For the next 10 months, you can visit a remarkable – if somewhat under-populated with only 23 examples – exhibit at the Museum of Vancouver, Neon Vancouver, Ugly Vancouver: a celebration of the life and death of the neon sign – once to North American cites what graffiti has become today: fantastical, omnipresent and controversial.
I had to do some research into what exactly neon tubing is. Neon is an inert gas, slow moving and stable, that already exists in the air we breathe. To make neon lights, glass tubes are coated on the inside with florescent colour, filled with the gas and then vacuum-sealed. The electrodes at either end introduce the electricity that produces the garish glow.
Hard to believe they’ve been around in advertising for more than 100 years, but the first commercially applied neon tubes are credited to the Packard Company sometime around 1905.
According to this Vancouver Sun article, there were once 19,000 neon signs perking up the nightscape over in Vancouver. Today only a handful remain: a 1974 by-law restricting their usage delivered the coup de grace. Victoria’s neon sign population has endured a similar fate.
A city in North America without neon signs is European. We might as well just all head off back to the Old World and putter around on Vespas.
What’s a motel without a neon Vacancy sign, or a girlie bar without a hostess kicking her legs up in a martini glass?
It will be sad day when the final neon sign flickers out.