JFG Sign On South Knoxville Hill Goes Missing: What We Know

JFG Sign, Labor Day in the City, Knoxville, September 2012
JFG Sign Being Dismantled, Knoxville, October 2023 (Photo by Heather Ryerson)

On Tuesday afternoon, the JFG sign on the hill just on the other side of the Gay Street Bridge was dismantled and removed. It set local social media abuzz: Why was it removed? Where did it go? My biggest concern was that it was torn down, rather than dismantled, and might not be able to be reconstructed.

The sign is owned by Reily Foods who purchased JFG coffee in 1965. In 2012 it was refurbished by Reily Foods, with support from Knox Heritage and their “Save Our Signs” program and relocated from its historic spot beside the Gay Street Bridge (Ed. Corrected from Henley Bridge)  to the spot on the hill beside the Kerbela Building. The land for the placement of the sign was leased from the Kerbela Temple which owned the hillside.

Initial contacts with the city and with Knox Heritage revealed that no advanced notice was given of the removal. I spoke to a representative of Reily foods in New Orleans yesterday and she acknowledged people were asking. She was able to confirm that the sign is securely stored at the Mynatt Street location in Knoxville, but plans for if, when, or where it would be reassembled had not been determined. A reader added the detail that Allen Signs had been contracted for the removal, meaning the removal was done properly.

JFG Sign, Labor Day in the City, Knoxville, September 2012
Newly Refurbished JFG Sign, Labor Day in the City, Knoxville, September 2012

Christine Cloninger, Executive Director of Knox Heritage, updated me to say that she’d spoken to Jeff Gamble, the engineering manager charged with maintenance of the sign. He confirmed what had been suspected: The Shriners are selling their property and the developer who purchased it said the sign needed to be removed. He also confirmed it had been taken to a warehouse for storage.

He said there are no immediate plans to reinstall it and no current location has been designated. He agreed to stay in contact with Knox Heritage and Christine indicated she would follow up with him in the coming weeks.

It might seem strange to some readers that a sign would elicit such a strong community response, but JFG coffee has been a part of the city for decades and carries strong connections for the people who remember the signs (the other is atop the JFG building in the Old City) and the smells of roasting coffee. They are an engrained part of the memories of many local people and remain strong associations to the Knoxville of past generations.

Hopefully we’ll hear an announcement of a new placement in coming months.