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NGV FEDERATION SQUARE 10TH OCTOBER - 7TH DECEMBER

PRINCESS THEATRE JOIN THE DRUIDS

LITTLE AUDREY

NYLEX CLOCK T H E S U N T H E AT R E

A P E X B E LT I N G

B U S T I C K E T BUSES RUN EVERY HOUR

F RO M F E D E R AT I O N SQUARE 6 - 9PM CHILDREN FREE


NGV FEDERATION SQUARE 10TH OCTOBER - 7TH DECEMBER

PRINCESS THEATRE HER MAJESTY’S THEATRE

JOIN THE DRUIDS BORSARI’S CORNER

LITTLE AUDREY

NYLEX CLOCK T H E S U N T H E AT R E

A P E X B E LT I N G NEWSPAPER HOUSE

ALLEN’S SWEETS


SIGNS OFTEN BECOME SO IMPORTANT TO A COMMUNITY

THAT THEY ARE VALUED

LONG AFTER THEIR ROLE AS COMMERCIAL MARKERS HAS CEASED…THEY NO LONGER

MERELY ADVERTISE…THEY BECOME ICONS.

- Michael J. Auer, 1991


PREFACE. The visual cacophony of Melbourne’s neon signs, a source of angst for some and of delight for others, provides a unique form of storytelling. The story as told through its commercial neon signage is rich in drama, and reveals much about the march of progress and the multicultural development of the city. ‘Australian Idol - Heritage Neon Signs’ draws together 100 years of Melbourne neon signs, billboards and typefaces, as the basis for a revealing and colourful journey through the secret history of Melbourne’s visual culture. Our world is dominated by signs. At every moment, at every turn, we are being directed, pitched to and confronted by signs. By nature of their omnipresence and diversity, signs are a resonant expression of our culture. They chart and reflect our standards of moral decency, good taste, and aspirations as few other cultural barometers do. And today, with significant examples disappearing around us daily, signs also invoke nostalgia and a level of appreciation, for both their

sentiment and technical achievements, which far usurps their original civic or commercial capacity. Broadly, a sign is a graphic element; an instrument of communication. Its purpose may be either: Instructive (eg. street and road signs), Commercial (advertising a brand or product), or Cultural (graffiti or other artistic expression). Each sign is born with an intention, which becomes fluid over time, and open to interpretation. A sign may entirely lose its original meaning, but gain a new meaning and significance through a fresh appreciation of its formal, contextual, sociological and historical qualities. Most pre-war signage has now been painted over, removed or obscured by newer developments – but many important examples are still extant. Such stalwarts of the everyday environment have they become, that few locals comprehend or consider their heritage value. The Nylex sign, Skipping Girl sign, Pelaco sign and Slade Knitwear sign, all in Richmond, are all perennial favourites, and their popularity has been well documented. But less prominent signs – painted murals, moulded plastic, illuminated – selling products that have not been available for decades, are still regular fixtures and contribute significantly to the character of the city. Collectively, they embody an historical narrative, largely by dent of doing so unintentionally, which is a truer reflection of the city’s development than perhaps any other account.


The history of Melbourne is writ large in its faded historical signage. It’s the kind of history that documents real, everyday life in a way that history books don’t. The almost completely faded Foys sign, which towers over Swanston Street, is a reminder of the Foy & Gibson department store on the corner of Swanston and Bourke Streets. Later changing it’s name to Foys, the department store remained popular until it’s demise in the 1960s. Opposite Foys the moulded lettering of Bradman’s remains, even though the shop doesn’t. Nearby on Elizabeth Street, all that remains of the enormous Mazda Globes painted sign is the trademark cat’s head, so high up that most pedestrians are not even aware of it, while a few doors down and covering the top half of an early 20th Century high rise a painted sign informs shoppers that Newmans has ‘Moved to 280 Collins Street’. Except for this painted reminder, never meant to have existed for perpetuity, Newmans would be completely forgotten. In addition to serving as momentos of long gone shops and businesses, signs document the changing demograph of the city. The contribution of emigrants to Melbourne can be charted through signage, such as the classic 1950s neons of Pellegrini’s and Florentinos at the top of Bourke Street, marking the arrival of the Italian latte culture in Melbourne, and the Borsari’s Corner neon sign on Lygon Street. Similarly, the popularity of theatre in the early 20th Century is detailed in the surviving signs on the Regent, Comedy and Her

Majesty’s theatres. Evidence of the boom in cinemas in the 1960s survives with the Village, Greater Union and Mid City Cinema signs. Such signs possess a value as historical markers in the evolving cultural landscape, which complements their value as examples of an artform now virtually extinct. The contribution of signs to the character of Melbourne is something that is difficult to objectively assess, but a growing awareness of their value suggests that it is considerable. A study as far back as 1975 found that 86% of the public had a favourable attitude to neon electric advertising. As part of what was considered favourable, was a feeling that signage contributed to a city’s ability to ‘feel right’ – ‘to provide the functions that many expect of a city – a lively commercial scene, brightness and colour, calm areas, impressive buildings, people actively pursuing their own business’. Signs were seen as symbols which enabled people ‘to transfer their favourable feelings about a whole area or number of aspects of a city and … use them to think and feel emotionally about those cites’.1 This ability is a core factor in the present renewal of interest and feelings for signage, and in the growing public pressure to protect and preserve them.

1

David Bottomley, ‘Public Attitudes to Outdoor Advertising’, sponsored by the O.A.A.A., 1975, quoted in Erica Downward, The Sweetest of them all: The History of the Allen’s Neon Sign, Self-published, Melbourne, 1986


JOIN THE

DRUIDS

407-409 Swanston Street, Melbourne Two signs with the ‘join the’ component separeted from the main sign ‘Druids’ which is in neon. 1934, approx. 5m tall


PRINCESS

T H E AT R E 163-181 Spring Street, Melbourne circa 1900, Light bulb sign


L I T T L E

AUDREY

651-653 Victoria Street, Abbotsford Animated neon sign. 1936, reconstructed in 1970


N Y L E X

C L O C K 2 Gough Street, Richmond 1961, Neon sky sign


S

U

N

T H E AT R E 8 Ballarat Street, Yarraville 1938, approx. 1m Ă— 1m


A P E X B E LT I N G

268-280 Geelong Rd, West Footscray 1942, Neon sky sign


B U S TO U R .

Approximatly 1 HOUR

7 2

3 4

6

1

5

№1 №2 №3 №4 №5 №6 №7

FEDERATION SQUARE JOIN THE DRUIDS PRINCESS THEATRE LITTLE AUDREY NYLEX CLOCK SUN THEATRE APEX BELTING

Corner Swanston & Flinders Streets, Melbourne 3000 407-409 Swanston Street, Melbourne, 3000 163-181 Spring Street, Melbourne, 3000 651-653 Victoria Street, Abbotsford, 3067 2 Gough Street, Richmond, 3121 8 Ballarat Street,Yarraville, 3013 268-280 Geelong Rd, West Footscray, 3012


AUSTRALIAN IDOL

HERITAGE NEON SIGNS 10TH OCTOBER - 7TH DECEMBER 2009 Published 2009 Š National Gallery of Victoria All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writting from the publisher.

Federation Square National Gallery of Victoria Corner Swanston & Flinders Streets, Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia TELEPHONE 61 3 9655 1900 FACSIMILE 61 3 9663 3652 EMAIL info@fedsquare.com WEBSITE www.federationsquare.com.au ISBN 0-947224-73-X



Australian Idol: Heritage Neon Signs