Book to Focus on San Francisco Neon

Four Star
The Four Star theater on Clement Street adds immeasurably to its neighborhood with its delicious glow. Photo by Al Barna

The Chez Paree neon sign, gone. The City of Paris, likewise. Now the husband-and-wife photographer team of Al Barna and Randall Ann Homan hope to draw attention to San Francisco’s remaining neon masterpieces with a photo book.

But first they need to raise $10,989 through a crowd-source campaign on Kickstarter. Recently they were a third of the way there.

For $33, donors will get a first edition of ‘San Francisco Neon: Survivors and Lost Icons.’ Pledge more – and you’ll get more.

Barna, who lives in San Francisco, said the authors’ motivation is in large part preservation. He grew up enjoying neon in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, recalling an immense ‘Martinizing’ sign on a drycleaner.

“There’s not any neon there anymore, which is pretty much the case everywhere,” he says, noting that for every cool neon sign that gets lovingly restored, many more are disappearing.

Donuts take a splash into a mug of java. Photo by Randall Ann Homan

“We see these signs evaporating at a rapid rate. You see a sign and take a photograph of it, then you go back a year later to get a better shot and it’s gone.”

“They’re expensive to maintain, and I think a lot of business owners are not interested in the overhead.”

And, when a business closes and a new one takes its place, the first casualty is often the neon. He cites the recent closing of the Villa Romana Italian restaurant on Irving Street in the city.

Besides photos, the book will include essays, one by travel writer Tom Downs (the book ‘Walking San Francisco’) and another by neon guru Eric Lynxwiler.

“San Francisco deserves its place among the neon-illuminated cities of New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas,” Lynxwiler writes. “Its glow was once just as bright.”

Maybe one day it will be as bright again.

Thanks to neon, this garage on New Montgomery Street seems like the setting for a film noir thriller. Photo by Al Barna.

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