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.