Pieces of Len Davidson‘s neon collection have been around Philadelphia for years, but they’ve finally got their own official space at the NextFab warehouse in Kensington.
Covering the walls from floor to ceiling of the large room (and extending into the rest of the warehouse) are the neon. About 100 pieces. From “fancy” pieces that move, such as the bald/not bald guy advertising hair restoration and the gyrating Elvis, to the giant crown from a shuttered Pat’s King of Steaks, to a Bulova clock from the 1939 NY World’s fair. Info sheets in each section give details on the history of each piece.
A sociologist by training, Len is interested in neon beyond its artistic merit. He’s interested in the connections between the signs, the businesses they repressented, and their connections with the wider community. These interests are reflected in the other materials and ”extras” in the museum, including a recreation of the Philly street game “deadbox” (have Len or one of the staff give you a lesson). These interests are also reflected in the temporary exhibits. During our visit, it was a display of photographs of ghost signs from around Philadelphia. The previous exhibit detailed how the local community saved South Street.
Len’s collection is so extensive that many pieces didn’t fit into the room at NextFab. For more of his neon, you can check out the pieces on display in an old Firestone tire store on the Drexel campus (32 & Market, you can only view this one from the outside, best viewing is obviously at night).
There is no main entrance. When you arrive, push the button or call the museum to gain entry into the building. There is a free parking lot at NextFab. Also, yummy Mexican food at Sor Ynez inside the building (great outdoor dining area). Our birria tacos, shrimp ceviche, and tortilla soup were a great finale to our neon explorations.
Another place to see great neon is in the Reading Terminal Market. Some of it is Len’s work – in addition to collecting, he also creates new neon and restores old pieces.
1800 North American Steet, Philadelphia, Pa. 19122 http:/neonmuseumofphiladelphia.com