Last week Glendale City Council approved the lease and design for the Museum of Neon Art (MONA), a potentially transformative new building on the city’s busy Brand Avenue that will display an eclectic collection of neon art, ranging from beer signs to roadside billboards. LA-based Shimoda Design Group is leading the design.
The museum, founded in 1981, is now located in a small temporary space on 4th Street in Downtown LA. It has had locations in the Downtown Arts District, at Universal City Walk, and at what is now LA Live. The Glendale space—which offers a 15-year, affordable lease from the City of Glendale, said MONA Executive Director Kim Koga— will finally give the museum ample room as well as a permanent home. Glendale is also kicking in up to $1 million for initial tenant improvements.
The two-story, 7,300 square foot building with an adjacent 5,000 square foot plaza is anticipated to become the southern anchor for Glendale’s emerging arts and entertainment district, and it should do that effectively, not only because of its “beautiful,” contemporary design, as Emil Tatevosian, Glendale’s Deputy Director of Policy and Innovation, described it. But also thanks to the neon art flashing from its exterior. This will include the Virginia Court Motel Diver, a large, bright red and white marquee dating from the 1940’s that will be placed on the museum’s roof; and a 20-foot-tall Clayton Plumbers Sign, with its giant neon faucet and neon blue drips, which will be located in the open air plaza. A rotating selection of others signs will hang from the building itself, Koga hopes.
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The dark glossy brick structure, wrapped largely in glass, will include the re-use of two empty storefront buildings across from the Americana At Brand, a popular new mixed-use development. Its main components will include a glazed storefront entry showing off a café, store, and neon fabrication shop; a main exhibition space; a pop-up mezzanine; and an outdoor plaza. The mezzanine, known as the “light box,” will cantilever dramatically over the plaza and “light up like a lantern,” according to Shimoda Design principal Joey Shimoda. The plaza, which is being designed by AECOM, will merge the street’s existing diagonal pavers with a wooden surface that will wrap up to form a far wall. The project will also include a classroom space, offices and outdoor storage.
The prevalence of glass on the exterior is meant to welcome outsiders wandering around the city, like those leaving the Americana. “We love the idea of an accessible museum,” commented Koga. “We really wanted to connect with the community.” Pieces on display in the main gallery will include a classic sign from the old Brown Derby on Hollywood and Vine, as well as a Mid Century Chief Motel sign that shows off a bright neon headdress.
The museum will also, added, Tatevosian, help “redefine” a city that is looking to draw more people with its arts, retail, and nightlife offerings. “People from neighboring cities don’t usually come to Glendale,” he said. “But that’s changing.”
The project’s budget has not been finalized, and a completion date has also not been solidified, although the museum hopes it will be able to open sometime next year.