Merced County Mail Pouch barn freshened up

An artist is restoring the original sign on the old Mail Pouch barn on Worden Avenue near Highway 99 in Merced County.
April 14, 2014 12:00:00 AM PDT
A piece of history is getting a fresh start in the North Valley. An artist is restoring the original sign on the old Mail Pouch barn on Worden Avenue near Highway 99 in Merced County.

Barns painted with ads for Mail Pouch Tobacco used to be a common sight in rural areas across the country. Now only a handful are left in California. The sign on this one was barely visible until recently when a local artist was hired to restore the icon to its former glory.

Each stroke of the paint brush brings this decades-old dairy barn one step closer to its past.

"I'm so happy that we're restoring the barn and bringing back something that's so nostalgic," said artist Deanna Schmitz.

Schmitz has spent several days adding vibrant yellow letters to this local landmark -- first re-painting the original Mail Pouch Tobacco sign on the hot tin roof.

"The sign was put on in 1940, and I was born and raised here. I was 10 years old when they built the barn, and I'm 86 and still living on the property I was born on," said barn owner Victor Dragovich.

Dragovich still remembers three men showing up to paint the logo 74 years ago. It was back before billboards lined highways, and some companies offered money to advertise on the sides of barns. Mail Pouch Tobacco had an estimated 20,000 of them between 1890 and 1992 but most are no longer standing.

"There's approximately 200 of these barns left in the United States. Here in California I only was able to locate about five of them," said APG Solar President Brent Jerner.

Jerner was inspired to restore the sign after one of his employees at APG Solar in Atwater noticed the barn's prime location along Highway 99. They struck an advertising deal with the Dragovichs back in 2011 and hired Schmitz to paint APG's logo front and center. The company also added solar panels to light up the artwork at night.

"We've had a lot of comments and publicity, and it's been a neat process getting to this point," said Jerner.

Jerner then reached out to an organization that specializes in preserving the history of Mail Pouch barns. The group recently provided a $1,000 grant to restore the original sign on the roof and add a new one on the side. There were concerns an ongoing highway expansion project would wipe out all of the work, but instead, the new route gives drivers an even better view.

"I understand there's 1,500,000 cars that drive by here monthly, so obviously the exposure is huge," said Jerner.

The Dragovichs now say having this place in history is one of the best things that's happened in their 68-year marriage.

"At our age I didn't think we'd ever see that come back to life," said barn owner Lorraine Dragovich.

Mail Pouch barns were designated as national landmarks back in 1974. The people restoring this one say the goal is not to promote tobacco use, only to preserve a piece of American history.


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