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May 24, 2008
© Douglas C. Towne

Neon Sign Saga . . . .

How it all began

Starlite MotelThese photos are a product of years of negotiating bypassed highways that serpentine through dying towns and blighted urban neighborhoods, of spending evenings in motel rooms lit by the glow of neon oozing through curtains that don't quite close, whose fixtures shudder from freight trains rumbling soporifically along nearby railroad tracks. A fringe benefit of these habitats was a potpourri of nighttime optical surprises not easily forgotten: wranglers turning massive kinetic lassos in bursts of golden yellow and buxom blonde aquamaids springing from high boards, straightening out their bodies while plummeting 30 feet in a series of neon flashes.

The difference is like night and day

photo daytimeLocated in Reno, the Heart of Town Motel sign is eye-catching, even during the daylight hours. The sign's name is a play on the motel's central location, yet the symbolism is of another heart... a human heart. Is it my imagination, or does the red heart on the sign have undertones of a harp replete with strings?

photo nighttimeAs is the case with neon signs, they truly only come alive with the dusk! As shown in this nightime photo, the Heart of Town Motel sign appears written with a magical luminous pen. One wonders if the backlit plastic "Motel" portion of the sign was part of the original design. Most likely, an owner added it later rather than replacing broken neon tubing, which can be an expensive proposition.