Neighborhood Neon Icons and How to Save Them

Tuesday, January 15, 2019 6:00PM

Neighborhood Neon Icons and How to Save Them
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Neighborhood Neon Icons and How to Save Them

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Where: California Historical Society Headquarters, 678 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94105

Cost: $10 General Admission, Free for CHS Members, plus one guest per membership.

Historic neon signs represent small businesses and neighborhood gathering places where generations have met to watch movies, drink martinis, buy groceries, and park cars. The surviving neon signs that glow bright throughout the California landscape permeate almost all cultures and lifestyles. They are not disposable advertising, but a bridge between the past and the present. These neon signs have become community landmarks. But what are the best practices to protect and restore these neighborhood icons? Join us to take a look at some of the best known neon signs in California, learn the fascinating stories behind them, and explore the struggles involved in saving them.

The vast majority of neon signs produced in the United States from the 1920s to 1960s are lost forever. Many were sacrificed to scrap metal drives during World II and city beautiful campaigns in the 1970s. Some neighborhoods still provide a haven for historic neon. The Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco has more than 100 surviving neon signs, and there a recent initiative called, Tenderloin Neon A-Z (a collaboration between the Tenderloin Museum, SF Neon, and San Francisco’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development [OEWD]), aims to restore a cluster of neon signs every year in an effort to illuminate this historic neighborhood.

Katie Conry of the Tenderloin Museum will profile the Tenderloin and the positive impacts of restoring the neon glow to the streets. The talk will close with a screening of Lost Neon Landscapes, neon-focused footage from the Prelinger Archive. This 15-minute film includes clips of home movies and short films that reveal San Francisco’s lost neon landscape from Market Street to Playland. A book signing of San Francisco Neon: Survivors and Lost Icons and Neon Best Practices: A Community Guide will follow the discussion.

About our Speakers:

Al Barna and Randall Ann Homan are the co-Founders of San Francisco Neon & Historic Sign Network, which produces the annual Neon Speaks Festival and Symposium. They are also the authors and photographers of San Francisco Neon: Survivors and Lost Icons (Giant Orange Press 2014) and Neon Best Practices: A Community Guide (Giant Orange Press 2018).

About the Tenderloin Museum:

The Tenderloin Museum celebrates the rich history of one of San Francisco's most misunderstood neighborhood. The 31 blocks of the Tenderloin district are the beating heart of the city peopled by immigrants and iconoclasts, artists and activists, sinners and saints. Visit the Tenderloin Museum today and encounter a kaleidoscopic American city in all its grit and glory.

And The Tenderloin Match Book: Historical Ephemera Project:

Matchbooks are emblems of local culture: accessible, utilitarian ephemera that functioned as the chosen form of advertising for small businesses in an era before plastic lighters and concerns around smoking. These ritual objects exist at a fascinating intersection of material culture, local history, and design art; matchbooks are striking populist artifacts that serve as portals to the places and people in a neighborhood’s past. The Tenderloin Match Book: Historical Ephemera Project presents an illuminating new perspective on the Tenderloin’s often overlooked history, and communicate the history of the Tenderloin’s vibrant nightlife culture. Featuring The Match Book: Vintage Matchbooks from San Francisco’s Tenderloin an artfully designed photo history book featuring the matchbooks of historic businesses, The Matchbook Map Exhibit, the first addition to the Tenderloin Museum’s permanent exhibit, a Tenderloin Ephemera Exhibition, and a series of 7 community-focused public programs.

In partnership with the Tenderloin Museum

Photo © 2018

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