Sunday, May 13, 2007

San Jose Neon

(Photo by Andrew Wood)

Lately I've been thinking a lot about neon. When Georges Claude commercialized the technology at the turn of the twentieth-century, neon was associated with modernism and progress. This was the kind of technology that thrilled visitors to world's fairs and expositions. For the next few decades, a business sporting a neon sign was a business on the move. Fairly soon, though, neon became attributed with tawdry excess. The light was garish, and its association with bars, diners, motels, and casinos added still another element of sleaze to the technology.

The recent trend, therefore, has been to eliminate the neon sign from the commercial landscape, replacing it with the backlit plastic sign or some other boring type of display. Fortunately today there are many folks, like me, who are nostalgic for the neon sign. We search out neon meccas like Wildwood, New Jersey; Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs, Colorado; Seattle, Washington; and the whole Route 66 corridor through New Mexico. We visit archives of great signage, such as the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio. And we prefer to patronize businesses with neon signs.

With that spirit in mind, I took a neon tour of San Jose, California, some years back. I adopted that city as my academic home when I became a professor at San Jose State University. Even though the city is increasingly known for its lines of drab tilt-up structures that stretch along the Silicon Valley corredors of 101 and 880, one can still find plenty of "liquid fire." As with my collection of Bourbon Street Neon signs, I don't boast any particular artistry to these photographs; these images are meant to be simple, clear, and unambiguous, like the signs they represent -- only the image atop of this entry involves some degree of editorial composition. Let me know what you think.

San Jose Neon

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