There's something beautiful about a flickering motel light, all arrows, “vacancy” and red sizzle. Neon signs are hypnotic, fantastical creations — and L.A. is a great city to go hunting for the more weird and wonderful specimens. You could look at them as institutional street art at its best, always anchored to their businesses, yet with a life of their own at night that completely transforms the cityscape.
Historic neon is hidden all around the city. On June 25, MONA, L.A.'s own Museum of Neon Art is hosting a party to celebrate its 30-year anniversary before its relocation to Glendale. In light of (sorry, it was just too easy) this anniversary of all things neon, we compiled our own list of top ten neon signs in the City of Angels.
10. The Mint
What can I say? The Mint's sign has a quiet kind of perfection about it. The bar and music venue has been around since 1937 — so their sign must be doing something right. Art deco trim? Check. Spare green and white lettering? Check. A blue 'Blues' sign, in 1930s jazz font. They hit it spot on. It's spare, even mysterious — and it makes you want a drink.
9. The Good Luck Bar
Watering holes and neon are a perfect pair, it seems. Good Luck Bar's sign scintillates — it's delicately dimmed down for effect. The arrow almost looks like beaten, glistening gold from afar. On an otherwise dark block, this sign is a perfectly crafted beacon at night.
8. The Half Moon Motel
Part seedy, part dream-like. The slanted letters that spell out 'Motel' really make it; as if the sign were slowly escaping into outer space. And it has just the right amount of playfulness — it's not overcompensating for dirty sheets.
Wacko is a pretty strange place. Is it even possible to categorize a store that calls itself a “Soap Plant?” At any rate, the sign is just as zany as the store itself.
6. Nuart Theater
The Nuart: Perfect art deco form, with an eighties color touch. It's just a little different from other theaters' splashy neon marquees (El Capitan and El Rey, I'm looking at you). Square, low and elegant, the sign melds into the surrounding block.
5. Brentair Swimming Pool Services
This bathing beauty is even sexier than her neon cousin, the Virginia Court Motel Diver, who lived on Santa Monica Boulevard last year, courtesy of the MONA. (Incidentally, is she still there?) Anyways, this girl isn't leaving anytime soon — she's having too much fun swimming in pale neon aqua water. She might like a visit…
4. Circus Liquor
Circus Liquor definitely wins the prize for creepiest neon sign in L.A. It's quintessentially Valley, somehow — the clown stares off into the great, dark expanse of San Fernando, trying to forget the liquor sign that he is condemned to hold. Further strange fact: he is also the only witness to Alicia Silverstone's mugging in Clueless.
3. The Frolic Room
And bar signs are back. The Frolic Room is my personal favorite (and actually a strong contender for best overall neon sign). It's divey enough to lure you in, but as colorful as confetti. If you had to make a sign look like it was frolicking, this is what you would do.
2. The Old Earl Carroll Theater
Okay, maybe it's cheating to include a sign that's now on display on the Sketchers-trodden expanse of Universal CityWalk, but this one is just too good to pass up. The sign used to hang above Earl Carroll's famous supper club, which he opened in 1937 on the Sunset Strip. And all visitors received a magical promise: “Through these doors pass the most beautiful girls in the world.” The one on display at Universal is a replica, since the original sign had disintegrated by the late 1960s, but it's just as magnetizing and curious.
1. Felix Chevrolet
Felix has been grinning down on Figueroa since 1958, when the Chevrolet dealership moved to its current address. Winslow Felix, who founded the dealership in 1922, was friends with Pat Sullivan, whose animation studio created the cat. Felix adopted his namesake as his logo — and now, the feline Felix has become an official Los Angeles cultural-historical monument.
We want to hear from you, too! Take a picture of your favorite neon sign, upload it to our Flickr pool and write something about it in the description. Which sign do you think deserves the top spot?