5 Faves: New England Neon

5 Faves: New England Neon

By Susan Bregman

New England is full of neon signs – you just have to look. I traveled back roads and main streets from the shores of Lake Champlain to the tip of Cape Cod to capture these vintage beauties for my book, New England Neon (Arcadia Publishing, 2018).

I found signs for donuts and druggists, motels and diners, booze and bars, pinball arcades and police stations, cinemas and drive-ins, haberdashers and dry cleaners, rugs and rubber stamps, and bowling in all its variations: tenpin, candlepin, and duckpins.

New England Neon is a personal and affectionate look at the best and the (not always) brightest signs in the region. My goal in writing this book was to be representative, not exhaustive. But each sign in the book has a story to tell, and it has been a privilege to share those tales.

Many of New England’s neon signs are endangered – victims of neglect, weather, rising real estate values, zoning, and attempts to “modernize” them – and I wanted to tell their stories before they disappear. Here are some of my favorites.

1: Weirs Beach

The Weirs Beach sign has 200 feet of neon tubing and 696 chaser bulbs in its arrow. Welcoming visitors to Lake Winnipesaukee, in New Hampshire, since 1956, the sign was almost torn down about 15 years ago. That’s when several local businesses helped raise funds to restore the sign. They were also inspired to change the color scheme from the original yellow and black, visible in vintage postcards, to the current blue and red.

2: Shell Oil Company

One of the oldest surviving spectacular signs in the Boston metro area is the Shell sign in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Located along the Charles River in a working gas station, the sign was built in 1933 and moved to its current location about 10 years later. The 68-foot-tall sign is in the shape of a giant scallop shell, the familiar trademark of the Shell Oil Company, and was initially located on top of the Shell Building in Boston. The sign was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994 and designated a Cambridge city landmark in 2009. The Donnelly Electric Manufacturing Company built the sign, which originally used neon and incandescent lighting to create a sequenced display of moving lights. After it fell into disrepair, the original sign was replaced with a faithful replica using LED in 2011.

To read the rest of this article, members are invited to log in. Not a member? We invite you to join. This article originally appeared in SCA Road Notes, Spring 2019, Vol. 28, No. 1. SCA Road Notes, informally known as SCA News, is a quarterly publication and a member benefit of the Society for Commercial Archeology. Back issues are available for download.

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