The Quick 10: 10 Famous Neon Signs

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You've probably heard of the neon graveyard in Las Vegas "“ it's where a lot of the historic signs in town go to bite the dust after the hotel they advertised has been torn down. I've never been there, but it's on my To Do list the next time I'm in town. It's too bad the graveyard is just limited to signs from Sin City, though "“ there are scores of vintage neon signs that could have used a good home. Check out these 10 that used to brighten up city landscapes "“ or, in some cases, still do.

schrafft1. Schrafft's, Boston. Schrafft's was once a candy and chocolate company based in Charlestown, Massachusetts, that expanded to restaurants around the turn of the century. By the 1960s they had 55 restaurants that were so popular Andy Warhol designed a commercial for them. These days, all that's left of the company is their premium ice cream label and their famous scattered neon sign in Boston. The building it sits atop used to be a Schrafft's factory, but that closed long ago and is now an office complex. If you remember (and miss) Schrafft's, there's a bit of nostalgia here "“ the old storefront picture is really cool and there's also a recipe for Schrafft's butterscotch cookies.

2. Vegas Vic, Las Vegas. Vic has been keeping an eye on downtown Las Vegas since 1951. He used to reside on the side of the Pioneer Club building, but since the Fremont Street Experience opened in 1995, the building has been a souvenir shop (go figure). He was so popular that the company who created him made his cousin, Wendover Will, just a year later. Wendover Will actually beat Vegas Vic for the Guinness World Record title of "World's Largest Mechanical Cowboy," which makes you wonder how many there are.

3. Grain Belt Beer, Minneapolis. This landmark has been in Minneapolis next to the Hennepin Avenue Bridge since about 1940. It used to flash the letters in sequence, but the once-impressive neon sign has been dark for quite some time. It's up for sale, though "“ the Eastman Family, who owns the site the sign sits on, is looking for a buyer to restore and relight the sign. Any takers?

4. The Coppertone Girl, Miami. The giant emblem of a little girl losing her britches to a puppy first showed up in billboard-sized form on Biscayne Boulevard in 1959. It's been relocated a few times and sat in a warehouse for a few years in the "˜90s, but today she's proudly mooning people on Biscayne again, just down the street from her original location. She did receive a bit of a makeover, though "“ during her restoration in the "˜90s, her neon lights were replaced with LED.

5. The Skipping Girl Sign, Abbotsford, Australia. "Little Audrey," as she was once known, was originally set up to advertise the Nycander company's "Skipping Girl" brand of vinegar. When the factory was torn down in 1968, Little Audrey went with her. The public was outraged to have lost their landmark, so much that a replica was built and erected on a nearby building just two years later.

oregon6. Made in Oregon sign, Portland. When this sign first showed up in Portland in 1941, it advertised "White Satin Sugar" in the Oregon state outline for all of downtown to see. By 1950, the sign had changed to show the state filling up with sugar. In 1959, the owners of the building decided to advertise their product instead "“ White Stag Sportswear "“ and so the sugar was nixed and a white stag silhouette replaced it. The company added a bit of whimsy at Christmas by giving the stag a red bulb for a noise "“ something that has been repeated nearly every year since 1959. The White Stag company hasn't been in the building since the "˜70s, but the sign has since been declared a historic landmark. It received a little renovation in the "˜90s to advertise a gift retailing company called "Made in Oregon," which seemed appropriate and has stuck ever since. At least, so far. At the moment, there's no company paying for the sign's upkeep and electricity bill. The electricity was shut off last month and there's some talk of dismantling the sign.

7. Westinghouse sign, Pittsburgh. This is the neon sign to end all neon signs (actually, it was probably an argon sign, if we're being totally truthful). The sign included nine Westinghouse logos lined up all in a row, but each logo had 10 individual pieces that could light up by themselves without lighting up the rest of the logo: the four slants of the "W," the three dots on top of the "W," the bar underscoring the letter, and both the top and bottom half of the circle. You can see how the sign was animated here, but the real sign is long gone "“ when the building it was mounted on was torn down in 1998 to make way for the Pirates' PNC Park, the sign went with it.

8. Magikist sign, Chicago. You can bet a giant pair of neon lips would catch the attention of a lot of people "“ and that's what the Magikist carpet company was banking on, too. The 41,100-pound neon lips were regarded as Chicago landmarks, noting when you were finally out of the suburbs and into the city. Most of them have been quietly torn down since the mid "˜90s, though.

reno9. Reno arch, Reno, Nevada. Believe it or not, the neon Reno Arch has been stretching over Reno since 1899. The neon version, however, wasn't built until 1927, when it was created to celebrate the Reno Transcontinental Highway Exposition. It's been through several incarnations since then (the town is currently on arch #6) and in November of last year, the old bulbs were replaced by LED versions (a growing trend, it would seem).

10. The Travelers Insurance umbrella, Des Moines. The cheery 40-foot umbrella has been a staple on the Des Moines skyline since 1963. Like a lot of these old advertising signs seem to, it fell into disrepair for many years until the Graham Group, who owns the building the umbrella brightens up, took responsibility for it in 2005.

It seems like a lot of towns have nearly-forgotten gems like these. Is yours one of them? Or do you remember one that has since been torn down? Share in the comments!

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February 17, 2010 - 1:07pm
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