The City of Philadelphia is full of museums and cultural institutions, but one stands out brightly.
The Neon Museum of Philadelphia (1800 N. American St.) was established in 1983 but its foundation was laid in 1950s Philadelphia and the 1970s South. It’s mission since setting roots in the City of Brotherly Love is to preserve historic signage as an important element of community heritage in Philadelphia and America. As the official description states itself, the venue is an American art and history museum disguised as a neon museum.
Right now, Philadelphians can catch the core exhibit at the museum and also a new limited-time-only exhibition titled ‘Philadelphia: City of Breweries,’ open now until Oct. 10th.
In the core showcase, however, visitors will be able to peruse through over 150 neon pieces ranging from large, animated commercial signs to one-of-a-kind artworks all complimented by artifacts, photos, oral histories, and descriptive narratives. One piece of note located inside the museum comes from Philly neon legend Joe Feldman of Ajax Sign Co. Philadelphians will be able to check out his famous “masterpiece,” the original Pat’s Steaks crown. This one is a fun one as well since there is a bit of a legend attached to it: There were 39 neon tubes on the sign, but by the time it came into the museum’s hands, only two were left. Though the porcelain was restored, the neon restoration remains a bit of a mystery, as no photos of the sign with all of its neon have ever surfaced.
Historians and those who know the city will also recognize the original neon sign for McGillin’s, the oldest tavern in Philly, dating back to the 1860. As the release states, due to maintenance problems, the double-sided sign was replaced with a replica and the museum was lucky enough to obtain and restore the original. However, the oldest piece in the core exhibit is the Bulova clock, which is said to be one of three (possibly four) identical 1939 NY World’s Fair clocks installed above Philadelphia jewelers after the fair. The framework of the clock is all original and dates back to the 1950s or earlier.
Museum-goers can check out all of these pieces in person, or see it all unfold through founder Len Davidson’s book ‘Vintage Neon,’ which documents classic signs, their creators, and the businesses they symbolized.
For the ‘Philadelphia: City of Breweries’ exhibit, Philadelphians will get a first-hand look at what makes Philly so spirited: Breweries. According to the release, Philadelphia has been a center for brewing since the 1700s. This exhibit draws on the “breweriana” collection of Larry Handy, focusing roughly on the period from 1850 to 1950, when Philadelphia was known as the “Workshop of the World.” Since 1970, Handy has amassed superb examples of brewery photos, trays, literature and other memorabilia. Throughout ‘City of Breweries’ guests can check out videos from Handy and local beer historian Rich Wagner, plus, the opportunity to chat with Handy and other present-day participants in the burgeoning craft brewing industry in person.
As an extra special bonus, the museum will offer discounted beer specials for museum patrons in conjunction with Sor Ynez, Nextfab’s Mexican restaurant.
On top of the two showcases, the Neon Museum also promotes the craft by producing custom neon pieces and puts on different programs and activities for other crafters of neon art locally and around the country.
Upcoming, the Neon Museum of Philadelphia will be featuring an all-new exhibit: ‘Alchemy Illuminated: The Art of Crafting Trash’ from Nov. 5 through Dec. 24. The exhibit displays works from Philly’s creative Dumpster Diver art collective. It’s part of Philly’s annual CraftMONTH, in which CraftNOW showcases the city’s craft and making scene through a series of events surrounding the Philadelphia Museum of Art Contemporary Craft Show.
The Museum recommends reserving tickets, though walk-ins are welcome. Tickets run for $10/adult; kids aged 7-12 enter for free; however, no kids under 7. Those interested can book tickets at neonmuseumofphiladelphia.com