Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ghosts of the south side

As I have mentioned before on this blog, there are several general categories of signs one may find on any given street. Of course, there is active neon. That can be divided further into "new", "old", "classic"..whatever. A generic red and blue OPEN sign is quite different from say, the Ho Toy or 40 Motel sign. Any neon is better than none though, right?! There is also dark neon, neon which is still physically intact but for whatever reasons is no longer lit up on a regular basis. And there is another category, ghost neon. Ghost neon may be hard to spot at first, and admittedly, it is often difficult to determine whether a sign is ghost neon. The south side abounds with dark and ghost neon, especially along S. High Street and Parsons Avenue. Last weekend I hit the road with my camera on a sunny but cold day and looked around for some of the ghosts and "bodies" of neon past. Seeing these makes one realize how much we have gotten away from neon as art, and "progressed" to boring plastic incadescent signs, and how the streets and storefronts of the 50s and 60s must have been much brighter than those today. All pics were taken on Saturday and Sunday, 1/24-1/25.

Old used car dealership on Parsons Avenue near Whittier. Status: ghost (neon tubing remains but holes in sign show how the installation was housed onto the sign itself)

Nail salon on Parsons Avenue near the car dealership. Status: ghost

A masterpiece of a sign. A small tire shop on S. High near state route 104. What this must have looked like lit up decades ago! Amazing! Isn't a plastic backlit sign that just says "tire shop" SO much more interesting??? NOT! Very sad, but looks like it could be restorable? Status: dark (but definitely dying).

Dan's Diner, on S. High Street. The diner and sign have been here for years, but is no longer a neon sign, sadly. Status: ghost

German Village Beer and Wine. Again, the business is still open, but the sign hasn't glowed with neon in a while.
Status: ghost

Caskey, a supply company, located on S. Front Street south of Greenlawn Avenue. It's former life as a neon sign is obvious with the numerous holes. Status: ghost

R&R Bait, on S. Front Street near Columbus Street. With a "live bait" vending machine in front of the building, this may be the only large city not near the ocean where one can buy worms through a machine in the middle of the city. Awesome old sign. Too bad it's "gone". Status: ghost

Old elongated sign on Parsons Avenue. Status: ghost

Along Parsons Avenue, a cool old tavern sign. Status: ghost

Many signs are indeterminable if they are neon, were neon, ghost. If anyone can help me out, please contact me. The following signs I just can't tell from looking at them:

Monday, January 26, 2009

West far and near

While I have covered the west side before, I had not yet gotten to a few neighborhoods surrounding those areas. W. Broad Street is undoubtdely the main drag of the west side of Columbus, and the main thoroughfare which leads one from the west side to Downtown (I-70 and I-670 for those in a hurry). When I did my original photo tours I did not really venture south of Broad nor west of about Philippi/Georgesville Rd. So I thought I would cover some of that. Believe it or not I still have some west side yet to cover, even after this small tour (Central Point/Harrisburg, etc..but I can cover those on their own or in combination with Grove City..oh and I can't forget those small tiny former towns like San Margherita near Hilliard and Upper Arlington..again, separate tours). I have to admit, I was slightly disappointed by the volume of neon far out on W. Broad. Overall W. Broad is one of the best stretches in Columbus for neon, but a lot of the roadside goodies are now gone in an area which switches almost immediately from high density urban to almost rural in an instant. Of course that area now is becoming "suburbanized" with generic chain businesses which use generic plastic signage. Anyway, one of the old crown jewels of the far west side was undoubtedly the Frisch's sign on W. Broad. The location had been there for decades but closed sometime in the last few years. One of it's hallmarks was it's large neon sign that abutted the road. The neon is gone of course. But out of the ashes may rise a Phoenix (or however you say it). One of those aforementioned chains, this time a pharmacy, has purchased the property, raised the old restaurant and built one of their almost prototype buildings on the property. The good news? They have decided to keep the original sign's structure and designed their own on the old! It was unlit when I drove by and did not take a picture, as it was quite dark. But I have to admit it looks good! It is definitely modern day neon, but with a very retro feel. This could become the Camden Yards of Columbus, Ohio neon signage! I am not sure when this location is due to open, but when it does I will definitely get a pic or two. If they light this sign and keep it on good working order maybe this chain will be in my good graces. I am not boycotting them or anything, I just of course have a general disdain for anything cool and old (meaning, what, anything over 15 years old these days?!?) being replaced by the cookiecutter model, and this chain has a history of doing this. Anyway, here is a small sample of some of the neon of W. Broad and Sullivant Avenues. All pics were taken the evening of Fri.1/23.

