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Another one bites the dust

Neon sign for Ida's restaurant

Now closed, Ida’s served customers in Boston’s North End since 1951.

I’m about to declare a New England neon emergency.

Last week I wrote about two endangered Massachusetts neon signs — the Hilltop Steak House in Saugus and Lord’s department store in Medfield.  Now another restaurant is closing and its neon sign is in danger of going dark forever. Local media outlets have reported that Ida’s, an Italian restaurant in Boston’s North End, has closed and a local restaurateur has purchased the site.  Also shuttered is fragrance and pharmacy store Colonial Drug, which has left its long-term home in Harvard Square for Newton.  And, of course, the sign at the Circle Cinemas on the Brighton-Brookline border is at risk of falling to a new development on the the former theater’s site.

Maybe the timing is just coincidence, but it sure feels like a trend. Stores and restaurants in place for more than half a century are packing up and leaving.  And the neon signs once designed to attract diners and customers are left behind, their once-bright lights dark and their fate unknown.

For our project to save the sign at the Circle Cinemas, sociologist Susan Legere and I interviewed Arthur Krim. He is a founding member of the Society for Commercial Archeology and a force behind past efforts to save Boston’s CITGO sign.  Krim spoke eloquently about the importance of preserving these artifacts of twentieth-century commercial history and placed them firmly in the centuries-old tradition of wayfinding signage.

These signs are also personal.  Even when dark they can trigger memories of people and places and happier times. Of birthday dinners and first dates and weekends away.  But many are at risk of quietly disappearing.  And once they’re gone, the memories they evoke will slowly fade as well.

As I said, it’s beginning to feel like a neon emergency.

(And, as always, you can visit my Etsy shop to find my photos of many Boston-area neon signs.)

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6 Responses to Another one bites the dust

  1. Emily October 22, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

    One of my favorite parts of life has been going to The Rosebud Diner in Davis sq. Now that it’s closed, of course, no one can enjoy its neon sign. Do you know if that is going to be upheld as an historic site, keep its neon, and be reopened as a diner again? (Of course nothing nothing nothing will EVER replace the atmosphere bought by the fantastic staff and the menu/ libations!, but I want a diner again and that bright lovely sign!) luv Emily

    • Larry Cultrera October 23, 2013 at 3:37 am #

      Emily, as far as I know, the sign for the Rosebud will remain and it has been reported that the exterior will be maintained. On the other hand, the interior may not fare so well. It all remains to be seen in my opinion.

  2. Susan October 23, 2013 at 7:54 am #

    Thanks for the update, Larry.
    I believe the exterior of the Rosebud is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This doesn’t guarantee preservation but creates a strong incentive to do so.

  3. Susan October 23, 2013 at 7:57 am #

    By the way, if anyone is interested, here’s a photo I took of the Rosebud:

  4. SaveTheSignsOnColfax October 24, 2013 at 10:28 am #

    Thank you for your preservation efforts! Too many signs have already been lost, so it’s good to see groups of individuals across the country doing what they can to raise awareness of these historic treasures.

  5. Judy November 3, 2013 at 4:44 pm #

    As an archivist, I certainly understand the challenge of preserving these artifacts. If preservation is impossible, I hope a systematic approach is taken to preserve quality documentary photographs of these glorious signs.

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