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'Spectacular Illumination': A look back at LA's love affair with neon




Courtesy Angel City Press
Courtesy Angel City Press
Courtesy Angel City Press
Courtesy Angel City Press
Courtesy Angel City Press
Courtesy Angel City Press
Courtesy Angel City Press
Courtesy Angel City Press
Courtesy Angel City Press
Courtesy Angel City Press


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In the 1930's LA looked a LOT different... in many ways, a lot brighter, more colorful. That's because when it came to advertising for local businesses, neon was king.  

Courtesy Angel City Press

A new photography book called Spectacular Illumination tells the story of LA's  golden age of neon. It was written and curated by photographer, Tom Zimmerman. He joined Take Two's Alex Cohen in studio to talk about L.A.'s history of neon lights. 

Interview Highlights

Why do you think LA had such a particular affinity for neon?

"Cause they're so bright and you can twist the glass into virtually anything. So, it calls for creative glass makers in order to make these things. And once you do make them, by using different types of noble gases, you get different colors and then on top of it you can coat the sign itself, the glass and the sign with different colors so you can get any color of the rainbow on these things and typically that's what they did." 

 How was neon used back then - can you describe some of your favorite signs for us? 

"Well the single greatest sign, I think in the history of Los Angeles, was on the Earl Caroll Theater, and it was a woman's face 25 feet high and around the edge of it said 'through these portals, past the most beautiful women in the world' and the Earl Caroll Theater was by far the finest sort of dinner type theater in the city. There was tons of neon inside the thing, once you went into it but the face of the woman is Beryl Wallace who was the director of the shows and so on at the Earl Caroll Theater. She was one of these great early heroines, her family had not two nickels to rub together. The father was very ill and couldn't support the family anymore. Beryl was 15 years old and rather than get a job in a factory making a quarter an hour somewhere, she got a job being a showgirl on the New York stage and she essentially saved her family."

To hear the full interview, click the blue play button above.