Saving History

A delightful story from Comstock’s Magazine about the saving of the Mercury Dry Cleaning neon sign and a reminder that history is valuable and so often, beautiful, as in this case, in a film noir sort of way.

You can just see private eye Bogie or Mitchum popping in to pick up the dinner jacket they need for the evening soiree clues to the case have led.

An excerpt.

On a rainy September morning, a long-time 16th Street resident was pulled away from home, dirty, faded and in disrepair. Nine months later, its homecoming was cause for celebration. And in between, the Mercury Cleaners sign was restored, re-engineered, re-wired, repainted and returned to its 1947 glory.

The neon sign’s fate — and that of the business owned by Helen and Tom Kang — was in doubt in early 2014, when the state Department of General Services determined that the building at 1419 16th Street would have to be torn down for environmental cleanup. With help from the Capital Area Development Authority, the Kangs found a new home for their business, across the street in the Legado de Ravel building. But what about the sign?

For the first time, CADA, a state development agency, stepped in to rescue a sign instead of a building. Deputy Executive Director Marc de la Vergne worked on the restoration along with a team of designers, engineers, sheet metal specialists, electricians, painters and a neon bender at Pacific Neon Company.

“Having made the decision to have the sign accompany the Kangs to their new location, we felt it was important to restore the sign and have it be in a position to last another 20, 30 years or even beyond,” de la Vergne says.

To ensure the sign was refurbished in a historically accurate way, original parts were retained whenever possible. But the flashing yellow arrow atop the Mercury Cleaners sign had to be re-engineered for its new location. The original arrow was lit only on one side — the south side — to attract the attention of drivers and pedestrians traveling north on the one-way street. But in its new home, the unlit backside would now be facing traffic. So CADA and Pacific Neon decided to replicate the flashing bulbs to illuminate both sides.

“The sign has been structurally upgraded so that it will last quite a long time,” says de la Vergne. “We also worked hard to find any imperfections, any rust spots or holes in the sheet metal. Those have been filled.”

Retrieved July 7, 2015 from

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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