Michael’s love of neon started when he was 14 years old and received a colorful neon rocket ship sculpture as a birthday gift from his par ents. “I’ve loved neon ever since, and that rocket ship is still aglow in our living room today.” It was only natural that 30 years later, with his purchase of a garage at the MotorPlex in Chanhassen, Minnesota, and the vast wall display space that came with it, that he would begin a collection of neon signs to be displayed alongside his car collection. “Neon signs are fun. It is artwork that is bright and colorful. Many are active with the illusion of motion, flashers and animators, and the signs can evoke a twinge of nostalgia. At their core, however, they were designed and built as ad- vertisements.” Many signs were figural trade- marks translated into neon. “I started my legal career as a trademark attorney, so the collision of a sign’s utility to convey a company’s image through the neon art form really speaks to me.”
The first sign Michael purchased is the most prominent in his collection – Dog N Suds sign. The Dog N Suds hot dog and root beer drive-in restaurant chain was established in 1953, with the first restaurant opening in Champaign, Illinois in 1954. “This particular sign is very rare, as it was one of the first of handful of signs made in 1953. It’s called the Rover Pluto-esque version because the Rover design looked so much like Disney’s cartoon character Pluto, that Dog N Suds was sued by Disney and forced to redesign its sign and logo by flipping the colorway around and changing the dog’s mouth.”
Next was one of the most popular icons in American petroliana – Sinclair’s Dino sign (pronounced DYE-NO). Dinosaurs first appeared in Sindair marketing in the 1930s to forge a connection between dinosaurs and their crude oil believed to have been formed during the time dinosaurs were roaming the earth. As a kid, I really wasn’t into dinosaurs, but there was a Sinclair gas station up the road from my house, and I loved seeing that green dinosaur. For those with a need to know, Dino is an Apatosaurus “In addition to the great graphic, I love the movement in this sign, with each letter of SINCLAIR lighting up individually in sequence, and then all flashing before starting over again
The Elephant Car Wash sign is my favorite. I had that one built for me by a Minne apolis artist as an homage to the iconic sign on Highway 111 in Rancho Mirage. California, which I first saw while visiting my grandpar. ents when I was 11 years old. I snapped doz. ens of photos of the sign, so the artist would have everything he needed to recreate it on a smaller scale. Michael notes that readers in Seattle, Washington, will recognize the sign as resembling the iconic rotating pink neon sign belonging to the Elephant Car Wash chain of car washes. “AS a former trademark specialist, I understand there is no affiliation between the chain of car washes in Seattle and the Rancho Mirage car wash
The Red Owl sign is Michael’s latest acquisition and the one with the best story First, a little history. In the 1960s. Hopkins, Minnesota based Red Owl had 172 stores in 10 states including Minnesota Wisconsin, fowa, the Dakotas and Michigan “When I was a kid growing up in Minnesota, my mother took me grocery shopping with her to Red Owl 1 always loved that owl, but sadly over the years the stores disappeared
Today, there is one Red Owl store left in Green Bay, Wisconsin – it’s practically a dead brand but still to this day a beloved trade mark Fast forward to 2008. I’m an attorney at SuperValu heading up their Intellectual Property function, and 1 get a call from the Minnesota Film and TV Board on behalf of the Coen brothers, who are interested in licensing the Red Owl trademark for their film, A Seri ous Man being shot in Minnesota. The film is set in 1967, and for one of the scenes in the film, the Coen brothers wanted to convert one of our grocery stores in St. Paul to a Red Owl grocery store, complete with signage.
Of course, we agreed to the license, and I was invited to watch the nighttime film ing which I loved.” Michael’s Red Owl sign is all original. There are a lot of collectors of Red Owl memorabilia, and these signs rarely appear for sale. When a neighbor at the Motor Plex decided to sell his garage, he decided to sell his sign, as well. It was pristine and complete with a working blinking eye – and “eye” just had to have it?”
Adapted from AutoMotobilia Magazine, GarageLife® Column “In The Blink Of An Eye” by Bruno Silikowski September/October 2020, Copyright 2020 by Automobilia Resource LLC. Adapted with permission. Visit automobiliaresource.com for more articles and subscription information.