Lovers of Chicago history and retro signs are scrambling to find a new home for a vintage 2 1/2-ton neon sign that once hung over the Six Corners Shopping District.
The Irving Hotel at 4849 W. Irving Park Road is getting a new sign — and the Six Corners Association is working to find a new home for the old one — a massive 10-foot-by-7-foot red, yellow and white neon sign with a marquee.
Now dotted with rust, an arrow wraps around three sides of the sign, with bulbs designed to flash in sequence to direct weary travelers to its front door.
“It’s an iconic piece of Six Corners history and we’d like to retain it for permanent display in the neighborhood,” said Kelli Wefensette, the association’s executive director.
But there’s a catch.
The business development group works out of a 300-square-foot office.
While the Irving Hotel sign is safe in storage — for now, thanks to a suburban sign company that is storing it temporarily. Wefensette is working on figuring out where to store it while a forever home is nailed down.
The sign was taken down recently after city officials told the hotel owner that it was rusted in spots and posed a safety hazard. It has been replaced with a banner.
Ald. John Arena (45th) is backing the effort to save the Irving Hotel sign, which would be the second time he preserved a piece of the Northwest Side’s neon history.
Arena is preparing to unveil the new home of the red neon star that once adorned the sign for the Red Star Inn just off the Kennedy Expressway in Old Irving Park. It will be incorporated into a piece of art set to be installed at Central and Foster avenues in Gladstone Park as part of the city’s year-long celebration of public art.
The inn was replaced by a new building that is now the Northwest Side offices of Lyft.
In 2014, an effort to save the neon Z Frank sign that soared over Western Avenue in West Rogers Park failed, and the 50-foot sign was scrapped after the car dealership was replaced.
Nick Freeman, the author of “Good Old Neon: Signs in Chicago,” said the neon signs that once blanketed the city’s main streets from the 1930s to the 1960s are disappearing steadily.
“A lot of times, when they come down, they are really gone,” Freeman said.
The signs fell out of favor in the 1980s when they became associated with motels that nearby residents complained attracted a less-than-desirable clientele and frequent visits from the police, Freeman said.
In fact, the city banned neon signs from Michigan Avenue — apparently not wanting to spoil its magnificence with the glowing signs.
“But now the tide has turned,” Freeman said. “The remaining signs are now considered landmarks.”
Nostalgia for a Chicago that was not dominated by chain stores plays a big role in the love of these signs, Freeman said.
“These signs were one of a kind, unique,” Freeman said. “You don’t know what you have until it is gone.”