About the SF Neon Project

The San Francisco Neon Project seeks to inventory and photograph all existing neon signage in San Francisco. It is the signage of hotels, motels, bars, liquor stores, and movie theaters, popular throughout the United States from about 1920–1960. Whether the sign glows or not, is pristine or crumbling – we want it all. Ambitious? Yes. So why are we doing this?

As noted by the author of the NewYork Neon blog: “San Francisco has an enviable concentration of fine vintage neon that most other towns (especially NYC) can only dream of. These are works of real character, dating mainly to the 1940s, '50s and '60s. They boast novel sheet metal work, uniquely appealing pre-Helvetica letterforms, and a general quality of design that is notably more sophisticated than that of their surviving contemporaries here in New York."

A classic on New Montgomery

The San Francisco Neon Project agrees! It is our goal to present San Francisco’s historic signage in a new light. There was a time when old neon signs were associated with urban decay, seediness, and rundown neighborhoods. Now there’s an emerging appreciation for historic signage that acknowledges these signs’ high design values, custom craftsmanship, and materials that survive the test of time. Often these signs exhibit a particular style (Art Deco, Moderne, or Googie) and in many cases a patina that imparts a clue as to the history of a building or recalls a 20th century streetscape. Historic signage testifies to the longevity of longstanding businesses or survives as the heraldic feature of a particular neighborhood. Seemingly fragile, historic signs have survived in some locations for decades, continually enlivening the streetscape, imbuing the nighttime scene with a welcoming glow that we associate with the magic of an old movie.

San Francisco’s historic signage is found not only in popular neighborhoods like Union Square, North Beach, and Chinatown, but in lesser-known commercial strips throughout the city. Some of the best collections of historic signage can be found in neighborhoods on the edge: the Tenderloin, Sunset, and Bayview.

A favorite in the Outer Sunset
In addition to historic neon signage, we’re here to promote new neon signs – what we call “neo-neon.” Business owners who invest in high-quality neon are adding an aesthetic value to a neighborhood that just isn’t there with cheaper, more ubiquitous signage. We believe this small investment up front leads to long-term benefits both for how the business is perceived by the public and how the business contributes to the overall look and feel of the larger streetscape.
One of the long-term goals of the San Francisco Neon Project is to connect business owners who have beautiful, but non-operational neon signs with companies that specialize in neon restoration. We want to see this city glowing again!

For more information or to contact the project, please send an e-mail to sf neon project (one word) at gmail.  Thanks for your interest in the San Francisco Neon Project!

1 comment:

  1. Hello,

    This blog is fantastic. What a glorious task, to document the creative and meaningful visions of SF's wonderful neon collection.

    I see that you take submissions, and I'm interested - but I am unable to locate an email address to use. Where shall we send submissions?


    Charlie Prowler