B Street is showcasing the disappearing American icon
Changing trends happen commonly in the fashion industry, but over the years they have influenced and shaped the styles of lighting and business as well. Illuminating boulevards worldwide for decades in pinks, yellows, reds, blues and greens was the invention of French engineer, Georges Claude’s neon sign.
Now the typical signs that light highways come from the invention of light-emitting diodes or LEDs developed by physics researcher Nick Holonyak.
“The neon signs from the 1950s and ‘60s are similar to the cars of the same era. They have a certain quality and style that modern signage can’t match,” said Corky Scholl, founder of the Save the Signs non-profit organization based in Colorado.
Pueblo, having a business district and steel industry, was one of many cities that once had streets lined with neon.
“Pueblo, like many cities with historically thriving retail districts, had an abundance of eye-catching neon signs in the 1950s and ‘60s,” Scholl said. “The Flamingo Lounge sign may be the best surviving example, but several others can still be found, including the animated More Skinny character.”
The Flamingo Lounge sign is still visible at the Steel City Theater Company on Santa Fe Avenue where the lounge once existed. The iconic More Skinny sign, also on Santa Fe Avenue near Mineral Palace Park, can be seen from the Interstate at night.
In addition to the surviving Pueblo icons, Joe Koncilja, owner of Koncilja and Koncilja Law Firm P. C., has created what is now dubbed “Neon Alley” near the law firm on B Street.
Now, the alley is expanding from the edge of B Street, across from the Union Depot,. all the way to C street. Koncilja has illuminated the alley with his personal collection of neon signs, which is rumored to be at about 80 signs from all over the country.
According to Scholl, neon signs that have survived through the decades have had to endure contact with harsh outdoor weather elements and the constant progression of city and business booms. When there is fast growth in a city, destruction of old buildings and their signs occurs in order to create space for new modern-century businesses.
“The reason neon is fading away is because businesses are choosing other varieties of signage, such as LED. As sign companies do less neon business, there are fewer neon craftsmen to do the work and it becomes more expensive,” Scholl explained. “By the 1970s, a growing number of people were coming under the impression that neon was gaudy and many cities tried to create ordinances that banned neon.”
Though popularity of neon signs is fading from the business world, Scholl feels that the culture still holds an appreciation for them.
“Since neon signs are becoming increasingly rare, more people are beginning to appreciate the ones we have left. There is a growing movement across the country of individuals who appreciate these signs and would like to see them saved,” he said.