By Erik Sine
When signs were an art form, when you had truly "skilled" employed help and NOT just popped a light box on a wall.
Here's a video I came across on my own local town. It kinda blew me away because we're no longer allowed to have any outdoor animated signs, but wow at the creativity it took to make these. Truly it can be said, "The good ol days"
By Erik Sine
PSFS lighting: Committee rejects switch from neon to LED
Four letters have spelled Philly since 1932: PSFS.
High above 12th and Market streets, two 26-foot high PSFS signs have been illuminated by parallel tubes of red neon for 83 years.
Now the landmark building’s owners and consultants contend that the sign lighting systems are at the end of their serviceable life, and it’s time for a 21st century replacement.
The PSFS building was individually listed in the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 1968, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976. The local designation means any changes to the exterior require Philadelphia Historical Commission approval.
On Tuesday Heritage Consulting Group presented an application on behalf of Loews Philadelphia Hotel to the commission’s Architectural Committee to convert the PSFS sign’s illumination from neon to Light Emitting Diodes (LED) designed to closely match the original color and intensity.
The committee, which offers advisory recommendations to the commission, unanimously rejected the LED proposal voicing several concerns. Commission staff did not recommend approval of the application because the applicants did not demonstrate that it is not feasible to restore the sign.
Loews, which has operated the PSFS building as a hotel since 2000, argued that safely maintaining the sign is a challenge, as is keeping all letters illuminated. What were once parallel tubes of neon have been reduced to disjointed single runs of neon, the result of years of temporary fixes aimed at keeping the lights on.
The application package states that the building’s head engineer says the sign can’t even be powered down at this point because “each time the power is cycled, at least one section of the sign goes dark due to damaged electrical wiring.”
Though neon restoration could be cheaper the applicants said the conversion to LED would help Loews meet its corporate sustainability targets, save on energy costs, and require less frequent repairs.
“Loews is committed to keeping the sign lit,” Danny Smith, a Loews representative, told the committee.
Heritage Consulting’s Cindy Hamilton noted that Loews is trying to be a good Philadelphia citizen, but it is under no obligation to keep the sign illuminated. Indeed before the hotel conversion the letters were dark for most of the 1990s.
While some committee members were open to the idea of LEDs, they were not persuaded by the application. The applicants, they said, had not demonstrated that replacing the neon in-kind – which would effectively require rebuilding the neon system – was infeasible.
The proposed LED design would mimic the neon tubes with two lines of light set in a box. Committee members felt that an LED mockup installed on one section of the sign looked convincing when viewed head on, some had concerns about how the sign would be visible from oblique views. While tubes of neon are meant to reflect off of the coated surface of the sign’s letters, they wondered if the boxed LEDs would glow as visibly. (As of this writing, the mockup is still on the sign – bonus points for the person who can name what letter it is on.)
The application argues that unlike art neon signs, the use of neon on the PSFS sign was simply the chosen vehicle for illumination. Commission staffer Randal Baron said, however, that staff regards the neon as an artifact in its own right.
The PSFS sign was a pioneering example of integrating illuminated graphics into architecture, designed as part of George Howe and William Lescaze’s bold International Style skyscraper. The sign is a defining feature on the most important building added to Philadelphia in the 20th century.
“This is an icon we need to treat as respectfully as possible,” said the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia’s Advocacy Director Patrick Grossi in a public comment. The owners, he said, should make every effort to restore the neon. Plus, he expressed trepidation that an LED sign could open the door to different colors being programmed instead of the sign’s trademark red. (Imagine a green PSFS on a big Eagles game day.)
Neon artisan and historian Len Davidson also commented that the PSFS sign’s neon system has been so badly compromised and rigged that it’s stressed, by design. In his estimation a rebuilt, well-balanced neon system would be more enduring than LEDs, which do not perform especially well in high-humidity, bad weather, and high-up installations. Neon, Davidson said, has a long track record while we don’t know the true longevity of LEDs.
The Historical Commission will review the application to turn PSFS from neon to LED at its meeting on Friday, June 12.
By Erik Sine
After some testimony on this subject the panel voted to stick with Neon after all, a VERY wise decision.
Good for Lenny to step in. It's too bad they thought they were limited in vendors to choose from to come in and complete the job and restore the Neon. They just need to pick someone who continues to manufacture Neon projects, theirs plenty of them out there and supplies aren't that hard to find especially for this one. Glass, glass housings, GTO & Transformers aren't that hard to find....maybe not looking hard enough or just looking for an easy way out. Just hope who ever does the work re-engineers the tranny runs and does it right.
Loews would replace neon PSFS sign with LED letters
The Loews hotel chain has tinkered for 15 years to keep the neon PSFS sign aglow on Philadelphia's skyline, but officials said Tuesday they believe the time has come to do away with the old and bring in the new.
