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Originally published September 17, 2013 at 7:31 PM | Page modified September 20, 2013 at 6:59 AM

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Giant red ‘R’ will light up Seattle’s skyline again

The big green “T” that has stood atop the old Rainier Brewery by Interstate 5 for the past 13 years will be replaced this fall by a true Seattle icon: a giant red “R.”

Seattle Times business reporter

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Chalk one up for beer and history.

The giant green “T” that has stood atop the old Rainier Brewery by Interstate 5 for the past 13 years will be replaced this fall by a true Seattle icon: a giant red “R.”

The original neon “R,” which had welcomed drivers south of downtown for nearly 50 years, was taken down in 2000 to make way for a “T” marking the Tully’s Coffee roasting plant underneath.

The upcoming letter swap, expected in November, is one of many changes promised by the new owners of Tully’s Coffee, which they bought out of bankruptcy this summer.

“The replacement of the ‘R’ with the ‘T’ some 13 years ago was a mistake. That part of the Seattle skyline has always truly belonged to the ‘R,’” said Michael Avenatti, a Los Angeles lawyer who is now chairman and part owner of Tully’s, in a news release.

He declined to say who is paying for the letter change or how much it is costing.

The returning “R” will not be the original, which now is prominently displayed in the atrium of the Museum of History & Industry at South Lake Union. A 12-foot replica is being made by Western Neon, the same company that built the “T.”

The original “R” came down after Rainier Brewing fell on hard times and stopped making beer at the building, which it had occupied since just after Prohibition, said Jim Foster, Rainier’s former marketing director and advertising manager.

Tully’s moved in and roasted coffee there until several years ago, when it sold its wholesale business to Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, which moved the roasting facility to Sumner. Tully’s subsequently filed for bankruptcy protection and was bought this summer for $9.15 million by Avenatti and others.

Among other changes, they are moving Tully’s headquarters workers from the old brewery building to offices above a Tully’s shop on Western Avenue near Pike Place Market.

The old brewery building, now used for offices and apartments, is owned by a company called Rainier Commons.

While newcomers to Seattle will not remember the “R” along I-5, many, including Foster, will celebrate its return.

“The only thing that would make me happier is if they started brewing Rainier Beer there again,” he said. “It was a landmark in the city and a symbol of Seattle for so many years, it was sad to see it come down. ... It’s back where it belongs.”

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com. Twitter @AllisonSeattle.

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