150 Boise Icons: Beautiful neon

awebb@idahostatesman.comApril 27, 2013 

0427 local icon neon

Did you know? In an effort to preserve the city’s neon art, like the sign at the Torch, The Signs of Our Times project has collected a number of classic Boise signs, including several that need serious rehab.

DARIN OSWALD — doswald@idahostatesman.com Buy Photo

What's your favorite piece of Boise neon?

The sign at the Torch Lounge casts a fiery glow onto Main Street. The nose-to-nose dragons at the Twin Dragon nearby have lured diners since the early 1960s. The Chinese characters spell the name of the restaurant in light.

The blue and red sign at Boise Rescue Mission has been a beacon for people in need for decades. When the mission moved its shelter from Front to 13th Street in 2006, it rehabbed its '70s-era neon and brought it along.

"It helped us tell people that even though we were moving from one building to another, our mission was the same," said Executive Director Bill Roscoe.

The sign Downtown at Dunkley Music boasts bold, loopy, school penmanship-style neon. The Veltex Sign still shines at 5th and Main, even though the service station has been replaced by swank apartments.

The Boulevard Mo-Tel on Capitol Boulevard is low-income city housing. But its 1938 neon sign, advertising "TV" and "room telephones," earned a restoration grant in 1998 from the Idaho Heritage Trust.

Lovers of local neon may have something to look forward to. Boisean Vangie Osborn created the Signs of Our Times project several years ago. She and other sign lovers have collected old signs - neon, electric, and others - that longtime Boiseans will remember. The signs include the cat's eye sunglasses from Royal Optical (from 8th and Idaho), the sign from the Cub Tavern (now Bar Gernika), and the sign from Mel Day's Fiesta Ballroom that hung at 6th and Idaho in the 1960s - complete with pink maracas.

A goal of the Idaho State Historical Museum is to one day install some of the signs on the exterior back wall of the museum, said its director, Jody Hawley Ochoa.

The project is "still in flux," said Ochoa. A lot depends on funding. The sign installation would come at the end of the museum's current renovation. Neon lovers can donate to the project now, however.

And Osborn continues to wrangle signs. She wants to fill the empty spaces on the Signs of Our Times wish list.

The holy grail of lost local signs? Fearless Farris, the Stinker Station skunk that waved his electrified tail at drivers on Front Street, and a ladies' pump that rotated over King's Shoe Store near 8th and Idaho.

Osborn and others hope these treasures are stashed in a local garage somewhere, not at the bottom of a landfill. Have any leads for Osborn? Let us know.

Friends of the Museum and the Old Pen have a donation fund set up for Signs of the Times. To donate, send your check to "Signs of Our Times," c/o Friends of the Museum, 610 N. Julia Davis Drive, Boise, ID 83702.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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