Sunday, May 27, 2012

Depression-Era Neon Lamp Burns Continuously for 77 Years at L.A.'s Clifton's Cafeteria: Owner Estimates More than $17,000 in Electric Bills

Another one of those amazing stories, at the Los Angeles Times, "At Clifton's Cafeteria, someone left a light on. For 77 years":
They're not kidding when they say they'll leave the light on for you.

A long-forgotten neon lamp that was switched on during the Great Depression and left burning for about 77 years has been discovered hidden behind a dusty partition at Clifton's Cafeteria. The find was made amid an extensive renovation of the downtown eatery, according to the building's owner, Andrew Meieran.

The neon fixture is believed to have been installed in 1935 when Clifford Clinton purchased the lease to Boos Bros. Cafeteria on Broadway and 7th Street and converted the place into a forest-themed restaurant.

The discovery has delighted fans of neon lighting, who point out that America's first neon sign was erected blocks away at Olympic Boulevard and Hope Street. That's where automobile dealer Earle C. Anthony installed a glowing "Packard" emblem outside his showroom in 1923.

"Neon lamps can last 20 to 40 years before the glass deteriorates or transformers go out," said Kim Koga, executive director of the Museum of Neon Art. "That this one has survived, lit, for as long as it has is incredible."

The newly revealed lamp isn't exactly a work of art, however.

The walls of the restaurant featured numerous hand-tinted transparencies of mountain and forest landscapes, each of which was backlit by a rectangular neon light.

One such light was installed in a window-like nook in a basement restroom, where it softly illuminated a woodland scene.

In 1949, the nook was covered over with plastic and plywood when part of the restroom was partitioned off as a storage area.

But for some reason, workmen never got around to disconnecting the electricity. For the next 62 years the illuminated tubing was hidden within the wall. Meieran estimates that the neon tube has racked up more than $17,000 in electrical bills.
I written about Clifton's before. The company used to have a restaurant at the Lakewood Center mail, but it closed about 10 years ago. Their food reminded me of my dad's cooking, which is to say soul-food. I've been to the downtown location once since then. All the rest of the outlets are now closed.

Anyway, that's something else about that neon light. I guess they don't make 'em like they used to.