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LA's neon ain't bad either

In fact, it’s America’s capital of vintage neon, says tour guide and sign obsessive Eric Lynxwiler

  • LA's neon ain't bad either
  • LA's neon ain't bad either
  • LA's neon ain't bad either
  • LA's neon ain't bad either
  • LA's neon ain't bad either

Text by Toby Skinner Photos/Tim E White

"Vegas had the Strip and New York had Times Square, but Los Angeles was really the place where neon was everywhere.”

So says Eric Lynxwiler, a graphic designer who has been involved with LA’s Museum of Neon Art (MONA) for 16 years,  giving neon-art bus tours of the city for 15 and saving countless signs in the process. He’s been dubbed “the Indiana Jones of Los Angeles”, having been “drawn to neon lighting like a moth, and become obsessed by what it says about Americana and our culture.

“LA was the place where car culture exploded from the 1920s to the ’50s – and with that came neon,” he says. “You simply had to have a neon sign to stand out, and the city was dripping with it.”

Until recently, legend had it that the first neon signs were purchased by LA’s Packard car dealership in 1923, stopping traffic – but new research has found that there were almost certainly neon signs in the States before that, something that Lynxwiler ruefully admits “has robbed me of a juicy story”. He also finds it “hard to believe that, having come from France, there weren’t neon signs in New York before LA.”

Even though he reckons that 99 per cent of LA’s old neon signs have gone, he says it’s still the “world capital of vintage neon” and there’s plenty to look at on his tour – “from the exoticism of Chinatown, which is like this pre-Disney adventure world, to Broadway, where neon lighting formed the soul of the place, and the jaw-dropping Rosslyn Hotel on the edge of Downtown.”

Los Angeles recently introduced the Broadway Sign District, which incentivises developers to maintain vintage neon signs and even build new ones. “I’m thrilled,” says Lynxwiler. “It doesn’t just reward historical accuracy, but the lights make people feel safer. It’s reinvigorated a whole area.”

Los Angeles’s neon museum reopens this fall in Glendale, and Lynxwiler says it “walks a fine line, because we ideally want the signs to stay where they are. But the main thing is that, wherever, they are, we don’t let neon signs crumble and disappear. They’re part of our culture.” 

Norwegian flies to Los Angeles from Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm and London. Book flights, a hotel and a rental car at norwegian.com


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