Earlier this year, the Museum of Neon Art (MONA) found its new home in Glendale, exhibiting a stellar collection of signage from around the world all under one roof. There are more than a few examples from Southern California, including the iconic Brown Derby sign from the eponymous restaurant chain back in the days of postwar Hollywood. These days, there are still a few shining examples of neon lighting the streets of Los Angeles. Here’s a look at the best of them.
Burlesque, brash, and 32 feet tall, the towering clown above Circus Liquor in North Hollywood goads gawkers to stop in and pick up a drink. This clown may not be evil (wait, are those crosses for eyes?), but he has a creepy reputation, having been immortalized in several unsavory crime scenarios in films like Cluelessand Snoop Dogg’s music video for ‘Murder Was The Case.’ Still, the grandeur of his bedazzled neon jumpsuit and pom pom-tipped toes makes this sign a showstopper. Plus, the store it stands for is one of the best in town.
The Earl Carroll Theatre | Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
The unique neon signs at Universal Studios, many restored to their full grandeur by MONA, are the saving grace of what otherwise is a terrible tourist trap. The CityWalk is host to several awesome old LA signs such as the one that used to hang above the Earl Carroll Theatre on Sunset Boulevard. The theater of yore was replaced by Nickelodeon’s stage facility, but the sign lives on for our enjoyment. Neon lines compose a bombshell’s visage, framed by the words, ‘Through these portals pass the most beautiful girls in the world.’
Hollywood’s infamous Seventh Veil has played muse to some really good-in-a-bad-way hair metal bands. Mötley Crüe name-checked them in their stripper anthem ‘Girls, Girls, Girls,’ and the club has coaxed a whole lot of spectators seeking late-night entertainment – meaning the spectacular neon façade. Undulating purple lines curve around Middle Eastern-style archways and form a bulbous shell around the front awning. A marquee juts out of the glow, alternately illuminating the words ‘girls, girls,’ and finally ‘girls’ in red, then yellow, then purple.
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Gastropub, Bar, American, Asian, $$$
Far Bar, Los Angeles | Courtesy of Freddy Smalls Bar + Kitchen
Whiskey lovers from every cranny of the city are acquainted with Far Bar, coming to find special spirits on their wide-ranging menu. Finding the bar itself, on the other hand, can be tricky unless you know what you’re looking for. A big neon sign might be obvious if it said ‘Far Bar,’ but it doesn’t. It says ‘Chop Suey,’ and if you look closer, ‘Far East’ in smaller letters. The sign harkens back to Depression-era Los Angeles when the building housed the Far East Café. Established in 1935, the café was a fixture within the Japanese-American community, and the building was recognized on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.
Kitty-corner to the University of Southern California campus is a three-sided neon rendition of Felix the Cat, leaning spryly with one paw propped on his hip and the other pointing to admirers below. In 1958, Winslow B. Felix opened his Chevrolet showroom at Jefferson and Figueroa, bringing the feline Felix along as a logo for the business. Felix, the car dealer, was a friend of Pat Sullivan, whose studio designed the cat character. The sign remains one of LA’s beloved landmarks, and today, Felix is an official cultural monument. Please note the Felix sign now uses LEDs and is technically no longer classified as a neon sign.