It started pretty casually, probably when I made a refrigerator magnet from one of my photos of Kenmore Square’s Citgo sign. But something clicked, and I’ve been taking photos of Boston-area vintage commercial signs for the past few years. Now I’m pleased to say that 18 of my images are currently hanging at Athan’s Cafe in Brookline in an exhibit called Landmarks of Light: Boston’s Iconic Commercial Signs.
From the Hilltop Steak House’s giant neon cactus to the gloriously restored marquee of the Paramount Theater, these grand and garish signs were originally designed to attract customers and sell products. But while some people see these signs as pieces of public art worth protecting, others consider them obsolete relics from another era and would be quick to tear them down.
Still, there are encouraging success stories. The Paramount and the Citgo sign and the new neon marquee that caps off the Coolidge Corner Theater come to mind. But, sadly, many of the region’s commercial beacons — neon signs, especially — have already disappeared. (Remember the Coca-Cola sign?) Others are endangered, as the businesses they represented close or change ownership. Sometimes these signs are the only reminders of long-shuttered institutions, ghosts of a more prosperous past. Readers of this blog know that I’m especially concerned about the fate of the Circle Cinema sign on the Boston/Brookline border.
And now I find myself on a mission to document these signs of times past before they’re gone. Which brings me back to the exhibit at Athan’s. I have photographed theaters and package stores, gas stations and restaurants. My photos span the new and old, neon and electric, city and suburb. What they have in common is the power to evoke nostalgic memories and it is specially gratifying when people see my photos and share their recollections with me — from weekly family dinners at Newton’s South Pacific restaurant to that first apartment overlooking the Citgo sign.
And to think it all started with a fridge magnet.
Landmarks of Light: Boston’s Iconic Commercial Signs
Athan’s Cafe | 1621 Beacon Street | Brookline, MA
March 11 – May 4
Artist’s reception: Sunday, March 30 | 6:00 PM – 7:30 PM