The first practical neon lights were created by Frenchman Georges Claude and demonstrated in 1910. His company, Claude Neon, became so well known people thought that was his name. Neon signs became extremely popular in the U.S. from the 20s to the 60s. The first neon signs in the U.S. were created and sold to two Packard dealerships in 1923, and literally stopped traffic in LA with people stopping to stare at them. The first neon lights were made with neon gas in clear tubes, which has a distinctive orange-red color. But other inert gasses like argon (along with a drop of mercury) can be used, and combined with different phosphor coatings to produce a variety of colors.
While Neon Works mostly creates new signs, they also restore old ones. The G&G Hardware sign on Telegraph above Pizzaiolo was recently restored by them, as was the Kwik Way sign for its reopening. One of their best-known creations was the Yahoo! sign near I-80 in San Francisco, which was recently taken down. The pieces now sit behind Jim's warehouse.
We also heard that the Clancy's Cantina sign will be coming down. Either Jim will get the sign, or it will go to the Museum of Neon Art in Glendale, CA. That's how Jim has gotten the majority of his vintage signs. Someone sells or redesigns a building, and they don't want the old sign anymore. I heard that Jim has offered to repair the Children's Hospital sign, but the city has turned down his offer.
Neon signs aren't as popular as they once were, but there are still lots around, and Neon Works installs new ones on a regular basis. Although more expensive than plastic signs, neon signs can last for decades, and many people (myself included) find them more attractive and interesting than modern plastic signs.
more reading and links:
- Neon Works website
- Iconic Yahoo billboard is coming down (Mercury News)
- Jim Rizzo, neon king of the Bay Area (SFGate)
- Light Bright Knight: Champion of Neon Treasures (Oakland Magazine)
- Renovated Kwik Way opens (Oakland Local)
- Original Joe’s puts up its sign (Inside Scoop)
- Museum of Neon Art - Glendale, CA
- Neon Museum - Las Vegas, NV