Historic piece of St. George finds new home in Montana museum

ST. GEORGE — A historic piece of St. George has found a new home in a Montana museum.

The Larsen’s Frostop Drive-In root beer mug, Washington Fields, Utah, Jan. 22, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Natalie Larsen, St. George News

The Frostop root beer mug sign, a landmark on St. George Boulevard before moving on to Washington Fields, has slid out of town.

In November of 1965, Darlene Larsen and her husband opened the Southern Utah franchise of Larsen’s Frostop Drive-In, the location resting on the outskirts of the then-small town of St. George. Outside of its doors stood a large, 14-foot rotating root beer mug to draw in customers and welcome regulars.

“We were really young, and we had just went into business,” Larsen said.

When the location initially opened, Larsen’s Frostop was a nationwide chain of franchised root beer stands with around 350 locations around the U.S. in the 1960s. The chain went out of business in the early 1980s.

Originally making the trip from Salt Lake City to St. George just before the restaurant’s grand opening, the root beer mug stood outside of the Larsen’s Drive-In for 11 years until it was again relocated in 1976, when the mug found a new home in Larsen’s backyard.

The Larsen’s Frostop Drive-In, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Darlene Larsen, St. George News

Larsen told St. George News the mug waited in her backyard for about 10 years before it was moved to the family’s farm in Washington Fields. There, the mug sat, watching generations of Larsen children grow up, from the late 1980’s until earlier this year.

The Larsen’s continued to run the drive-in until 2002 when they decided it was time to retire and passed the restaurant over to Nathan McCleery. Since then, the Larsen’s Frostop has changed hands, with Kim and Andra Garrett purchasing the location in 2008. The Garrett’s have been overseeing its operations ever since.

Despite having spent decades away from its original home in front of the Larsen’s Frostop Drive-In, Southern Utah residents remember it like it was yesterday. Some even continued to used the mug as a landmark when giving others directions, while others viewed the mug as “an iconic symbol of hard work and sweet memories.”

Larsen said she and her husband didn’t understand how important the mug was to other residents until her daughter-in-law announced its departure from St. George on social media.

The Larsen’s Frostop Drive-In root beer mug being transported, Washington Fields, Utah, Jan. 22, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Natalie Larsen, St. George News

“The mug was just a part of the business,” she said. “We had no idea. It’s been kind of a surprise to us that people feel the way they do about it.”

On Jan. 22, the now-iconic Frostop mug was plucked from its spot on the hill in Washington Fields and put on a trailer where it would make the over 12-hour drive to Billings, Montana.

Steve Henry, the museum’s curator, had been in contact with the Larsen family for years, trying to include the mug in his large collection, but the family just wasn’t ready to let it go. Now, six years later, in November of 2019, Henry came to collect the mug and begin a restoration process.

Henry is the owner and curator of Henry’s Garage, a museum and venue that pays homage to vintage neon, signs and classic vehicles from around the nation.

Most of his collection is locally sourced from Billings, Montana, from a number of historic locations, but Henry began looking outside of Montana after he discovered the local Frostop mugs had been destroyed when the locations shut down in the late 1970s.

“We’ve had our eye out for a Frostop mug for a number of years,” he said. “That’s why the mug in St. George drew my attention.”

The Larsen’s Frostop Drive-In root beer mug during one of its initial transports, Washington Fields, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Darlene Larsen, St. George News

Henry discovered the mug was still in St. George after he searched “Frostop franchises” and found that there was one in Southern Utah and that the location did have a mug at one time. Through a series of clicks and after contacting the Larsens’, Henry also discovered that the mug was still in the area and had not been destroyed like so many others across the country.

“Most of the mugs were probably destroyed when the drive-in’s were closed like they were in Billings,” he said. “I don’t know how many there are, but I’ve been looking for several years, and I’ve never seen another one that was possibly available and not currently used at an operating Frostop Drive-In.”

The mug is currently in one of the many restoration shops it will be visiting before it can be put on display at Henry’s Garage. The first step of the process is assessing the structural character of the mug as well as checking to see if it will rotate and checking the motor.

Once that is complete, the mug will be placed back on a stand, repainted and repaired. Henry said the venue is hoping to have it ready to be on display in the next eight to nine months, although the mug may have to wait for 2021 to make its Montana debut.

When the mug does go on display in Henry’s Garage, it will be accompanied by a storyboard illustrating the life of the mug.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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