Bye-bye, Tox-eol: Condo tower exterminates sign

"Call Tox-eol." That old advertising advice hasn't been applicable since the late 1980s, but for nearly 40 years, the bold green and yellow sign near the C&O restaurant has been an unofficial downtown landmark. Now it's about to disappear.

"It'll be one less thing of beauty to look at downtown," says C&O owner Dave Simpson.

Familiar over the years for facing a parking lot at the corner of Fifth and Water Streets, the sign, in exuberant 1960s commercial lettering, promises "bonded termite control."

But now a developer promises a luxury mixed-use tower on the formerly City-owned lot. Dubbed the "The Holsinger," the new building will offer three stories of luxury condos (some topping $1 million) on top of two levels of retail and parking.

Developer Bill Nitchman, although building three or four feet inside his property line, acknowledges that the advent of the Holsinger means the disappearance of the Tox-eol sign.

"Isn't it a shame," says Chuck Pinnell, owner of the former Tox-eol building at 511 E. Water St. After buying the building in 1994, Pinnell lived there and operated his custom leather business for five or six years.

"I replaced bricks that had rotted out, but I did not touch the sign," he says.

Satyendra Huja, the now-retired Charlottesville planner whose office surveyed wall signs about two years ago, is sorry to see it go. Says Huja, "It's part of history."

So is Tox-eol. It was a national chain of extermination services based around a Tennessee company's special blend of pest-slaying chemicals of the same brand name.

But the parent company, Creo-tox Chemical Products, is defunct. And in 1995, the old Memphis factory location was placed on the EPA's "Superfund" list of contaminated sites. The Charlottesville Tox-eol closed in the late 1980s, and the number of former franchisees still using the name is dwindling.

The former Tox-eol service in Madison, Illinois, is changing its name to Barnett's. At the Tox-eol service in Salina, Kansas, the person answering the phone denies ever being part of a chain.

Even the onetime owner of the Charlottesville Tox-eol– the man who commissioned the doomed sign– says he won't miss it.

"I didn't like billboards, and I still don't," says retired exterminator and roofer Frank Terrell.

The only reason he ordered such a big sign, Terrell says, is that he was covering up scads of signs left by a short-time painting contractor who'd occupied the building before he opened the Tox-eol office in the 1960s.

"Every building downtown had billboards like that," says Terrell. "It looked terrible."

Yet such alleged eyesores obviously have their fans. Christine Madrid French holds leadership roles in the Recent Past Preservation Network and Preservation Piedmont.

"At the very least," says French, "adequate photo documentation should be completed before the sign is obscured."

Developer Nitchman says there's at least a month before the structural steel beams exterminate Tox-eol.

The Holsinger's rise will hide a Water Street landmark.


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