Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News
The old cigar ad painted on the side of the Gates-Snow Building in downtown Provo could be destroyed in a planned renovation in the area.

PROVO — A great cigar once could be had for 5 cents in this heavily Mormon city, if we can believe the fading ad still visible on the side of a building in historic downtown Provo.

Nickel cigars are a thing of the past, like five-and-dime stores and record players, but some Provoans hope a proposed office tower won't be the end of the old advertisement they consider a quaint landmark.

The Provo Landmarks Commission asked the developer of University Tower in November to consider restoring the ad for the enjoyment of those who will live and work in the new downtown tower and another building that is part of the project.

"We've admired it for years because it's one of the few relics left of that era in Provo," said Brent Ashworth, a rare books dealer and member of the Provo Landmarks Commission. "I can remember from when I was little that we had a number of these old ads for Buster Brown Shoes and other products painted on the sides of buildings downtown."

The cigar ad is painted on the west side of the historic Gates-Snow Building, now the home of Einstein Bros. Bagels, 43 E. Center. The paint is so worn that it is difficult to read, though the phrase "A Great 5ยข Cigar" is plainly visible.

Time and weather have worn away enough of the ad to reveal what appears to be another ad underneath. At the bottom of the lettering, which could be 60 to 90 years old, is a small notation: "Utah Billposting Co."

University Tower was announced in June as a 10-story building directly south of the Wells Fargo tower at 50 N. University Avenue, around the corner from the ad. REMS Development President Brad Sears said new designs now call for a slimmer tower with 11 floors.

The complete project would include two additional four-story buildings, one right next to the ad on the Gates-Snow Building. The wall with the ad would still be visible in an inner corridor.

When Sears sought a certificate of appropriateness from the Landmarks Commission in November, commission chairwoman Julia Smoot voted against granting the certificate. According to minutes of the meeting, she feared the certificate would lead to removal of the ad, but the commission granted approval by a 4-1 vote.

Smoot did not respond to multiple interview requests.

The landmarks commission did ask Sears to preserve the ad, Ashworth said, "because it was an interesting piece of Provo nostalgia that people might like to look out onto or walk past."

Sears said his company is considering the landmarks commission's request, though it isn't required to do so because the ad is not on any historical registers and the project is in a redevelopment agency zone.

"It's a historic sign," Sears said. "We will preserve it, whether it is with a photograph hanging in the new building or by leaving it where it is. There's not a lot of historical value left there. The weather has removed more of the history than we would."

Ashworth is one of many Provoans who have expressed concern about the recent loss of two historic buildings they wanted to save — the Hotel Roberts on University Avenue, torn down in 2006, and the Spanish Mission-style Catholic Church on 500 West, torn down in 2007. Those demolitions were the subject of a peaceful protest last fall.

"Sometimes we need to remind each other there aren't too many of these tributes to the past left," Ashworth said. "We don't have that many things that remind us of the 5 cent cigar or the way things were for our grandparents. It would be nice of the owner to seriously consider our suggestion to leave it rather than sandblast it off the side of the building or paint over it."

E-mail: twalch@desnews.com