Firing it up in the Cove

John Arnold knows how to Fire Up a neighborhood.

Arnold, and his wife, Ann, have called Curran Street in downtown Sandusky their home since the early 1980s. 

The couple take pride in their neighborhood, dubbed the Cove District, and enjoy getting to know their neighbors. If you point to a house in the Cove, John can tell you who lives there, what they do for a living, and if they aren’t full-time residents of Sandusky, where they live during the week. Fostering that sense of community is special to the Arnolds. And one way they’ve brought that sense of community to the Cove is through one of John’s many projects: directional signs.

If you see a yellow directional sign in the Cove District, chances are John made it. After all, he’s made more than 200 of them.

“Anywhere you see a yellow pole with the signs, that’s me,” John says.

One of John’s many projects to spruce up the Key West-themed neighborhood is to make the yellow poles and arrows for the directional signs. He buys all of the lumber himself and refuses to take a dime from people in the neighborhood who ask him for one of his creations. If people want the pole planted in a pot, he’ll even donate the pot.

“We love Key West, and ever since I saw them there–more than I could imagine–as soon as I got back here I thought I could start making them.”

He hasn’t stopped making them for the last 15 years.

“It’s another one of his little hobbies,” Ann jokes.

That hobby has led him to, on many days, cut up to 50 signs at a time in his wood shop on Cove Street. 

“It started on our street and it’s always had that Key West feel so I just kept it going with everyone in the Cove area,” John says.

A sign points the way to John Arnold's Tiki Bar.As new people move into the area, word quickly spreads about where to get a yellow directional sign. They soon find their way to John and Ann’s doorstep on Curran Street. John will make them the pole and accompanying wooden signs. Then, if the homeowner needs someone to paint the signs, John recommends his longtime friend Laurie Rohrbacher.

Laurie, an artist, has been painting murals both inside and outside of homes for John for about 25 years. 

“Then he said, ‘I really like these directional signs–can you make them?’” she says. “I told him I’m not good at directions, but if you can tell me how far away everything is, I can do them.”

Cove neighbors would then send their sign requests to Laurie, with the most common requests of favorite places to visit, where their kids went to college, and where they have permanent homes.

“They’re so fun because they’re all different and it’s fun to be creative,” Laurie says. “I have fun getting creative with them.”

Laurie was able to get creative with Anderson Street homeowner Temurjon Akhadov’s signage.

The Gates Mills, Ohio, resident, who owns the Anderson Street home with his wife, Nadira Zokirova, bought the weekend home in October 2021 and soon after sought out the person who designed the directional signs. 

“[The signs] look cool and the colors are summery and bright,” Temurjon says. “It’s a great idea of John’s. Those signs tell you our life story.”
Temurjon Akhadov’s directional pole is at the base of his Anderson Street property.That life story begins in Uzbekistan, Temurjon’s homeland, which is represented on a sign nestled between arrows that read “Timur’s Chill & Grill” and “La casa de Zade,” nods to the family’s love of grilling and Temurjon’s grandfather, respectively.

Other arrows pay homage to the couple’s daughters, Sofia, 7, and Kamilla, 5, who love unicorns; Temurjon’s love of gardening; and Los Angeles, where he landed in 2013 to “pursue the American Dream.”

Temurjon also added a “Fire Up” sign for John, who has come to be known for using the phrase.

“We love every second we spend in Sandusky,”  he says. “We are super lucky to have that place because the property is simply amazing. The views are unmatched.”

Another couple who have continued to appreciate John’s community project over the years  are Vanessa and Steve Marks, who have had a place in the Cove neighborhood since July 2015.

The Marks have about 25 signs that they have accumulated over the last eight years.

“We loved how the posts and signs John created and provided to people in the neighborhood and throughout Sandusky added a bit of bright Key West flavor,” Vanessa says.

Once the couple filled up their first post with signs, John gave them a second post and more wood so they could add signs in the future, she says.

“So many people have asked John for posts and signs,” she says.

Vanessa and Steve Marks have more than 25 signs at their house in the Cove District.Vanessa and Steve may be asking John for even more signs in the future, as not only do the couple paint their own signs “with places where we’ve created some of our best memories,” but they also ask their friends and family to paint a sign when they come to visit.

“Our friend Jill chose to paint Winslow, AZ on her sign because she is a huge fan of the Eagles and another friend, Bronwyn, painted the Oregon Pinot Country sign because she’s from Oregon and loves to share great wine with us,” Vanessa says. “Jill also took us to Sugar Island where we met the amazing family who owns the island and it was truly a great day.”

The Marks’ daughter, Meg, has painted several signs, including “Roxie’s Retreat” in honor of the family’s puppy who loves visiting the lake, while Steve’s love of Cleveland baseball led to him painting the Progressive Field sign. The family’s youngest daughter, Haley, graduated from Ohio State, while the “Marks Kids” sign is a celebration of all four children. And the Nessy sign?

“Our grandson calls me Nessy and spends weekends with us at the lake, so of course I painted a Nessy sign for him!

“We love to paint signs with friends' names, song titles and just plain old things that make us happy,” Vanessa says. “And, best of all, to honor our dear friend John, we painted a Fire Up sign since it’s what he says right before he invites us over to have fun at the Arnold house.”

One sign, though, holds an extra special meaning for Vanessa.

“Every year since I was 9 years old, my family has spent a week at Holden Beach, North Carolina, a place where we have too many memories to count,” she says. “My mom and aunt painted our Holden Beach sign in their own handwriting right before my mom passed in 2018, so that is the most special of all the signs.”

Stories like these are what make John’s project so meaningful to not only those who live in the Cove District, but also to those who visit.

“The Cove District signs are really a conversation starter,” Vanessa says. “What people choose to put on their signs is really personal and a fun look into their worlds.”

Those signs–along with other projects that John has brought to the neighborhood–continue to make the Cove neighborhood a vibrant, welcoming place.

“We love our neighborhood and neighbors,” Vanessa says. “We tried to keep Curran Street a secret, but that cat’s out of the bag!”