Arguing that the 83-year-old sign has become too costly and burdensome to maintain Loews representatives asked the Philadelphia Historical Commission for permission to replace the neon tubes and transformers of the signature red sign with LED lights.
The commission's architecture committee voted unanimously against the idea.
The 27-foot-tall sign, atop the skyline since its installation in 1932 by the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society, they argued, is a historic artifact that can, and should, be fixed.
"The standards are very clear that it's better to repair than replace," said committee member Suzanne Pentz, referring to preservation rules in place.
"The neon is its own artifact," said preservation planner Randal Baron.
The PSFS matter came during the fifth hour of a busy meeting during which the committee also voted against a high-profile plan for Center City's nearly demolished 1920s-era Boyd movie palace.
That proposal, by Jim Pearlstein's Pearl Properties, seeks to build an apartment tower and street-level stores where the Boyd formerly occupied a large section of Chestnut Street between 19th and 20th Streets.
The committee expressed a number of concerns, ranging from what materials might be used on new facades, to whether to install a glass enclosure leading into an arcade entryway beneath the theater's original marquee.
Both proposals were scheduled to come before the full commission for a vote June 12th.
But where the Boyd for years has been a lightning rod of debate and scuttled redevelopment plans as preservationists squared off with developers, the PSFS sign proposal shed light on the fragile goodwill that has kept the unmistakable and enduring landmark visible on the city's skyline.
Before Loews moved into the dormant PSFS building in 1999, the sign had been dark for a decade, noted consultant Cindy Hamilton, representing the hotel.
Loews has no obligation to retain the sign, let alone keep it lit, despite its prominence and the company's decision to include it prominently on the hotel's Philadelphia website.
And yet, the company stitched together a fix here and there for years, until deciding it did not want to spend a hefty sum to rebuild it entirely as a high-wattage neon structure.
Now, amid increasingly scarce suppliers of neon, the hotelier said it was eager for an alternative to keep the sign lit.
Officials said it would be cheaper and easier to maintain the PSFS sign if it were replaced by a system of lower-wattage LED lights, as was done years ago on Boathouse Row.
The popularity of LED has become so great it has contributed to the dearth of once-prevalent neon, said Danny Smith, the hotel's director of engineering.
Where there used to be many suppliers, there now is only one for the PSFS moniker, said Patrick Hoban, of Philadelphia Sign Co., whose employees scale and sometimes dangle from the letters to conduct tricky maintenance work.
"It's getting harder to get neon components," Hoban said.
"It takes me weeks to get the neon to come in," Smith added.
Len Davidson, who refurbishes neon signs, did not buy the scarcity argument. Neon for his projects, he said, has been readily available.
"This sign is a great example of demolition by neglect," Davidson said. "The sign has been compromised terribly."
By Erik Sine
Vern Walker's Enormous Automotive Neon Sign Collection Sells For $4.65 Million
Mecum Auctions is well known among street rodders for its live auctions of street rods, hot rods, classic cars and trucks, muscle cars, and collector cars. Attending a Mecum Auction is like going to a top-level car show, except that virtually every vehicle will leave with a different owner than it arrived with.
In March 2015, Mecum hosted an auction in West Memphis, Arkansas, where no automobiles but some impressive cherished automobilia was up for sale. It was the huge collection of vintage signs belonging to Vernon Walker.
Walker is the man behind Walker Radiator as well as a co-founder of the National Street Rod Association. He was a relative young gun when he started collecting vintage signage from businesses, such as dealerships, drug stores, gas stations, repair shops, and restaurants, as well as products ranging from motor oil to beer. His interest was a combination of an appreciation for a historic style and a desire to save the rare porcelain neon signs from destruction. "Being a car guy, I thought owning some of the dealership signs would be something fun to get into. I quickly found that the future of these signs was not shaping up to be such a pretty picture." Other collectors were buying the rare double-sided porcelain signs and splitting them apart in order to re-sell them as two signs. "They were destroying the history of these signs, so when I realized what was going on, I just went crazy buying signs."
After almost 50 years of going crazy buying signs, the Walker sign collection had grown to more than 400 pieces of nostalgic commercial art. So why sell them now?
"It's certainly not that I don't like them anymore," Vern said. "It was just that I figured they should be hung up so people can enjoy them."
That's where Mecum Auctions comes in. On March 27-28, 2015, 421 pieces from the Walker Sign Collection were sold for a total of $4.65 million. The top seller of the event was the Weakley Equipment Co. Lawn Equipment sign, which sold for $125,000. The signs shown here were among the top 10 highest priced items at the Mecum auction.
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