Anyone who's driven down a city street lately will notice that neon--that slick, flashy icon of popular culture in the '30s and '40s--has made a comeback with a vengeance. It fell into disfavor 20 years ago, overcome by its association with sleazy dives and unable to compete with cheap new signs made of plastic. But now the lights are bright once more on byways from Ventura Boulevard to Melrose Avenue.
These days, however, neon is not just for storefronts and restaurants. People are bringing it inside their homes, transforming neon from an advertising medium into interior design. Whistling Oyster of North Hollywood makes custom neon clocks for private clients as well as for trendy diners like Cafe '50s in Van Nuys.
"It's something of a fad, but I think it'll be around for a while," says Blake Shane, owner of the four-year-old company. "More and more people are buying neon as a decorator item." Shane's made-to-order clocks sell for $795 to $995.
Neon prices can go a lot higher than that. Steele's Motor Lodge, the 58-year-old Sherman Oaks motel with an eye-catching sign featuring a neon diver, was offered $10,000 for the sign when word got out the motel is closing. "Ventura Boulevard has always had some of the best neon signs in the country," notes Lili Lakich, director and founder of the Museum of Art downtown.