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Neon faucet turned off
-for now

Fraser Street landmark undergoing repairs


Photo-Dan Toulgoet

Sally Gibson washing her hands under the neon water tap before restorations begin


Sandra Thomas, Vancouver Courier
Friday, August 10, 2007

An iconic neon sign on Fraser Street will remain dark until it can be repaired, but the famous faucet is not coming down, says the granddaughter of the original owner of Cambie Plumbing and Heating.

"It's being refurbished, but it's not coming off the building," said Judy Gibson. "Some parts have come off to be repaired and some parts are being painted."

The neon sign featuring a huge tap with running water has been in place since 1946 when entrepreneur Jon D. Gibson opened Cambie Plumbing at 3905 Fraser St. As the name suggests, he planned to open his business on Cambie Street, but when his landlord got a better deal for the property, he was forced to look elsewhere. He bought the property on Fraser Street where the business remains today.
Judy Gibson says the 61-year-old Fraser Street neon sign with the ironic name will be turned back on as soon as repairs are finished.

"The landlord was a friend of my grandfather's," said Gibson, the third generation of her family to run the business. "He gave my grandfather back his money, and I'm pretty sure he gave him extra for his trouble."

Because her grandfather had already ordered both the now-famous neon sign and business cards with "Cambie Plumbing and Heating" printed on them, he decided to keep the name. The water faucet was the first neon sign on Fraser Street.

"The sign never did go up on Cambie," said Gibson.

Cambie Plumbing is now owned by Gibson's father Ed, who is Jon Gibson's son. The original building was destroyed by arson in 1991, and the new Jon D. Building was rebuilt that same year.

Gibson's mother Sally told the Courier that when the family wanted to erect the sign on the new building, the city refused to give permission. In the 1960s the city passed a bylaw limiting the use of neon signs due to complaints from residents about their proliferation. By the 1950s Vancouver had 18,000 neon signs, but as a result of the bylaw most of the signs disappeared over time, with the exception of the Cambie Plumbing faucet, the pink pig at Save-On-Meats on West Hastings and the orange seahorse at the Only Cafe on East Hastings. The city finally relented and the sign went back in place in 1991.

"But Ed had to go down to city hall and plead," said Sally Gibson.

She said that while the new store was being built, the family would find notes pushed under the door of the burned out building.

"One little note said, 'You have to put the sign back up because when my friend comes on the bus I tell her when she sees the taps to pull the buzzer,'" she said. "And I've had grown men tell me that when they were a little boy they used to look up at the sign and they thought it was the most beautiful faucet. We knew the sign had to go back up. It's the heart of Cambie Plumbing and the heart of Fraser Street."

Fraser Street resident Charles Haynes agrees. "I grew up in the 'hood, but the sign has real historical relevance to Vancouver. If it's going to come down it has to be hung up somewhere else."

Haynes sees the sign both as a geographical landmark and a symbol of Jon Gibson's tenacity and determination.

"I think it's a great story," he said. "He couldn't afford to stay on Cambie Street, but he had spent a fortune on this fabulous sign, so he moved to Fraser Street. I look at it as a sign of good faith."




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