A classic burger joint is gone but its sign will live on

It's been a landmark in West St. Paul since the '50s

Anyone who drives on the main drag through West St. Paul sees it. Even those who never tried the food at JT's Hamburgers noticed the 32 foot sign with the star on top that's been there for decades.

The hole-in-the-wall burger joint it promotes isn't even there anymore. Soon the sign on Robert Street will be coming down, too. Carefully, though, because there's a plan to restore that sign to its full glory at Little Log House Pioneer Village near Hastings. 

The city of West St. Paul livestreamed a ceremony Thursday where the developer of the property donated the JT's sign to the pioneer village where owners Steve and Sylvia Bauer have preserved dozens of old buildings and signs.

The event was also a groundbreaking for the business that will replace JT's: a Dunkin' Donuts/Baskin Robbins shop, which will be Minnesota's first store combining those recently aligned brands.

A fixture since the '50s

The burger shop a few miles south of downtown St. Paul dates back to the 1950s but the man known as JT was apparently its second owner. 

The oldest daughter of John Thomas Maher, Nancy Schwartz, tells the Pioneer Press she worked at the restaurant for 20 years and remembers he father painting the JT's logo on the star back when it still lit up and spun around.

JT eventually sold the business to other owners. It closed last year and in June there was a fire in the empty building. 

The sign's new home

When the Bauers started the Pioneer Village on their farm near Hastings in 1987 the focus really was on buildings from the pioneer days of the 1800s. 

Those preserved buildings are still there, but in recent years they've branched out to include buildings and signs that were Twin Cities landmarks in the 20th Century. 

For example, Porkys Drive-In – a staple on St. Paul's University Avenue for decades – was rebuilt at the Little Log Pioneer Village. The big Porkys sign was such a slice of Americana that its image is stored by the Library of Congress.

 The village also houses the sign from the old Cottage View Drive-In movie theater in Cottage Grove, which closed five years ago. 

As for the latest addition to the collection, Steve Bauer tells the Pioneer Press he'll get the star atop the JT's Hamburgers sign to light up again. 

“A lot of people might look at it (and) say, ‘God, that thing is in need of work.’ Well, guess what? It is in need of work. But that’s good. We like that kind of work. We’ll bring it back to life,” Bauer said.

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