Saturday, 2 June 2012

Neon light left on since 1935 racks up $17,000 in electric bills

Neon light left on since 1935 racks up $17K in electric bills

This blog often features stories of vintage machinery being unearthed and then restored to working order (witness the recent MG story), but this is one of those unusual occasions when someone has come across something that was still working after having remained undiscovered for over 70 years!

Tales of long-lived light bulbs are not as rare as one might be given to think, with several even older than 70 years known throughout the UK and USA, but this is the first example in my experience of a newer neon light being found still in working order - and in such remarkable circumstances to boot (not to mention the fact that it has been on continuously for all this time, whereas other "old bulbs" are switched off and on)!

Clifton's Cafeteria unveils its original facade after almost 50 years

These remarkable circumstances first began to unfold back in February when Clifton's Cafeteria, a landmark Los Angeles restaurant that dates back to the mid-1930s, began to be restored by its new owner.  Why I didn't do a post about it at the time I can't imagine, but the link to the original story in the L.A. Times is above.  Following the removal of the cafe's later 1960s covering the building's original frontage from when it was first built in 1904 was revealed (and jolly nice it looks too - or will look once it is renovated, I'm sure).


Work has since begun on the internals, at which point this amazing neon light has been discovered buried behind a wall!  Still on after maybe 77 years, at a potential cost of $17,000 (although I wonder if the Los Angeles electricity board will waive the fee?).  An incredible testament to neon's longevity and also to the original owner of Clifton's who, by all accounts, simply built over or reused old features - who knows what else may be uncovered during the restoration?  Already other artefacts such as a wall map from the building's pre-'35 department store days and vintage floor tiles have been found, among other things.  What a fantastic place!

Happily the new owner recognises the historical importance of these discoveries and the building in general and plans a sympathetic restoration of the restaurant to its 1930s heyday - with perhaps a few modern concessions - including an area to display these wonderful finds (and even a replica of the original transparent landscape that the neon light - which will stay on - would have sat behind!).

I wish the new owner the best of luck with Clifton's Cafeteria and can't wait to see what other finds are just waiting to be found in there.  I hope the people of Los Angeles take the place to their hearts (it sounds as though it was already a popular eatery) and if I'm ever in L.A. I know where I'm having lunch!


  1. Being in LA, I heard about this! WOW! Can't wait for the Cafeteria to re-open. I'm very excited to see what's inside!

  2. What a fascinating post - just the sort of thing I love reading about. I'd love to have a nosey in that building and like you, wish the owners all the luck with their restoration project.

  3. I guess they've been paying for the light every month (as it would be hooked up to their address via the mains). Incredible! They covered it over and just never turned it off!

  4. Amazing! That is an incredible piece of information. I am so glad that the owner is going to restore this wonderful building, too few people see the importance in that anymore.

    On a side note, I have heard that some of the very old architecture is being restored in England by Prince Charles and that he takes an interest in geometry in buildings...have you seen any of the resotrations projects over there? I would be most interested in seeing some of these! :)

  5. This is simply unbelievable. Thanks for sharing this with us.


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