Some neon from one of the many strip centers located along W. Broad Street near Westland.

The New Rome Motel. New Rome was a town (that is a stretch..was a few houses and a few businesses along a stretch of W. Broad Street lasting about two blocks) which was soley created for the purpose of making money via a speed trap. The fact that 99.9% of their revenue was through traffic tickets, and that the reduced speed limit was later deemed illegal, and a lot of other things led to this "town" being disestablished by the state. Google "New Rome, Ohio" sometime. Absolutely amazing that they got away with this for so long!

Pretty cool addition to what is normally a generic and pedestrian neon sign. Found on a Burger King on W. Broad, in what used to be New Rome.

Western Lanes, near the corner of Georgesville and Sullivant Avenue. One of the few places in Columbus I have never bowled in. Nice sign, but definitely no Hillcrest!

Westgate Cocktail Lounge. The place and sign probably date to the 1950s or 60s. Very cool, even though the sign needs some work.

Just a Papa John's sign, across the street from the Westgate Lounge. What I like about Papa John's is that they at least invest in some neon, at the same time they realize the pizza business is competitive and need to be frugal. Of course an all neon sign would be MUCH better, but at least they have some.

The Columbus Coal and Lime building, very close to downtown at the end of Sullivant Avenue near Gift Street. This area is known as "the Bottoms". A large housing project building is very close to here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Read this

This article appeared in the Columbus Dispatch on January 7. Nice article! And I and kick myself for not getting back with Ms. Gibson back when she read this blog. In any case it is nice to hear about fellow neoners!
Cool Dispatch neon article!
Interestingly, I lived (and my parents still live) about 50 yards from the Silent Woman, and I have never photographed their main sign on E. Main Street! When I started the blog I hadn't yet covered dark or ghost neon. When I visit my folks tomorrow, I will pay much more attention to the old headless woman sign. Sadly, it is in bad shape, but I know it is a living history exhibit of U.S. Rt. 40 and Columbus from the 1950s! Didn't know it was once neon though!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Upcoming Projects

This year will be an exciting year for my blog. In addition to my usual photo tours involving still images of lit signs, I want to do some video projects, perhaps a whole video production involving neon signs in the capital city. I also have planned a few different type photo tours. Back when I started this blog, my aim was to capture the artistic beauty of neon signs, specifically the neon tubing itself, mostly in it's lit up form. Of course, that is the basic aim of neon signage, to advertise XXX (insert almost any noun or even verb) in dim or lowlight environments. I have found though that the actual sign itself, not limited to the lit up gas in glass, is often times also a work of art, especially those dating to midcentury. I have already done a few such posts which deviate from my default norm (still images of lit up signs taken at night), and those type posts will actually increase throughout the course of this year. I have captured over six hundred images of lit up neon of all types, ranging from the usual and ordinary to the extraordinary and brilliant (think blue and red "open" signs vs. Peking Dynasty..and everything in between). But I also need to include, if I am going to be true to the spirit of neon as art AND function, those which may no longer grace our cityscape with light. An example was my "in memoriam" post last fall, which showcased a few examples of dark neon, or neon signs which still exist in physical form, but for whatever reason are no longer actively used for non-daylight advertising. There are yet other categories of neon signs which I have yet to cover, and of course, would violate my rules stated when I started this blog (evolution is good of course, right?).

Ghost neon, is arguably one of the three categories of neon signage found in urban environs such as Columbus; the others being "active neon" and "dark" or "dead" neon. Like active neon seen on any given evening, examples can be found in the city, in the suburbs, and in ruralia. Ghost neon is basically a neon sign which has had it's neon tubing removed, either purposely or through years of weather extremes, pollution, vandalism, or other wear and tear. When done purposely, it usually is removed by a new owner or operator of a business so that a new sign may be retrofitted over the usually much older neon installation. Most of the time, the original business which installed the neon sign has been long gone. On occasion, an original owner or operator of a business may remove neon tubing just to do it (also known as "save money by switching to plain white lighting or LEDs"), or on rare occasions, for safety concerns. While like I said it can be found anywhere, ghost neon abounds in older urban neighborhoods, often in areas which economic conditions fluctuate greatly. In Columbus, the near east side..the west side..and urban south side. I live in an area now which has relatively healthy neon installations (German Village/Brewery), but I am not far at all from probably the most ghostly area of the city for neon. The south side has a LOT of ghost neon. I intend on doing a daytime tour of Parsons, South High, Lockboune..and capture some of the ghosts of neon past. Here is an example of ghost neon, taken in December on Parsons Avenue:
It may be hard to tell from that photo, but one can tell ghost neon from the round holes on certain parts of the sign which housed the neon tubing which covered the signs' facade. Lots of examples like this exist on this side of town. Definitely makes you think about just how neon saturated this area must have been on a cool evening fifty years ago. Yes, most ghost neon signs are VERY old, dating to pre-1960. I can't wait to start this tour, perhaps even today if possible.

