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Philly’s Funky Neon

A photo gallery of eclectic signage

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Many sign-industry enthusiasts derive great pleasure from restoring old signs. In fact, ST has covered quite a few of these sign projects over the years. Those who preserve signs do so more to secure signs’ importance in history than to make a profit. No one knows this better than Lenny Davidson, Davidson Neon Design Inc., Philadelphia.

Originally a sociology teacher, Davidson’s passion for neon, combined with his interest in Philadelphia’s rich history, led him to abandon teaching and devote his life to designing new neon signs and preserving the old. With a collection of more than 80 neon signs he’s gathered from Philadelphia and beyond, he soon realized his neon love was taking up too much space at home. So in 1985, he developed a unique display concept: a neon museum spreading across Philadelphia. Thanks to Davidson, 18 antique neon signs have been reborn and loaned to Philadelphia bars, restaurants and venues; the businesses then display the signs and simply pay for maintenance and insurance. To "visit" the neon museum, tourists follow a map to find the "galleries."

Davidson primarily restores and displays vintage signs from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. The collection of neon signs currently on display throughout Philadelphia includes: an animated neon fish; a bakery sign; a beauty shop silhouette; a Bulova Watches clock; Buster Brown and Tige; a chase wheel clock; the Club Bali’s nude in a cocktail glass; Howard Johnson’s Lamplighter; Levi’s hot dog sign; a Mobil gas Pegasus; a neon advertising clock; Pat’s Steaks neon sign; a Pearl Beer clock; a Pontiac Indian sign; a Simple Simon and the Pieman (Howard Johnson) sign; and a three-color candle.

Because Davidson still has more than 60 neon signs in storage and in his rowhouse, he’s seeking a venue large enough to display all his restored signs. Although no plans are settled thus far, he feels confident that his dream of finding a home for all these signs will someday be realized.

In addition to the neon museum, Davidson has recently completed a book containing more than 350 photos of old neon signs contributed by neon lovers all over the country. Complete with narratives and anecdotes, the book — Funky Neon: Vintage North American Signs and Stories — is due for April publication by Schiffer Publishing Co., Atglen, PA. For more information, call (610) 593-1777.

Exhibits from the neon museum

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