EXHIBITION ON VIEW: AUGUST 5 - SEPTEMBER 18, 2015
RECEPTION & BOOK SIGNING: WED, AUGUST 5, 6-8PM
They are as much a part of the San Francisco landscape as the bay, the cable cars, and the city’s spectacular views. But despite their enticingly bright presence, they are often overlooked. Not anymore. With the publication of a new book, San Francisco Neon: Survivors and Lost Icons (Giant Orange Press), authors Al Barna and Randall Ann Homan shed new light on the backdrop and the history of the city’s neon signs, the luminous beacons that help tell the story of the town’s neighborhoods, its nightlife and its fun-loving nature.
“The San Francisco we usually think of is a bird’s eye view of hills and architecture,’’ Homan said. “We wanted to present a view of the city from the sidewalk, looking up at these remarkable neon signs that are an integral part of the urban landscape.’’
The couple spent five years working on the project, searching out the city’s vast patchwork of neon signs, dating back to the 1930s Art Deco era, like the Vogue and Curren theaters “blade’’ signs. While the book displays more than 200 classic neon signs still lighting up San Francisco’s diverse neighborhoods from the Marina to the Mission, one of the unfortunate discoveries of the book’s research was how many great works of neon art have been lost over the decades. “Even in the five years since we started work on the book, dozens of neon signs have been removed from the city’s landscape,’’ Barna said. “It’s our hope that this book will serve as a catalyst for San Franciscans to preserve legacy neon signs.’’
As San Francisco Neon so vividly illustrates, the signs represent many of the places where generations of city residents have met to watch movies, drink martinis, buy raviolis and even park cars. Some of the iconic signs include the sleepy moon at the Nite Cap, the laughing chef at Original Joe’s and the neon fish which reminded tourists what Alioto’s restaurant features at Fisherman’s Wharf. The neon signs dotting San Francisco’s landscape cover just about every conceivable business and cut across almost all cultures and lifestyles, whether they are high-end hotels or small mom-and-pop markets. Neon graced the fronts of motor lodges, auto dealerships, liquor stores, funeral parlors and of course, dive bars. What could be more enticing than a large, red, tilted martini glass? Depending on the hour, maybe an oversized donut splashing into a cup of coffee.
As the authors discovered, neon signs made even the most mundane storefront memorable. The appeal of neon at night is the atmosphere it creates, where even a quiet street could be turned into a movie set. And neon art reminds us of our past, representing decades of survival against all odds and the onslaught of relentless gentrification. San Francisco Neon tells a story that punctuates the night sky and lures us to experience a disappearing side of San Francisco. They may seem like relics from the past, but they continue to sparkle in the neighborhoods and destinations that make San Francisco such a quirky, colorful city of lights.
Praise for San Francisco Neon
Lush photography book illuminates San Francisco’s neon history... | Jim Van Buskirk, SF Examiner
San Francisco once basked in the glow of neon... | Carl Nolte column, San Francisco Chronicle
Book to focus on San Francisco neon... | David Weinstein on the Eichler Network