Downtown Loses Its Neon Charm

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Fri, Sep 25, 2009 at 10:40 AM

Reading the L.A. Times story about the Museum of Neon Art, one couldn't help but experience a shiver of irony in the fact that MONA had to leave downtown for Glendale because its current space wasn't large enough to accommodate the collection's sizier set pieces. Not enough space downtown? The whole area from the river to Main Street is nothing, if not one giant loft. Yet, the Times quoted museum director Kim Koga as saying "We couldn't get it in the door here," referring to a giant scroll of lettering that once adorned a Brown Derby restaurant. The story cited other permanent collection pieces, such as the Union 76 ball and Grauman's Chinese Theater dragon, as having been too big for MONA's current space at Fourth Street above Main.

So, with its lease up now it's off to Glendale, from Bank District to Americana at Brand - across the street from which MONA will have ample room. It should also garner ample foot traffic, thanks to Glendale's revitalized Brand corridor. However, there remains something sad about a downtown that still wears a noirish mystique losing a museum devoted to neon. Founded by Lili Lakich and Richard Jenkins in 1981, MONA started out on Traction Street, around the corner from the old Al's Bar, and formed a kind of playful middle ground between the lowbrow and outsider art movement then a'brewing downtown, and the more decorative work found in art galleries along La Cienega. At one point in its history MONA moved its operations to Universal CityWalk, only to later return to its downtown roots. Now, once more, it will be far from its origins -- light years, in fact.

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