I’ve previously built Dream Windows that featured the Capital District’s iconographic artwork and architecture. Dream Window #5: The Thirst Quencher captured the Coca-Cola advertisement in Schenectady, for example.
Now comes a new challenge – to build a Dream Window based on a disappearing Capital District advertising sign… and to make that sign dance once more, in the same pattern and rhythm as it did for generations.
Background. Over the past few years, I’ve seen some iconic Capital District architecture disappear over time. The business shuts down, the sign gets removed. Maybe it ends up somewhere else, maybe the sign is sold for scrap. The building is torn down and the ghost sign disappears. The new building owner’s first duty is to take a coat of white opaque paint over the 100-year-old advert. The mortar holding the bricks of the church together is crumbling and rotted, a stiff wind could knock the building down in a heartbeat.
So it’s time for me to chronicle one recently departed Capital District advertising treasure. Here we go.
It’s the weekend after Christmas. The temperature? 60° above zero. Yeah, jingle bells yuras. Yet, if I wanted to get a good shot of the Bob & Ron’s Fish Fry sign before it was dismantled and taken away, truly my opportunities were limited in that respect. Get the photo or forever feel regret. And so, after a few tries and a few angles, I chose this image for the center of the Dream Window.
Not bad, not bad at all. A week later, the sign was in the process of disassembly. Grr. Another one bites the dust.
I’ve had this perimeter-panel window frame for a couple of years now; I bought it at Silver Fox Salvage in Albany’s Warehouse District without any consideration of what it would contain.
Since that purchase, the window has rested patiently in my apartment, waiting for its time to shine.
After completing my customary window-bashing and giving the frame a good wipe-down to remove flakes and chips and musty old putty… I decided on a simple approach for the glass; blue-green wavy glass from Hobby Lobby, a 12×12 square of this glass could provide me with four 5×5 panels, plus some leftovers for any future mosaic projects. I also used some wavy mirrored glass for the corner panes, just for accent purposes. And yes, the glass looks swank.
So now what do I do with this Bob & Ron’s photo of mine? Just plop it in the center of the Dream Window and leave it at that? Would that be just good enough?
Come on now, you’ve read my blog for years, you know I don’t settle for “just good enough.”
I have an idea on that front. And that idea came out of inspiration from two previous photo projects of mine.
In 2013, I created a lenticular print called Re-Lighting L-Ken’s, where I used various computerized art programs to re-illuminate the lights of L-Ken’s bit neon sign. Certainly I could create another lenticular print, recreating that illumination pattern again… hmm…
I wanted something more – how shall we say it – analogue for this project.
In 2014, I took a photograph of the Olympic Bar sign on South Pearl Street. The photo was nice enough, but I felt inspired to re-illuminate the sign with some electro-luminescent “EL” wire. It actually did quite well when it was exhibited at Historic Albany Foundation’s BUILT charity auction a couple of years ago … hmm…
I wanted something more – how shall we say it – vibrant for this project.
Come on, Chuck, you got this. If you can combine the L-Ken’s sign with the Olympic Bar sign… you’d have an L-Kenslympic Bar. Thank you, I’m here all week, try the veal and don’t forget to tip your waitress Doris.
A phone call to an electro-luminescent wire and sequencer supplier, CoolNeon.com, and a few days later my supplies – several strands of EL wire and two power sequencers – arrived at the Town and Village. Along with a little note inside the box lid.
And to keep me motivated, I would often drive back to the Central Avenue location of Bob and Ron’s Fish Fry and stare at the sign, as it went through various stages of disassemblage. Seeing the distressed advertising sign fading away, bit by bit and piece by piece, was like watching childhood memories get tossed in the dumpster. But yeah, I knew there was no way that the past would remain in the present. I had to look toward the future.
Meanwhile, I had the fish fry sign printed and foam-boarded (did you know that the FedEx Office on Wolf Road is open 24 hours a day? You can go there at 2:00 a.m. if your insomnia demands it…), and trimmed the borders to fit the center panel of the Dream Window frame.
Now here’s where memory comes into play. The fish fry sign had red flashing neon that followed the pattern of the red arrow. And once it hit the arrowhead, the light pattern seemed to slow down. That’s because the arrowstem had a larger pattern of neon lights than did the arrowhead.
Yes. I need that aesthetic. That’s the pattern people remember.
Examining the picture carefully, I estimated that the original sign had twelve components to the arrow, and that the neon in the arrows moved in a four-spot sequence, from the base of the sign, around the top, to the arrowpoint.
I found the locations of the original neon conduits in my photo, and threaded the plastic EL wire through the conduit connectors. A thin fishing filament to hold the EL wire in place, a test with the batteries to confirm everything is running properly… lather, rinse, repeat times twelve.
Another drive to Central Avenue. Another view of the fish fry sign. Another burst of motivation.
Christ. The red arrow is completely gone. The glass tubes are gone. Hell, the back side of the sign itself is gone. Keep going, Miller. You’re going to save this memory one way or another.
Can I share a story with you? As a child, I spent summers living with my Grandma Betty in West Roxbury, Massachusetts (it was essentially the three months out of the year where I didn’t have to deal with my toxic parents).
During those summers, Grandma Betty and I made several trips on U.S. 1 to nearby Dedham, and we often passed a banquet hall named Fontaine’s. Fontaine’s outdoor sign was a neon chicken leaning against a lamp post; the chicken would wave at you as you drove by. I thought that was the coolest thing.
Unfortunately, the restaurant closed down in 2007; the sign was later purchased by a neon sign collector. At least the sign wasn’t sold for scrap. I know I took a picture of the sign years ago… but for some reason, some unknown reason, that photo of the waving chicken has disappeared from my archive. Dang it…
And thankfully, that fate won’t befall the Bob & Ron’s Fish Fry sign. Last winter, the sign was purchased by a New Jersey-based neon sign collector, who carefully dismantled the advertising treasure and hauled it away. Hopefully some day the sign will be fully restored and repaired, maybe to advertise some other fish fry restaurant owned by some other Bob or Ron.
Okay, back to my fish fry project. Sorry for the bit of reminiscence. Must remain focused on the goal.
I remembered that the letters “FISH FRY” on the original sign stayed solid throughout. So that required a second power sequencer and a different set of wires. Luckily for me, the original neon photo conduits were clear and visible in the photo; all I needed to do was slide the wire from the back of the picture to the front, trace the outline of the original neon, thread the wire back through the picture, repeat for all seven letters.
Oh, and one other thing. The last time I worked with EL wire, I used a battery-operated power sequencer from RadioShack. CoolNeon’s sequencers take either AAA batteries, 9-Volt batteries, or wall plugs. Yep. I ordered two wall plugs – one for the arrow, one for the lettering.
So here’s what the my latest Dream Window looks like.
Yeah, you see it there. And it’s impressive. But wouldn’t you like to see it moving? Take a gander at this.
This has to make you smile.
That’s it, people… Dream Window 18: Friday Night Fish Fry, complete with EL wire and art glass and lots of creativity.
You know this is earmarked for some big events this year. I promise you that.
Now I gotta clean up the floor of my apartment – you know, putty chips and glass chunks and leftover clippings of EL wire… man, what a mess…
But it was all worth it.