INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — One Jackson County neighborhood plans to draw patrons using the glow of yesteryear.
The Englewood Arts Center in Independence is working to revive neon lights on public buildings. They’re fancy tubes powered by gas-fueled tubs that aren’t as popular — or legal — as they used to be.
Widespread use of neon faded after the 1950s when too many people associated them with sketchy places. There may also have been concerns about light pollution in some areas of the United States.
“I can quote my grandmother and say I think people saw it as sleazy,” Michael Baxley, Englewood Arts Center executive director, grinned.
“There’s this neat glow to it that you may not get with LED lights,” Teresa Dorsch, the arts center’s director of arts, added.
Dorsch is also an artist in her own right. Englewood Arts Center sits in an area of Independence that used to have neon signs everywhere. Artists claim it’s also one of the few metro neighborhoods zoned for neons. Dorsch and her colleagues plan to work on the nearby Ben Franklin Five and Dime sign next. They’re also hopeful to restore the Englewood Theatre sign next door.
“It’s very welcoming. It gives you a warm fuzzy feeling. There’s this glow to it and a nice energy that emanates from it. I don’t know if a sign can be cozy, but a neon sign feels cozy,” Dorsch said.
Dorsch said her staff was included in a national symposium on neon, signifying this Independence neighborhood as one of the driving forces in restoring the glow. They’re also hopeful local owners of old neons will reach out.
“I see it as almost a memorial to a group of signs that draw people in and direct them into an entertainment area,” Baxley said.
Baxley envisions a Neon Alley, lining his building’s side alley and rear with neon markers, and repurposing the space as a small performing arts venue. Englewood Arts directors don’t yet have a timetable for when that might open.
“It starts conversations up about — do you remember the old barber shop? Do you remember the old pharmacy? And now, it’s a conversation between you and I. It’s not just an art piece,” Baxley said.
Englewood Arts Center staff members aren’t sure how many neons will go into the alley, but they’re hopeful it will draw to this celebrated section of Independence. The neon signs they currently have can be seen at Third Friday Art Walks — the next of which is coming next week.
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