For decades, everyone has believed that the blue "Packard" sign on a hotel at Seventh and Flower was the oldest commercial neon sign in the US, put up in 1923 by radio station owner/Packard car dealer Earle C. Anthony, and such a wonder that people drove from far and wide and clogged the streets to get a look (there's now a reproduction at the Packard Lofts). Los Angeles has been known ever since for its neon signs; they've become a symbol of the city. But a geographer and her neon-sign-restoring partner decided to look into the Packard claim recently and found that the sign didn't actually go up until 1925; and "neon was being used commercially in New York City by early 1924, a full year before the Los Angeles Packard sign went up," according to the LA Times. LA loses out to NYC again, wah wah.
Dydia DeLyser and Paul Greenstein spent a year combing through old newspaper articles, city permits, and aerial photographs--they confirmed that Packard had been inspired by neon signs he'd seen on a 1922 trip to Paris, but no permits for his sign showed up until late 1924. They couldn't find it in photos from 1922 or 1923 or 1924, but did spot it in a photo from 1925, two months after the permit was filed.
No one's sure how the popular story got to be so wrong, although it was first mentioned in a 1939 LA Times interview with Anthony (those guys!). DeLyser and Greenstein did dig up a 1923 photo showing what appears to be a neon Packard sign on one of Anthony's dealerships--in San Francisco.
· Pair sheds new light on L.A.'s claim to neon fame [LAT]