An extensive project to restore the town’s classic neon signs has been completed and the reviews from residents and visitors alike are, well . . . glowing.
The return of vibrant neon lights along US 395, which is also Lone Pine’s main street and business corridor, “makes my heart smile when I see the signs. They bring back all my memories of childhood,” said Kathleen New, director of the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce.
Both the Gardner’s True Value Hardware Store’s iconic flashing rainbow trout neon sign and the neon sign advertising ice were restored to their former glory as part of the project.
The idea of restoring the town’s fading neon signs had long been discussed, and those discussions and the noticeable deterioration of the signs themselves caught the attention of artist Lauren Bon, of the Metabolic Studio, who has been directing the studio’s ongoing engagement in Lone Pine and the Owens Valley for more than a decade. Bon thought rejuvenating and upgrading the signs would be a unique blend of artistic restoration, community building and historic preservation.
The idea started to take more tangible shape in 2018 when Bon and the Metabolic Studio team began a conversation with business owners and residents about restoring the six remaining vintage galvanized steel and neon signs in Lone Pine and Independence that were originally installed in the 1940s and ‘50s.
The Metabolic Studio provided funding for the neon restoration project as part of its long-term, ongoing engagement with the Lone Pine community and Inyo County.
Metabolic Studio’s action included the skills of Kathleen New, Executive Director of the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce, neon restoration expert John Iadipaolo, owner of Artistic Sign Company, and the proprietors of the businesses with original neon signage in need of repair, which had not yet gone digital or LED. The project kept intact the vintage patina of the galvanized steel signs and put all the neon signs on timers to preserve the beauty of the dark sky in the area after hours.
The Artistic Sign Company had to bring all neon and glass back to its shop in Ventura where craftspeople took field patterns on paper of the signs. Next, new neon tube glass that matched the color of the vintage neon was remanufactured from the original tube glass, filled with neon gas then returned to the towns of Lone Pine and Independence to be reinstalled.
In addition to the neon fish and other signs at Gardner’s True Value, the other rejuvenated neon signs are located at the Merry-Go-Round restaurant, the Mt. Whitney Motel, the “jumping salmon” at the High Country Outfitters and Sporting Goods; Ray’s Den Motel and the Courthouse Motel in Independence.
(PHOTOS: Courtesy of Lone PIne Chamber of Commerce and Metabolic Studios)