Packard had the First Neon sign in the US

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Packard had the First Neon sign in the US

Postby genehouse » Mon May 28, 2012 5:45 am

I do not know if this has been discussed here before but one of the questions on Jeopardy the other night was about the first neon sign in the US. It was in front of a Packard dealership. Here is some information I found on it.

Georges Claude first introduces his neon signs to the United States in 1923. He sold the first two neon signs, with the script "Packard", to a Packard dealership in LA owned by Earle C. Anthony. Georges Claude charged Mr. Anthony a whopping $24,000 for those two signs. Just think, $24,000 for two signs back in 1923! According to the "Inflation Calculator", that $24,000 cost would equate to $320,000 in 2012 dollars. I think we can rest assured that Mr. Anthony was doing quite well.

Gene
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1939 Buick Special

If you are going to skate on thin ice, you might as well dance!
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Re: Packard had the First Neon sign in the US

Postby Leeedy » Mon Jun 04, 2012 10:49 am

This subject has been discussed in great detail with photos from my collection in back issues of the Cormorant News Bulletin. You can contact editor, Craig Hendley and he may have one.

Actually Mr. Anthony brought back 3 neon signs from France (it says so in his personal papers and biography). And despite the repeated, repeated erroneous claims in modern times that the first sign was in front of an Anthony dealership, this is just not true. A myth. A well-spread myth, but a myth nonetheless. At least two of these signs were HUGE so consider this fact in with the high cost and it is a lot less remarkable. Also consider that the the building referred to in these stories did not even exist at the time. The very first neon sign in the USA was not in front of anything. In fact, it was placed atop a building in downtown Los Angeles that was not the Anthony dealership at all. Nor at the location or address of that building (I once worked there). Unlike other erroneous stories also now being told, this neon was blue–not red. And indeed it did say "Packard" in script logo as well as "Earle C. Anthony, Inc." across the bottom in much smaller letters. Later, a far smaller neon was indeed placed in front of the drive-in door openings on the Anthony dealership that was at 1000 South Hope Street in downtown L.A. But it was nothing at all like the huge original sign. Nor was it anything like one that has been touted in modern histories and shown as a "replica" in recent times by the city of L.A.

The original Anthony neon was so amazing for its time that people would actually (crazily) stop their cars and get out to look up at it. The City of Los Angeles had to appoint special police on streets approaching the sign just to prevent accidents when a wreck was nearly caused by sign gawkers. Illuminated signs in those days were either dot-matrixes made of individual light bulbs or indirectly-illuminated painted signs–again lit by incandescent light bulbs. To see the glowing blue "PACKARD" logo against the night sky back then must have looked to people somewhat like the first laser light shows seemed to us in more recent years. It was almost science fiction for the 1920s. Anyway, that's the real story. Again, you can read all about it and see the photos in back issues of CNB.
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Re: Packard had the First Neon sign in the US

Postby genehouse » Mon Jun 04, 2012 12:31 pm

WOW! Thanks for the history lesson. I'm glad to learn the "real story" about the first neon sign in the US. Of course, I think it is still rather marvelous that Packard was scripted on that first sign.

Thanks again,
Gene
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1939 Buick Special

If you are going to skate on thin ice, you might as well dance!
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Re: Packard had the First Neon sign in the US

Postby PACKARDAPL » Tue Jun 05, 2012 11:36 am

Appearently many of the earlier script Packard Neons were blue color instead of something else. I have the
fortune to have a scripted dealer sign (circa 1938) which still lites blue. One other later similar Packard sign
was White neon. Both would have shown as white on older photos. I imagine that the large ECA sign (s)
would have been as impressive as you describe.
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Re: Packard had the First Neon sign in the US

Postby Leeedy » Thu Jun 07, 2012 5:07 am

Yes, I interviewed two of the last top surviving Earle C. Anthony, Inc. executives back in the 1970s. They both told me that Mr. Anthony recommended adopting the neon sign to PMCC as part of official Packard dealership signage and advertising. Being the West Coast Packard Distributor and PMCC board member, of course gave "E.C." (as he liked to be called) substantial influence. And given the vast amount of publicity and public fascination with Mr. Anthony's signs in Los Angeles and San Francisco, can you blame him? It was a great idea and of course Packard dealers eventually all had neon signage available to them. And yes, all of the original early signs were blue. The ECA guys called this color "Packard Blue" even though it is a different shade from that color in painted finishes.

