San Francisco Streets Aglow

For those curious about the City's neon signs, 'Neon Speaks 2023' fest has it all
Fridays on the Homefront
The annual 'Neon Speaks' extravaganza—a celebration of neon signs, their history, and all things aglow with neon—returns to San Francisco September 8-9-10 and 16-17. All photos courtesy Randall Ann Homan and Al Barna.

What would San Francisco be like without the historic glow of neon movie marquees like the Castro Theater? Chinatown would surely be dimmer without its neon-outlined pagodas, or minus the rainbow-colored neon peacock advertising Grant Arts & Gift Center.

Here's one way folks have been keeping that blazing tradition alive.

The annual 'Neon Speaks' extravaganza returns to San Francisco this month, its popular neon festival, symposium, and walking tours expected to draw visitors from around the world. You won't want to miss it.

Fridays on the Homefront
From 'Neon Speaks' 2022.

Produced by San Francisco Neon in partnership with the Tenderloin Museum, 'Neon Speaks' is a celebration of neon signs, their history, and all things aglow with neon. A mix of live and online programming, the event runs the entire September 8-10 weekend, and continues on the following weekend, September 16-17.

It opens Friday evening September 8 with an online watch party featuring the documentary film 'Glowing in the Dark.' Launching the festival with "the movement, power, and raw exuberance of neon," according to program notes, the film features interviews with architectural historian Alan Hess and neon expert John Atkin, and is followed by a Q&A hosted by Hess.

On Saturday September 9, the daylong live symposium and 'neon curiosity lounge' at the City's Great American Music Hall comprise a signature event. It's "an all-day affair—with coffee in the morning, and a catered lunch—which gives people a lot of time to socialize," says Randall Ann Homan, who produces the programs with husband Al Barna.

  Fridays on the Homefront
'Neon Speaks' producers Randall Ann Homan and Al Barna.

The couple, neon historians and authors/photographers of the book San Francisco Neon: Survivors and Lost Icons who have a natural gift for bringing together neon experts, photographers, and glass benders, will also host the proceedings.

Founding members of San Francisco Neon, Homan and Barna are passionate about enlightening the world about the art and science of neon. When the in-person event had to go dark during the pandemic, they continued enlarging the circle of neon appreciation via online sessions, sparking interest from all over the world.

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