seeking signs in the region because he had been the face in the truck, the person running the crane that installed the signs for all those years.

”I’m a welder and a crane operator by trade. I’m a sheet metal guy,” Doug Hanson said.

Fans of the Red Sox are familiar with Doug Hanson’s work. For the past 14 years, Signs by Doug created giant signs for Fenway Park.

”It takes four guys a couple of weeks to get the signs done,” said Doug Hanson, who has pictures in his shop of him standing in front of an enormous “Dunkin’ Donuts” banner that hung in back of the Fenway bleachers. It takes an enormous amount of time and effort to put up those signs, he said.

”It’s fantastic,” Doug Hanson said. “The signs are gigantic.”

Star Sign made a name for itself with neon signs.

Hanson Sr., a Lynn native, was a glassblower at Raytheon who started by making radar tubes. A friend and coworker told him he made neon signs on nights and weekends to make some extra money.

”In 1956, my father bought a neon setup and put it in the cellar of the house and he started making neon signs,” Doug Hanson said. Signs for sub shops were a staple. 

”In the 1960s and ’70s, we did a ton of Dunkin’ Donuts,” Doug Hanson said. Hanson Sr.’s company also built the Kane’s Donuts sign in Saugus.

One of the Route 1 roadside landmarks the Hanson family has lit includes the clock-topped Kowloon Restaurant sign in Saugus. The family created the giant neon sign for Caruso’s Diplomat before the function facility was torn down around 2007. 

When neon was in its heyday, Hanson said he can recall going to the Lynnway every day to fix a sign for some car dealership. The one thing about signs is they are not impervious to the weather, no matter how well they are built.

”Weather is my friend, storms are my friend,” Doug Hanson says with a chuckle.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.

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