Mar 10, 2014

When Neon Was King

During the glory days of Hamilton Street, when it came to neon, bigger was better. No store had a bigger sign than Hess's, and that was appropriate. When the city planners decided to built the canopy, that was the end of the great neon age for Allentown. That structure bisected the building's facades, and the vertical signs had to go. Since then we have progressed into sign regulations. Shopping is not a primary part of the new Hamilton Street transformation. Let's move this discussion around the corner to Allentown's new Hispanic shopping district on 7th Street. Hispanic Shopping District is my designation, not the city's. I call it that, because that's what it is. The street is being managed by Peter Lewnes, who is doing a good job. He's giving facade grants and sign guidance. The buildings end up with a historic look, and a professional hand lettered sign. Although it's neat, clean and presentable, it's not too exciting. Of course the City Fathers don't want too much excitement, as the people from Catasauqua drive in to the new arena. These new subsidized merchants are on a short leash. City inspectors remind them that besides for OPEN signs, no neon is permitted, and it must be inside the store. Now I know that I'm not a paid consultant,  and there's no grant involved with this idea, but how about letting our new merchants put up some neon?How about letting them pursue the same dreams as the merchants once did on Hamilton Street. How about lengthening that leash?

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

That Hess's sign was really something. It was the main reason I did not revolt as a young lad on our shopping excursions to Allentown in the 60's. We parked above Benioff's at 10th (pre-parking garage at Hess's) and walk to the store. Night time was a magical time as all of the neon signage came to life and the magnificent Hess sign was the biggest, most beautiful one anywhere.


VOR

michael molovinsky said...

vor@9:21, where you parked above benioff's, that was the first parking deck built in the united states, by the park and shop, which was owned by harvey farr, john leh and donald miller. although hess was an outsider to those wasp blue bloods, he was smart enough to put the ticket validation counter on the 5th floor, making the customers go throughout the entire store to get there.

LVCI said...

Speaking of Hess's sign. When Vern Craig ('Open Mic') worked at WKAP he did the recorded radio advertisements for Hess's which opening up with him spelling out the following in sync with a ship's sonar beeping in the background. It was the exact way the sign's lights were sequenced

H...
E...
S...
S...
Hess Brothers, Hess Brothers, Hess Brothers


Incidentally all the recorded advertisements at WKAP in the early 50's were done on acetate coated aluminum discs. They didn't hold up very long after repeated plays.

Anonymous said...

Now that's some good Historical sequencing. Thank You Michael, and to your contributors!!
This is the Allentown I fell in love with upon arriving on Military leave in the 1960's, to return permanently in 1970 to be one of the last of the Freeman Dairy's Wholesale distributors for all of Center City...PJF

petelewnes said...

hi mike - I think neon is still allowed on 7th we can never afford it. They do not allow blinking or the LED signs that flash. I'd love to help someone with a great neon sign - if la mexicana grille came back they would be my favorite candidate for one - of course we are limited to 40 square feet of signage but with the size of our storefronts that usually is adequate. Thanks for the post - ever see the flats in cleveland - they restored all of their neon - really outrageous area of 30s to 60's neon.

michael molovinsky said...

pete, i appreciate that you comment, although all the city officials read this blog, most would be reluctant to use their name while commenting. you write "I'd love to help someone with a great neon sign,"now imagine if they did it without your help. i suspect that john leh neither sought or received help for the LEH sign. i was told that the blinking or flashing LED signs, although inside the windows, were not allowed because they might be a traffic hazard. is this a rule by the same city which wants to erect changing digital message billboards on it's own buildings, and receive rents and royalties from them?

Anonymous said...

"no neon is permitted" WRONG...whole premise of your post...WRONG...fact free Molovinsky strikes (out) again!

"all the city officials read this blog" WRONG

michael molovinsky said...

anon@6:24 aka blog mentor, sends insulting and sometimes threatening comments to every post. well bm, and you're certainly a piece of that, allentown does have draconian signage laws; the fact that no merchant has erected a new neon sign in decades speaks for itself. this is a very widely read blog, although you're one reader i could do without.

Anonymous said...

You need a fact checker Mike this is embarrassing.

michael molovinsky said...

@9:15, no problem here, but imagine how bobby gunther walsh must feel, after a recent guest on his show.

Anonymous said...

Off topic, but I remain completely aghast that a "professional" like Mr. Walsh would sink so low as to have such a notorious and obviously unbalanced figure on his morning radio program.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


"I remain completely aghast that a "professional" like Mr. Walsh would sink so low as to have such a notorious and obviously unbalanced figure on his morning radio program."

Par for the course, since for a long time, BGW also had as a regular guest a man who ran his business into the ground. His expertise? All things business-related.


VOR

michael molovinsky said...

vor@8:21, i believe that gunther erred in judgement with a certain recent guest's appearance, but with that said, i will close the comments in regard to the radio show.

Anonymous said...

Villa spoke verified facts. And he did not mention you, Mike. What's it to you? Gunther "erred" in giving Villa voice that our local media and bloggers like you have tried so hard to silence? Fuck you Molovinsky. His daughter was killed and he has legitimate issues with those he speaks out against. Mostly I admire his restraint in not breaking deserving jaws like yours.

Anonymous said...

putz

michael molovinsky said...

@10:20&10:50, a bully who makes anonymous threats like you just did, and cyberstalks like you, should not have been given a voice on gunther's show. gunther should have done more homework.