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Los Angeles neon, past and present.

Los Angeles neon, past and present As the lights of L.A. begin flickering on, you board a double-decker bus. Inside, the mood is festive: you receive a neon-bright badge for your lapel, waiters offer wine or mineral water. The evening tour of L.A.'s neon past and present has begun.

Tour guides from the sponsoring Museum of Neon Art (MONA) explain neon's origin--in early 20th-century France--and throughout the tour you de-bus occasionally for close looks at particular examples.

In Chinatown, the detailed design of a light blue Buddha and other shop signs typify the post-World War II state of neon art. Passing Philippe's famous French dip sandwich restaurant, you'll learn why the cursive neon sign's original orange and light blue were known as the "colors of the opera."

Along Broadway glow the ornate signs of the grand old theaters of the '20s and '30s. At the Jewelry Mart, the tour group's body heat activates artist Michael Hayden's 270-foot-long Generators of the Cylinder. Tubes flash in rainbow circles, creating a colorful tunnel of light. Along Wilshire Boulevard, you pass restored rooftop signs from the late '30s. You loop back to Melrose Avenue to see neon of the '80s, which uses colors such as "Voltarc purple" and aquamarine. Last stop is a dizzying demonstration at the Museum of Contempory Art (MOCA) downtown.

The monthly bus tours, from 7 to 11, cost $30 (including refreshments); the next is November 11. For necessary reservations, call (213) 617-0274.

The latest in neon at MONA

Unlike many signs on the tour, MONA's exhibits represent the very latest developments. Within the past five years, small electronic transformers have made neon's characteristic hum a thing of the past.

Another recent phenomenon, computer-programmed neon, eliminates the familiar clanking of mechanically animated signs. Today's neon works flash and blink in total silence. Depending on their program, changing color patterns often run as long as 20 minutes before repeating.

You can try your own experiments in eight-week courses offered by MONA. The next begins January 23 and meets Tuesdays from 7:30 to 10:30 P.M. Cost is $350, not including materials.
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Nov 1, 1989
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