Thursday, June 9, 2011

Signs, Signs, Everywhere are Signs

photographs and commentary
by Greg Larson

Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee
     Preface: There’s something magical about neon signs.  They pulse life into an otherwise drab and quiet storefront.  It’s as if they invite you in with a shot of adrenaline, with cheery graphics and lighted tubing.  They say, “I’m a special place where you'll find action.” 

   Here’s a quick collection of photos I’ve taken across the U.S. and I’ve included one from Italy.  Some are unique, some mundane, others retro.

St. Clair Broiler, St. Paul, Minnesota
     At the corner of St. Clair and Snelling in St. Paul, Minnesota is clever neon retro sign that wraps the corner of the building in flames.  The food is pretty good, and so are their shakes. The place is frequented by students from Macalester College, which is located just north of the intersection.

Western Auto sign, Kansas City, Missouri
      This sign is an icon in the Kansas City, Missouri midtown area.  It sits atop a building that began as the Coca-Cola regional office but became the Western Auto Supply Company headquarters for decades.  The sign has 1,000 feet of neon tubing and 2,500 light bulbs.  It continues to be lit at night, creating a bit of history on top of what is currently a condo tower.

Clegg Co. sign, San Antonio, Texas
      Located on an obscure rooftop above a section of river walk in San Antonio, Texas, this Clegg Company Desk sign looks like an endangered species, ready to rust into oblivion.  The patina and the shadows caught my attention in the late afternoon sunshine.

Restaurant, downtown, Memphis, Tennessee
     This looks like a fun eatery, inviting patrons to “get your tails in here.”  Just don’t crash and burn.

Van's Pig Stand, Norman, Oklahoma
     Everyone knows that pigs don't fly, but this pig is high in the air over Norman, Oklahoma.  The smoke and barbeque smell was enticing and the wood was neatly stacked.  The exterior had a southwestern “Route 66” appearance with neon stripes along the building edges.

Boomer Theater sign, Norman, Oklahoma

Sooner Theater sign, Norman, Oklahoma
     Two old theatre signs in Norman, Oklahoma, reminded me of the proximity to the OU campus.  A Panera Bread Co. store is located at the Boomer sign on Asp Street.  The Sooner Theater sign is for what is now a fine arts theater and stage, and it is located on Main St.

Aztec Theater sign, San Antonio, Texas
     I discovered this sign on the periphery of the river walk in San Antonio, Texas.

Downtown Loop, Chicago, Illinois
     I felt like Guy Noir wandering the wasteland of the empty streets of the Chicago Loop on a Sunday morning in April.  I desperately wanted a cup of coffee, but decided to take advantage of the early light for photographs.  A large, muscular man appeared and asked me to keep away from the cars which were parked at the curb. I assumed he was someone working for the condo owners whose cars were on the street. I moved out into the middle of the street and snapped the photo of the second floor jewelry store signs.

Downtown Loop, Chicago, Illinois
     The elevated train tracks and the historic buildings reflected in the large storefront window make this gold leaf sign as unique as any neon sign.

Former train station, Wausau, Wisconsin
This sign, atop the former train station in Wausau, Wisconsin is a true American icon.  It was the symbol for Wausau Insurance and was seen by millions in advertisements in the Saturday Evening Post, and on the 60 Minutes television show.  The building is now a community center.

Campbell Hotel, Tulsa, Oklahoma
     The Campbell Hotel in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was built in the 1920s for drivers approaching town on Route 66.  The building has an appearance that was supposed to copy the style used on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City.  The interior has been remodeled, and the building will soon re-open as a Bed and Breakfast Hotel. 

Atlas Life building, Boston Ave., Tulsa, Oklahoma
The old Atlas Life Insurance Company building and neon sign on Boston Avenue in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma are historic.  The building is currently a Marriott Courtyard hotel.  It is adjacent to Philtower, the first downtown skyscraper in Tulsa, which was built by Waite Phillips, one of the famous Phillips brothers.

Atlas Life sign, Tulsa, Oklahoma
The sign provides a unique view from the sixth floor hotel room window.  The only thing missing was the occasional flicker.  The sign, when viewed through the obscure glass in the bathroom window, made it appear as if a carnival was just outside.

Martini sign, Florence, Italy - daytime

Martini sign, Florence, Italy - nightime
      I’d love to know the story on how this sign was allowed – the only neon billboard in Florence, Italy, and with a prominent position over the Piazza del Duomo.  Were there clandestine city council meetings? anonymous payments made in the night?  It seems strange that only one neon sign exists in Florence.  I enjoyed seeing it out the window of our Bed and Breakfast hotel.

Pioneer Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada

Las Vegas is the mother lode for neon signs.  I’m sure entire books have been published on the subject.  Since I don’t gamble, I’d rather look at neon signs than frequent the casinos.  This retro sign was saved from the old Pioneer Casino.

Horseshoe Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada
        Some of the signs are very flashy and kinetic, like the corner entrance to the Horseshoe Casino. Sparkling horseshoes and cascading red strips of neon make this a quintessential Las Vegas retro sign.