By the way, when I said that the first sign was huge, I meant as wide as a building and at least one story tall. Think of it more as a large billboard sign and you'll get the idea. This is why the notion of this sign mounted on the front of a dealership building is rather preposterous... and why the cost of two big ones like this and a smaller one was not so big after all for what was received. And in terms of publicity for both Packard and for Mr. Anthony's dealerships... it was all well worth the cost. Normally in the real world you can't buy the kind of publicity that stops people out on the streets and is in every newspaper... but Mr. Anthony certainly did just that with his with his neon signs!
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Re: Packard had the First Neon sign in the US

Postby Randy Berger » Sat Jun 09, 2012 8:21 am

Is the original building still standing? And if so, what is the address?
I enjoyed your straight facts - history is sometimes written badly. Glad you straightened it out.
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Re: Packard had the First Neon sign in the US

Postby Leeedy » Fri Jun 15, 2012 6:06 am

Yes, the original framework and underpinnings of the ECA dealership are still standing in downtown Los Angeles. In fact, it was known as one of the strongest built buildings in L.A. and at one point was used as the computer center for Union Bank because of this reason. But the entire exterior of the building has been morphed at least twice and is totally unrecognizable today from the original building as it once was. Today, the dealership building has been turned into condo units and is known as "Packard Lofts." The address (unless it has been changed) was/is 1000 South Hope Street and it is on the corner of Olympic. Again, Packard Lofts story was covered with photos in past issues of the Cormorant News Bulletin and editor Craig Hendley can probably tell you how to get this back issue. Of course, Packard Lofts at their grand opening a few years ago went right back and repeated the same extreme myths about the Anthony neon signs all over again!

Just as an addendum... IF... in case you wanted to know the location of the original neon sign (everybody wants to know that–and most thought they already knew) I can tell you this too. I stated that the first neon sign was not located at the ECA dealership on Hope Street. The actual location was on the corner of "Seventh and Flower streets" in downtown L.A. This, again was stated in Mr. Anthony's personal biography put together in the 1950s and in his papers. No idea what is there today, but if an old building still sits there, I'd hate to be the manager after this gets out! ("Err.... Mr. Manager... can we go up on the roof of your building and look around??")
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Re: Packard had the First Neon sign in the US

Postby PACKARDAPL » Fri Jun 15, 2012 5:33 pm

Great ideas spread.. The former Berry Motor Company-the Packard zone dealer 4 story building at 2201
Locust Street was converted into Loft condos. The well built building is now called ; The Packard Lofts!
A couple years ago when it was converted, they presented a nostalgia Packard display in the lower lobby--
which was the old showrooms. It featured a number of MVP (St.louis Pac region) Packards. Packard
built to last.
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Re: Packard had the First Neon sign in the US

Postby Dave Czirr » Sat Jun 16, 2012 5:35 am

On the topic of original Packard dealerships converted into condos, you might want to visit these pictures of the old Packard Philadelphia facility.

viewtopic.php?f=13&t=249
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Re: Packard had the First Neon sign in the US

Postby Leeedy » Sat Jun 16, 2012 12:30 pm

I went back and looked at notes I made to myself back in the 1970s when I worked in the old Anthony building on Hope Street. As it turns out, I did indeed go over with one former Anthony exec and we looked at the site where the first neon sign stood on top of a building that was at 7th and Flower streets. According to what we figured out then, the big Broadway department store had the building razed in order to build what was then known as The Broadway Center... a huge shopping complex with underground parking. Today, this complex is owned by Macy's and apparently now carries that name. When I attempted to determine whether the neon sign had been destroyed with the building I was told back then that the sign had first gone through numerous alterations and name changes and was–for a while–a glorified billboard. Someone also told me that the original had been taken down and left laying on its side on top of the roof due to expense of removal. Then there was another conflicting story that this sign had been donated to the Los Angeles Museum of Science and Industry. But when I queried the museum they denied having it. So who knows? This was a lot of years ago now, and I continue to wonder what happened to sign #2 which was erected in San Francisco. So perhaps we may yet hear another chapter to this story. Certainly people would like to know the rest of the story. I know I would. (>>>>>>BE SURE TO READ MORE OF THIS THREAD ON THE NEXT PAGE OF THIS DISCUSSION>>>>>>>>>)
Last edited by Leeedy on Thu Oct 18, 2012 2:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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