City Neon Museum ‘just the beginning’

Edmonton’s prize-winning Neon Sign Museum is growing, but its first downtown location is just the beginning!

David Holdsworth and Robert Geldart are the City of Edmonton Sustainable Development department sparkplugs who conceived and grew the Neon Sign Museum from a simple, one-sign donation into the future possibility of a multi-location highlight in downtown’s growing vibrance.

David Holdsworth and Robert Geldart are the City of Edmonton Sustainable Development department sparkplugs who conceived and grew the Neon Sign Museum from a simple, one-sign donation into the future possibility of a multi-location highlight in downtown’s growing vibrance.

Many people assume that city planners spend most of their time focused on the future, but as David Holdsworth so luckily proved one day several years ago, they also have great respect for heritage icons of the past.

David just happened to be passing the Canadian Furniture Company as its wonderful red and yellow, maple leaf-highlighted neon sign was being removed.

You could say he saw the future.

“I asked them not to scrap it, then I scrambled to find storage space in the City of Edmonton’s artifact centre…and that was the small beginning of what’s now the Edmonton Neon Sign Museum,” says the acting senior urban designer for Edmonton’s Sustainable Development department.

Over the years, more neon signs were donated or simply found ‘in the basements’ of city-owned buildings. While they at least were stored at the artifact centre, David realized, their cultural value was wasted.

“They were hidden away. We knew that if they could be restored and displayed in the right kind of location, they’d generate a lot of interest.”

David and his team – which included senior heritage planner Robert Geldart – began planning for a centrally-located Neon Museum. Their ultimate success, now the only such free, outdoor museum that the team’s aware of, has been recognized with one of six 2014 prizes for planning innovation given by the Alberta Professional Planners Institute.

“We wanted something unique or quirky, that would draw people in,’ says Robert.

They began by finding the ideal partners to help them restore and hang neon signs. Members of the Alberta Sign Association eagerly signed on to donate their skills.

Initially, they planned the Museum for the alleyway just north of the old Kelly Ramsey Building on 100A Street downtown. But the alley was too narrow for equipment to erect the signs…and then the Kelly Ramsey Building burned down!

After a long back-and-forth negotiation, Telus agreed that the Museum could hang steel framework for the signs on the east wall of its building at 104 Street and 104 Avenue.

“The eight signs we now have up are just the beginning,” says David. “Four more are being restored and 3 others are on offer. Soon you’ll see the Bee-Bell Bakery and McKay Jewelry signs, as well as a Chevy symbol emblazoned with the word TRUCKS.

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Robert says the current location can hold up to 30 signs.

“But over the coming years, our hope is to expand the Museum to include several other locations, so they can add that wonderful historical touch to a downtown that is quickly coming into its own as a vibrant place to be.”

The team believes that the larger the Museum grows, the more people will donate signs, and the larger still it can grow. If you know of an unused, iconic neon sign that might be of interest to them, please contact Robert.

The museum’s website provides links to some history of the signs in the current museum.

Museum signs are turned on an hour before sunset, and turned off an hour after sunrise.

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1 Comment
  1. Mary Sturgeon
    2 years ago

    As I was walking by the Paramount theatre on Jasper yesterday, I wondered whether those neon signs will be saved? They are truly iconic and a marker of Jasper Ave’s past.

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