HURRAY FOR NEON
Reader Stephen Browne writes from Warsaw, commenting on a passage in Reason's excerpt from The Substance of Style:
"Similarly, American tastemakers have for decades condemned neon signs as the epitome of commercial tackiness, and many cities continue to ban neon. Others, however, have rediscovered the lively pleasures of the lights. While some neighboring cities such as Santa Monica have been forcing businesses to take down their neon signs, Los Angeles has spent about a half million dollars helping building owners restore and relight historic neon signs. The city's Museum of Neon Art not only preserves vintage signs but lends them to the popular Universal CityWalk outdoor shopping area. Commercial neon has slowly regained its 1920s status as a source of public pleasure."
When I moved to Poland in 1991 the capitol was a grim, grey, grimy, filthy and depressing city. Once "the Paris of Eastern Europe" Warsaw was 98% destroyed in the General Uprising and rebuilt by socialist planners.
As things started to get better after the regime change neon signs started to appear everywhere as business became the new obsession of the Polish people. It brought light and color to this city and made parts of it a beautiful sight, at least at night. It also made places formerly considered horribly dangerous far safer after dark - and the dark hours of Northern European winters are long.
We're still living with the Site and Structure imposed by the planners, but the Skin is everywhere being refurbished and the Services are being upgraded (my water pipes are getting replaced this week). And the first sign of improvement were those signs.
Bravo for neon!
For an explanation of the references to Site, Structure, Skin, and Services, read the excerpt.
My wonderful friend Tama Starr hosted my New York book party at the cool new offices of her company Artkraft Strauss, which makes the spectacular signs that light Times Square. Tama's grandfather started the company back when electric lights were new, and it continues to flourish in the digital age. The offices include a great gallery of old signs and schematics, and the company has now put lots of its archival photos online. Lileks should love this site--much better than Hummels.