Written by Douglas Towne | PHOENIX Magazine
Casa Grande’s new park is a gas – neon gas, specifically.
At twilight, its elements flicker to life and create a buzz that lasts all evening. Bearing names both evocative (“Sunset Court”) and pedestrian (“Goddard Shoe Store”), they glow in the darkness as if drawn with a magical luminous pen. Burning brightly in the night, the neon signs that formerly promoted businesses in the once booming mining and farming town south of the Valley have found a second career as objets d’art in the Neon and Vintage Sign Park.
The luminous relics are mostly products of the post-World War II economic boom. Their designs, which capture the period’s unbridled optimism, have received acclaim as American folk art. But when their mom and pop businesses closed, these orphaned signs lost their purpose, and almost their existence. Casa Grande, not wanting to lose the sense of place created by these landmarks, set out to preserve them in a vintage sign park.
The city entered a historic preservation contest in hopes of funding the project. Impassioned supporters instigated a massive crowdsourcing campaign to attract votes to win a major grant and see their dreams come to light. The project was helped by timing, according to Rina Rien, executive director of Casa Grande Main Street. “Mid-Century Modern is the style trend of the moment and appeals to both the baby boomers’ nostalgia and millennials’ ironic desire for both authentic and kitschy experiences,” she says.
The new Case Grande park follows a national trend of nostalgia for all things neon – a piece of bygone America that played a big role in her automotive heyday. Neon signs transformed outdoor advertising, beginning in 1923 when this noblest of lights made its domestic debut in Los Angeles at the Earle C. Anthony Packard dealership in Los Angeles.