Also coming up, like I mentioned, the beer project. I am not sure what the details will be, but basically, I am going to spend one entire day covering one of neon's greatest champions: beer. Beer has to be one of the top two or three uses of neon advertising, especially when one considers just how much neon is used for outdoor, as well as indoor art and advertising inside drinking establishments. Being a fan of both neon and beer, I will combine two of my loves. I have yet to go neoning while intoxicated, so maybe another first is about due?! I will have my walking shoes on for that tour. I am not sure if I will just post stills on blog post; perhaps slideshow form is what I am considering. Similar to the original slide show I did way back when I started this. This country does not have a 'national beer day' like Iceland and Germany do, unfortunately. We have lots of candidates which already function as beer day, like St. Patty's, Cinco de Mayo, New Year's Eve, Christmas..etc..but I want to designate a day for beer, not corrupt another holiday. So possibly a day late this month, or in February or March, when not much else is going on. Psychologists who have studied seasonal affective disorder (appropriately acronymed as SAD) have suggested that January 24 is the bleakest day of the year in North America. Perhaps this weekend I should start my beer project? We shall see!

Famous for Steakburgers (and missing links)

I remember my first ever visit to a Steak N Shake. It was around 1998, in Indianapolis. I thought, what a cool, retro sorta place. Would be nice if Columbus had one! Well a monster was created. They are pretty well represented here. With some coupons I had (the food has for some reason or another gotten a little pricey compared to when they first entered the market) I decided to take the kids there after a doctor appointment which featured a few of the-not-so-favorite of childhood experiences: vaccinations. With the coupons and a somewhat remodeled menu, it was a reasonable price for lunch for three. One of their new menu offers is "unlimited fries". Unless that is all one was ordering, I have no idea why anyone would want or need this! The original plate offered a LOT of fries. Everyone, including myself, had more than enough food on the first plate. The free shake I had was enormous and there was no way I could finish it. Same goes for the free sundae...way too big, even with both kids eating it. Anyway, as anyone who has been in a Steak N Shake knows, they feature a pseudo-1950s motif. The hats..the 'classic diner' look..the greasy unhealthy (but tasty!) food..and NEON! Sadly, none of the neon is very original, especially in the new fashioned ones which popped up in the last ten years. But I like that they still keep it around, like greasy hamburg...err..STEAKBURGERS..relics from a bygone era. Of course my hope is that neon never disappears and we have a 21st century revival. But those plastic coverings and are they cheap. Anyway, this photo is an example of what nearly all Steak N Shake units offer. Taken Tues. 1/20.

This picture is a missing link from the east/southeast side, on E. Livingston Avenue. This is not the best neighborhood and I may not have had a good opportunity to photograph the sign at night on previous attempts, including my Livingston stretch tour last March. Here is the Vogue, taken Thu. 1/15 on a VERY cold day.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Arlington (and an update)

It has admittedly been a while since I did a tour of neoning, so I thought last night I would do a small one while I had some time. Upper Arlington is an upper middle class suburb of Columbus, on the northwest side. It is surrounded by several smaller "microburbs" like Marble Cliff, as well as Grandview, Hilliard, and many streets actually belonging to the city of Columbus and Franklin County. It is primarily residential, but has several commercial strips, such as Lane, Fishinger, Tremont (pronounced TREEmont, not TRE-mont as in Boston), and Northwest Blvd. While not exactly a treasure chest of neon art, it is no Worthington and one can find a few nice examples. I am not very familiar with the area as I have little reason to go here, but can find my way along the major streets. I did not really capture the western boundary of Riverside Drive, but I can save that for a future post. All pics were taken the evening of Sun., 1/18.

