April 14, 2017 by Gina Vitale
When the first neon signs popped up in the former Firestone building on 32nd and Market streets, students began to wonder about the new purpose of the property Drexel University had purchased in 2013.
Lights spelling out “RECORDS,” with an O cleverly constructed to resemble a vinyl album, was one of the first to make an appearance in the window glass. As more lights slowly appeared, foretelling of products such as ice cream and smoked meats, the intrigue gradually shifted to mystery. What kind of vendor or business could possibly be setting up shop here?
Now, with brightly colored signs advertising items ranging from 15-cent drinks to Pat’s Steaks, it’s become apparent that the signs are not indicative of what’s inside; rather, the building only serves as a host for the variety of illuminating relics.
This temporary neon exhibit, titled “See the Light,” consists of 29 signs and related items collected by Philadelphia native Len Davidson. According to Davidson’s website, he has been amassing a sign collection since the 1970s.
“Neon signs, once ubiquitous beacons of the American Dream, are rapidly disappearing,” reads a sign on Davidson’s rental. “This exhibit shares some of this history through my Neon Museum of Philadelphia collection.”
Davidson, who holds a doctorate in sociology, founded the Neon Sign Museum of Philadelphia in 1985. While only 29 of the pieces are on display at the former Firestone building, his collection exceeds 100 items in total.
“The 150-piece collection was begun in the mid-70s and focuses primarily on Philadelphia area signs from the from the 1930s through ’70s,” the press release for “See the Light” stated.
According to the press release, all this signs in the exhibit are completely restored, with the exception of the Pat’s Steaks emblem.
“It’s not just a matter of saving these signs. It’s preserving the culture that these signs are about,” Davison told CBS Philly.
Those interested in learning more about the antique signs can read about them in Davidson’s 1999 book, “Vintage Neon.”
While the building itself is not open to entry, the signs are illuminated for viewing from 8 a.m. to midnight everyday. According to CBS Philly, the exhibit will remain through September.