July 25, 2024
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Los Angeles neon sign history

neon signs
Photo Credit: Unsplash.com

Get ready to learn why Los Angeles is working hard to keep its iconic neon glow! These vintage signs aren’t just about kitschy-cool vibes; they’re woven into the city’s history. In an age of digital screens, there’s something heartwarming about the effort to keep these dazzling relics shining bright.

Back in the mid-20th century, neon signs weren’t just advertisements, they were landmarks. Think of the vibrant theater marquees along Broadway, the quirky diners with neon buzzing out front, and those classic motel signs beckoning weary travelers.

LA embraced neon with open arms for a few reasons:

  • Hollywood Glitz: The film industry loved the visual pop and drama that neon signs brought, making them synonymous with LA glamour.
  • Car Culture: When Angelenos cruised down boulevards like Wilshire or Sunset, neon signs were the eye-catching beacons vying for attention.
  • Artistic Expression: Neon wasn’t just about selling products; it became an art form itself, with playful shapes, glowing colors, and a touch of vintage whimsy.

But Times Change…

Like many things, neon signs fell out of fashion. Cheaper forms of signage popped up, tastes shifted towards minimalism, and old signs fell into disrepair. Some true icons were simply lost to the wrecking ball.

That’s where the Museum of Neon Art (MONA) steps in.

Saving the Glow: The Museum of Neon Art

Founded in the 1980s, MONA is ground zero for neon lovers. Its mission is threefold:

  1. Preservation: They rescue historic neon signs, carefully restoring them to their former glory. Think of it as a glow-up for aging signs.

  2. Exhibition: MONA’s Glendale location displays their collection. It’s like stepping into a time machine of LA’s visual history. They also offer neon-themed walking tours.

  3. Education: MONA doesn’t just want to preserve old signs, they want to keep the art of neon alive. They offer workshops on neon sign creation, passing those skills on.

Why Bother Saving Old Signs?

Here’s why neon preservation matters:

  • Unique to LA: While neon signs exist elsewhere, LA truly made them their own, shaping the city’s visual identity.
  • Historic Artifacts: These signs aren’t just about light; they tell stories of old restaurants, theaters, and businesses that are part of LA’s past.
  • Nostalgia Factor: There’s something undeniably charming about a glowing neon sign, evoking a sense of a bygone era in a way a digital billboard never could.
  • Art Appreciation: Custom neon signs were often handcrafted with incredible skill. Preserving them honors that artistry.
  • Fighting Homogeneity: As cities get filled with chain stores with uniform signage, vintage neon reminds us that unique, quirky, and local matters.

Beyond the Museum: Neon’s Revival

MONA doesn’t fight this battle alone. Here’s what else keeps LA glowing:

  • Renewed Interest: Younger generations are falling for neon’s retro charm, leading to a resurgence in bars, restaurants, and shops commissioning new, custom pieces.
  • City Support: LA has recognized the value of neon heritage, even offering grants to help businesses restore historic signs.
  • Neon Spotting: It can be a fun DIY adventure to hunt down LA’s remaining neon treasures. Blogs and websites map out these hidden gems throughout the city.

Iconic LA Signs to Check Out (If You Can)

  • Clifton’s Republic: This cafeteria’s huge rotating neon sign is pure LA time travel.
  • El Rey Theatre: A classic example of the ornate theater marquees that once graced LA.
  • Grand Central Market: The buzz of this market gets an extra dose of energy from its mix of vintage and new neon signs.

Neon signs add a special kind of magic to the LA cityscape. Thanks to the work of organizations like MONA and the passion of neon enthusiasts, it’s a form of historic art that refuses to fade away, keeping that iconic LA glow alive.

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Uncovering the heartbeat of the City of Angels.