Let’s get one thing out of the way: The Neon Museum of Philadelphia is just one room, tucked into NextFab, a large maker space that is growing into its raw but gentrifying section of Kensington.
It’s easy to underestimate. Neon signs are so densely placed, the effect is dazzling but brief. Make the effort to focus on each one, as each sign is a singular marvel.
You’ll see a crooner swinging his hips, a hair replacement demonstration, and a glowing lesson in 20th century Philadelphia history and development, the glowing legacy of some of its long-gone restaurants, bars, shops, and businesses.
At the heart of this private collection is a deep, abiding love for the city and a desire to preserve its more mundane and recent history. Signs and other memorabilia are clustered into sections, each with a bulletin board where guests can share their memories of the landmarks memorialized on the wall above.
I’m excited to see a sign from a long-closed neighborhood bar and other bright, personal memories. These signs will mean less to a visitor in my city, I realize, but they weave a sweet narrative of place.
The Neon Museum screens old photos of the city and videos about particular parts of its growth, like the mid-century Jewish food scene or the hippy past of South Street. Small changing exhibits spotlight different neighborhoods and eras. A library and small collection of contemporary neon art round out this little sparkling gem.