Tenderloin Museum Gets Neon Right

One of San Francisco’s more intriguing niche museums is staging an exhibition of noir-ish images now through August 19.

The Tenderloin Museum’s current group exhibit is titled Neon Home, comprising stunning works of neon sculpture and photography.

We were especially impressed by “Greyhound Bus Terminal,” “Pacific Travel,” and “The Horseshoe Tavern,” photos taken by Merideth Grierson.

As we have noted before here and in Bay Crossings her work has been featured at Berkeley Historical Society, Eye Gallery, Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art, Scott Nichols Gallery, and Michael Shapiro Gallery. Furthermore, Ms. Grierson’s photographs of People’s Park and City Lights Bookstore are in the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley.

Neon Home also presents photos of historic neon signs in the Tenderloin and around the Bay by photographers Mark Carrodus, Randall Ann Homan, and Al Barna.

The show gets its name from its centerpiece: a glowing neon sign-sculpture called “Home/Hotel,” a collaboration between SF Neon and Oakland based tube bender and neon artist Shawna Peterson.

Al Barna & Randall Homan, founders of SF Neon/Historic Neon Network, discuss this Exhibition:

“The hotels of the Tenderloin are home to a remarkable concentration of neon signs. Neon began to fall out of favor in the late 1950s. There was a nation-wide trend to replace neon signs with “modern upgrades” like back-lit plastic. The Tenderloin didn’t buy into this trend. The neighborhood boasts dozens of vintage hotel signs that are both beautiful and tenacious, clinging to corners and doorways while so many neon signs throughout San Francisco disappeared without a trace.  These same hotels are home to citizens of the Tenderloin as well as many small and family-owned businesses. The Tenderloin Museum is home to the history, art, and culture of its namesake. It is also home to historic neon restoration projects and a sponsor of San Francisco Neon/Historic Neon Network. We are lucky to have such a welcoming home. 

The neon signs in this exhibit were selected because they give our city a distinctive, ambient light and become our visual landmarks. Whenever we returned to the city and saw these signs, we knew that we were home.