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Sign of the Times: Sifting Sands Turns Back the Clock on its Vintage Neon

Work nears completion on the neon sign atop the Sifting Sands Motel.


By Tim Kelly

A slice of 1950s Ocean City is making a comeback on the prominent corner of 9th Street and Ocean Avenue.

A complete restoration of the rooftop neon sign advertising the Sifting Sands Motel is making progress and is expected to be complete in time for the start of the summer season.

“We see this as part of the improvement of Ninth Street, the gateway to Ocean City,” Manager Arnie Thornton said of the sign’s restoration.

Wildwood has capitalized on its 50s era “DooWop Architecture”, a collection of hotels, motels and other buildings designed and constructed in the 1950s and lovingly preserved as a tourist attraction. In Ocean City, the architecture is much more diverse, but the Sifting Sands, a 49-unit “condotel” definitely qualifies. Though more muted in tone from many of its Wildwood cousins,  the landmark’s neon sign is clearly the cherry on top of the vintage structure.

The sign –actually seven steel pieces linked together with the top two containing the words “Sifting” and “Sands” and the bottom five spelling out “M-O-T-E-L” – had seen better days. The neon no longer worked and the vibrant background color of the steel had been painted over in drab off-white.

But that all changed earlier this year when work crews sandblasted the paint off the sign, revealing the original blue background of the “Sifting Sands” portion and the bright red, green, and purple of the letters spelling out “M-O-T-E-L.” Fresh paint reflecting the original colors has been added and the sign segments have been anchored together and to the building roof using steel wires.

A view of the motel and sign from Ocean Avenue.

Passers-by patronizing the Ocean City Post Office across the street have been watching the progress of the sign restoration, Thornton said. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive comments about it,” Thornton said.  Similar rooftop signs are banned in Ocean City under current city regulations, he added, but existing ones are grandfathered.

He said that when guests are expected to check in to the 37-room capacity on Memorial Day (12 condo units are individually owned) the sign should be back in all its glory.

“The neon itself still has to be installed” and the electrical component is not yet complete, said Thornton, who declined to reveal the total cost of fixing the sign. However, he did not deny an estimate in the mid-five figures.

“It better work for (what it cost),” he said with a laugh.

Workers sandblast the iconic neon sign of the Sifting Sands Motel on 9th St.
Workers sandblast the iconic neon sign of the Sifting Sands Motel on 9th St last November.