Childhood road trips: Good Old Neon

As a Baby Boomer child  in the car traveling  with my parents, there were no cell phones to play or movies to watch on video players. You were lucky if your parents played games like 20 questions, Name that Tune or Alphabet  where you would look for every letter of the alphabet from the road signs you passed. It could be any sign but neon were easy to see with their beautiful varieties of color, sparkle and great logos.

Though for me, I didn’t really care about the games. Unfortunately, reading a book while traveling made me sick. I just loved to pass the majestic signs. Ultimately, it was the neon signs alone that offered a colorful road trip suggesting great places to visit such as Kiddieland , Margies Candies or the Seven Dwarfs Restaurant.  How my parents loved the Green Mill Lounge with its beautiful gold array of lights highlighting the green title,even back in the days of mafia connections.

I always wanted to stay at the Tangiers Motel…something I thought…  truly out of the country. Fortunately, I was spoiled. When I pointed and cheered with determination at the mesmerizing neons, we would actually stop at many taking advantage of the rides, sweets or a chocolate shake; maybe even an overnight stay.

Remember Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket neon sign in Willowbrook?  I am only a few miles from the Chicken Basket and the sign still guides me today…one of my favorite restaurants.

Nick Freeman felt the same way about neon growing up and Chicago’s rich neon heritage is published in his full-color collection of delightful signs. From the South Side of Chicago to Wisconsin, his book Good Old Neon  spotlights the familiar signs captured in over 130 photos; many fast-disappearing artifacts of a glorious era when brightly lit signs filled the landscape.

“Several dozen of the signs pictured in my book have disappeared since its publication, and once they’re gone, they’re not coming back,” Nick comments, ” Big reason for my passion for preserving them through photography.”

Nick talks about the cost of the neon which is expensive due to the hand-crafting that goes into each one, as well as the physical and technical requirements involved in their construction and placement, not to mention upkeep.  The fragility of glass tubing continuously exposed to harsh Chicago weather makes the survival of an old sign a kind of urban miracle, deserving, at the least, of photographic preservation. Even the many that have outlived their functional glory days have their own visual appeal. Animated neon signs, working or not, are a special treat.

Nick Freeman, a life-long resident of the Chicago area, has been involved with words and pictures throughout his professional career. Starting at Feldkamp-Malloy, one of the last of the old-time art studios in the city, he spent 30-plus years in advertising–god help him–serving as production director at Leo Burnett and other agencies.

He now devotes his time and attention to his first love, oil painting, and has exhibited his work in a number of local and regional shows. His art, both paintings and photography, can be seen at galleryfreeman.com.

After viewing his work on his website, I was amazed by his polished, realistic technique and use of color. Two of my favorites were Isla Jane and the Pumpkin Farm which were sold. But his wonderful collection offers a great painting of Dog N Suds called Root Beer, Flea Market II, the Blue Goose for sale and many others. He currently resides in St. Charles, Illinois.

Good Old Neon is available direct from Lake Claremont Press, Amazon or wherever fine gift books are sold. Founded by Sharon Woodhouse in 1994, Lake Claremont Press has been publishing amazing histories and guidebooks about Chicago by Chicago authors.

Unlike many publishers, their books truly capture the passions and knowledge of their authors. Many have been featured in national newspapers and numerous television shows such as the History Channel and The National Geographic Channel. Because of their credited field expertise, most authors are actively involved in non-for profits and several of the the greater Chicago land missions.

Please visit their site and you can sign up for the Lake Claremont Press newsletter to receive announcements about new book releases and special offers of distinguished Chicago authors.

Seek to be the very best

Which statue of Abraham Lincoln is considered to have the most accurate likeness of the president and why? What sets Victory Monument apart from other World War I memorials? Why is the Balbo Monument so controversial? Celebrated photographer, author, and art historian Larry Broutman is eager to share his vast knowledge of the fascinating history behind Chicago’s public art and iconic places. Broutman is the photographer and author of Chicago Monumental and Chicago Unleashed, the latter book; a collection of whimsical images.

Chicago Unleashed, Larry Broutman’s first book published by Lake Claremont Press in 2014, presents images that combine wildlife photographed by Broutman in the wildlands of the world and iconic Chicago urbanscapes he also photographed. The concept of these fanciful pieces was created for the Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago during its design and construction.   His second book with Lake Claremont Press, Chicago Monumental is a gorgeous full-color photographic tribute to the City of Big Shoulders that showcases over 250 Chicago monuments, memorials, statues, and fountains. Many were created by acclaimed sculptors from the past two centuries. There’s even a 3D photography section with 3D glasses included in this wonderful coffee table book.

Lake Claremont Press celebrates the power and character of place for our particular corner of the globe, Chicago and greater Chicagoland. Their nonfiction histories and guidebooks foster and reveal Chicago’s special identity by exploring our city’s history, culture, geography, built environment, people, and lore. They publish authors with specific Chicago passions and knowledge and local organizations with Chicago-centric missions.

Founded by Sharon Woodhouse in 1994, Lake Claremont Press has published over 60 titles, including local bestseller Chicago Haunts: Ghostlore of the Windy City and several award winners. Other favorites over the years have included Hollywood on Lake Michigan: 100 Years of Chicago and the Movies, The Chicago River: A Natural and Unnatural History, A Cook’s Guide to Chicago, The Streets and San Man’s Guide to Chicago Eats, The Golden Age of Chicago Children’s Television, Oldest ChicagoHistoric Bars of Chicago, and Rule 53: Capturing Hippies, Spies, Politicians, and Murderers in an American Courtroom.

Chicago Monumental has received two book awards in the last month: a Midwest Book Award for best interior design and an IPPY (Independent Publisher) Award in the Great Lakes Nonfiction category.

Since the 1990s, Larry Broutman has traveled the world over to capture the perfect photograph and has found Chicago to have a plethora of visual inspiration. His projects include work with Lincoln Park Zoo, Africa Geographic, BBC Wildlife, Children’s Memorial Hospital Clinic, and The Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

Broutman attended MIT where he received his S.B., S.M., and doctorate degree in the field of Materials Engineering and Science in 1963. Specializing in Polymer Engineering and Science and Composite Materials, Broutman has vast experience writing college textbooks, reference books, and technical articles. In fact, he was inducted into the Plastics Hall of Fame.

All author proceeds are donated to The Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Disabled, and Access Living, Chicago-based nonprofit service agencies.

Larry Broutman’s impressive background and education is truly an inspiration to others and I asked him what kind of advice he would give to those young and old trying to pursue their own ambitions.“I have always followed the advice of my academic adviser at MIT where I received my B.S., M.S., and doctorate degrees. His sage words were to choose a career/profession which you love and once you choose it, seek to be the very best. So, in my case, I was guided by choosing career paths I could both enjoy and also strived to be the best. So, this thought not only helped me in my principal career in engineering, but in my second career as a photographer and author.”

Chicago Monumental may be enjoyed as a visual history, as social documentary, as a guidebook to both familiar and little-known works, as a portable art gallery or as itself a piece of public sculpture. And if like me you are always looking for the perfect gift to give to a client, an aspiring artist, photographer or those who just love our city, Chicago Monumental is a beautiful choice.