SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

March 1, 2014

Sign of the times

Strong showing of neon signs remains on the North Shore

Since the early 1950s, the green neon glow of the cursive letters and old school white flashing light bulbs of Sunnyside Bowladrome’s sign have ushered in bowlers.

The sign for the Danvers bowling alley was built back in the day for $750 and was restored for $21,000 in the 1990s. Recently, the glass bulbs were replaced and the backdrop repainted.

It is a sign from a bygone era, but owner Nick Cameles said he remains committed to keeping it despite increased maintenance and repair costs. When the recent work was taking place, many customers questioned if the bowling alley was closing or if the sign would be removed, he said.

“People drive by and it has been a fixture for over 60 years,” he said. “We’ll keep it going as long as we can.”

These types of neon marquees and signs — popular in 1950s and ’60s — are considered to be on the decline and slowly being replaced with more energy-efficient and less expensive LED lighting or back-lit box signs. Many cities and towns have also banned new exposed neon signs, according to Jess Hanson, owner of Star Sign in Beverly.

“You can’t put them up anymore,” Cameles said. “So once the sign is gone you can’t replace it. We are considered grandfathered in.”

Two weeks ago, the old neon sign at the Whittier Motel in Ipswich was taken down and will be replaced with a replica LED sign in similar size and shape. The sign was becoming too costly to maintain, owner Roger LeBlanc said.

“The neon wasn’t practical,” LeBlanc said. “The tubes and transformers were probably from the 1960s and when I was using the sign there were letters and parts that would always be out.”

Another neon sign casualty within the last year was the Warwick Theatre marquee in Marblehead. It was slated to be restored and reattached to a new development after the original theater was torn down in 2011. The developers ended up installing a replica.

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