AN UPDATE: Last April I covered the area of Grandview, specifically Grandview Avenue, which may be considered the main drag of the suburb. One of the businesses which I covered has a new sign! Check out the difference:

NEW (taken 1/18/09)

OLD (taken 4/8/08)

Which one do you like better? Wonder what Gina did to her old sign since getting a new one? Another update out of Grandview. This one sad. A large portion of the business district, which I covered in the Grandview Avenue walking tour (which the old Gina's pic comes from) evidently was gutted in a large fire. I had heard about it on the news, but the devastation was obvious once I drove past. It happened on Saturday, when the low temperature was about -12, so much of the surrounding area has a large coating of ice enveloping it from the water used to fight the fire. I believe a couple businesses I covered on my April tour were in this block, including Accent on Nature and the optical center. Maybe the physical therapy place too? We thank the brave firefighters for limiting the damage, and our hearts go out to those who suffered loss of their livelihoods due to this tragedy. Hopefully they can rebuild and get back to doing what they do. A link to the story can be found here:


Tuesday, January 13, 2009


WANTED! I know I should be neoning and posting photos, and as soon as the weather improves a bit, I will be getting to a few neglected areas. I also have a few projects underway, including ghost neon, the beer project, and maybe some now and then. The "now and then" requires some help. So by now you are wondering, what do I want? ANY old pictures of Columbus, Ohio street scenes, that contain neon signage in the pic. I am a history as well as neon buff, and would love to see what some of what I see now looked like back in the day! Basically, I am looking for pictures and scans from about 1940-1980 roughly, which includes the heyday of neon. They can be businesses still operated, ones long gone and physically deconstructed, or ones that still have a building, have changed hands, such as bars and restaurants. I will not keep them as my own and will not take credit, but would love to take a ride in the time machine and see what neon was like in Columbus of the past. The city has changed a lot I am sure since the 'old' days, and neon is no exception. Unfortunately, mostly not for the good, with the decline of neon usage since the glory days of the mid 20th century. PLEASE e-mail me or otherwise contact me if you have something to share! Be on the lookout for a new tour and/or project! I'm hoping to make 2009 a great year here!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Welcome to the new year

Happy New Year ! I did not get to do too much neoning over the holidays, as was expected. I have a few items to post here. A missing link, and I captured an absolute gem. Problem with this gem is that it appears to be dark. There is a story behind it as well.

This Planters Peanuts sign is a restoration job. From what I can remember from reading the local paper, the Peanut Shoppe, a small candy/nut store in downtown Columbus, had moved from their original location after some forty years, back in the late 1970s. During that time, the sign was left to decay. Many cities and towns have a store with a Planters neon sign, and Columbus was no exception. Many were well kept up, but many suffered the fate of darkness, decay, and disposal. A few years ago a local preservationist group, dedicated to the preservation of recent historical artifacts (roadside memorabilia..think neon and such from the 1940s-70s), persuaded the owner of the sign to have it taken to a neon museum (now located in Cincinnati I believe?? Roadtrip coming soon then!) for restoration. Well the sign was restored to almost it's original glory and placed near the shop's original location on N. High street, just a few blocks north of Broad. I am not sure of this is the exact story, but this is what I seem to recall. Please let me know if I am incorrect. The sign is there now, but I have never seen it lit. Was this restored without the purpose of being lit? It appears in good working order, but like I said, it is dark. Anyone with any more information on this sign..please contact me! I was driving down High Street the afternoon of 12/27 when I snapped this at a red light, so of course it is slightly obscured by trees. I hope to get a better picture of it, but I know other photographers have posted pics on flickr and photobucket. I hope sometime to see this gem lit up over High Street!

This missing link is not really anything eye catching. I just wanted to include it, since there is extensive neon on this place. The 14-0 Carryout on E. Hudson Street was so named after the Ohio State football team won the 2002 National Championship and finished without a loss. I remember that season well, and the Buckeyes could have easily dropped a few games that year. But our defense held up and beat Miami in overtime to win it all. That was when the National Championship game was rotated among 4 major BCS bowls. Now the location of the game rotates in the same manner, but it is a separate game from the actual bowls. In 2002 (January 2003 actually) Ohio State won the Fiesta Bowl to win the BCS title. In 2007 and 2008, of course, we know how Ohio State fared in National Championships. But including that championship game, Ohio State is 3-0 in Fiesta Bowls in the last 6 years. And trying to make it 4-0 tonight against Texas. It won't be easy, but I think it's possible to beat Texas..possible, not probable. Go Bucks! Pics were my first of 2009, taken the evening of Sunday, 1/4.