A tour of San José’s neon signs has been on my to-do list for a very long time now. I found a list compiled by Josh Marcotte (http://www.midtownsanjose.net/neon-tour). Unfortunately, this list was written a long time ago and some of the signs are now gone.
Only a few of the signs from the original list remain in Midtown, and even fewer are lit up at night. The most iconic one is the Western Appliances sign on 1976 W San Carlos St. Built in 1962, it has a great history. When it was first lit, the flashy lights on top caused two accidents on highway 17! Western Appliance closed its doors in 2020 and the sign went dark. Nearby is the former Time Deli – which got its name from the neon sign it inherited and is now a shoe store.
A few of the signs are in dire need of rescue, like the Y Not sign over a sex toy shop across from the Time Deli. The Burbank theater further down on South Bascom Ave could use some help as well. Equally, the neighborhood Midtown, itself, is in need of a renaissance. Hence I would like to caution you not to go by yourself. I think this is not the most inviting neighborhood for strolling around at night.
There are a few lit signs, e.g., the Bears Cocktail Lounge. The Midtown Safeway celebrates neon with its large yellow Midtown sign. O. C. Mc Donald, a mechanical contractor, does a wordplay, Oh See!, on its name, and it still lights up. The Falafel’s Drive-In is not only interesting because of the pointy sign but was visited by Guy Fieri from Diners, Driveins and Dives. The West Side Billiards is currently closed and therefore the sign which is one of the coolest on the list is not illuminated.
Midtown has the highest concentration of these historic lightning features, but the most iconic signs found a good home at History Park. These are the Dancing Pig and the Orchard Hardware sign. The OSH sign is with some more artifacts from the store and the Dancing Pig is near the Vietnamese Museum.
Neon Signs Location
- Western Appliances 1976 W San Carlos St., San José
- Time Deli 349 S Bascom Ave., San José
- Y Not 1933 W San Carlos St., San José
- Burbank Theater 552 S Bascom Ave., San José
- The Bears Cocktail Lounge 1872 W San Carlos St., San José
- Midtown Safeway 1300 W San Carlos St, San José
- O.C. McDonald 1150 W San Carlos St., San José
- West Side Billiards 1050 W San Carlos St., San José
- Falafel’s Drive-In 2301 Stevens Creek Blvd., San José
- Orchard Supply Hardware and Stephen’s Meat Market, History Park 635 Phelan Ave, San José
I made a Google map for the San José Neon Signs and hope to expand this in the future. Please let me know of interesting signs within San José.
For more information check out the San José Sign Project’s Facebook page or order their book on the iconic neon signs! Sarah JL Nguyen of Crossinglightstudio wrote a great blog post: San José’s Neon Signs: Works of Art That Tell Our Story
Looking Back: Signs of the Times by Ralph Pearce has a great list of neon signs.
Do you have a favorite neon sign?