Signage & sense of place : preserving the experience of historic illuminated signage



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The purpose of this thesis is to raise awareness about the contribution historic signs make to the experience of a place. Illuminated signage has played a key role in the development of the American landscape. The relationship between illuminated signage and sense of place is complex. Because of the ephemeral nature of signs and the public perception of them as advertising tools, the preservation community frequently overlooks signs. By examining three case studies, this thesis presents three different approaches to the preservation of illuminated signage.

The first case study is the 2002 New Mexico Route 66 Neon Sign Restoration Project. This case uses Route 66 to examine the preservation of original material in original location. The second case study is the 2002 Amendment to the New York City Zoning Regulations, which mandates signage saturation in Times Square. This case examines the preservation of the experience of Times Square by protecting the historical use of innovative signage. The third case study is the 1996 installation of restored illuminated signs by the Neon Museum in Las Vegas at the Fremont Street Experience. This case examines the collections approach to preserving original Las Vegas illuminated signs in an outdoor museum setting as public works of art.

While these three case studies evaluate iconic locations, the lessons are broadly applicable. The preservation approaches outlined here illustrate that every situation is unique and requires a full analysis of the context of the sign. Preservationists should evaluate signage within their local communities by examining the artistry and materiality of the signs. However, it is equally important to evaluate the overall community context of the signs. In order to preserve the experience of historic illuminated signage, it is imperative that preservationists and the general public understand that there are numerous approaches to safeguarding these works and that the time to take action is now.