Neon Signs


  • Iconic Sacramento businesses: Two signs jumped out immediately - Tower Records and Shakeys Pizza.  The names and signs of both Sacramento-born businesses are instantly recognizable and bring back fond memories for area residents. Other signs were selected to represent a snapshot of Sacramento’s business history. 
  • Condition:  The sign had to be structurally sound and in stable condition.
  • Size and weight: Believe it or not, some of the signs were too large to fit in the arena.  The Records section of the Tower sign is the longest at 14 feet. Both Tower Records sections together measure a little over 25 feet long. Shakeys may be considered the largest overall at 10 ½ feet tall and 7 feet wide.  Weighing around 865 pounds, Franke’s Drugs is the heaviest sign that made the cut.
  • Age and visual interest:  We tried to select signs that represented various eras of Sacramento history and displayed a good variety of colors and style.


In preparation for installation, all the signs were transported to the workshops of Pacific Neon Inc. on Academy Way. They have been in the neon sign business for over 60 years and restored many of the well-known signs around town including Mercury Cleaners. Pacific repaired or replaced broken neon tubes and installed new electrical components to bring the signs up to code. After just a very light cleaning, the sign’s weathered facades were left as is to convey the evidence of the sign’s life story.  

Funding by the Kings for all of the transport, updating, and installation made this venture possible.  "Instead of keeping the artifacts in our warehouse, our goal is to make them available to the public,” said Marcia Eymann, Sacramento City Historian and the Center Director. “This partnership with the Kings is a great fit because normally we would not have the room or the budget to exhibit large pieces, especially this many, all in one place. Because of the generosity of the Kings, we have the opportunity to get the signs renovated so that even when they come down, they will be in better condition than when we first received them,” she continued.


Sign Location: 904 J St. and 2116 21st St.
Dates: 1950 - 2008
Maker: Pacific Neon Inc., Sacramento, CA
Donor: Thomas Westley



Before the age of digital cameras and selfies, people went to a photographer’s studio for their portraits. Early cameras were slow and required the person to sit still for a long time. To help relax his customers, a photographer named C.W. Davis trained a live canary to sing to his clients. Soon mechanical chirping birds had photographers everywhere saying, “Watch the birdie.”  

Noel Goursolle Jr. opened Coronet Portraits studio in the upstairs of 904 J St. in 1953. They became a leading provider of Sacramento school and yearbook portraits.  This sign was likely made for the J St. location, then removed and rehung when Coronet relocated to 21st St. in 1958.   While Goursolle passed away in 1984, the sign remained on the building until 2008 when it was donated to the Center.


Sign Location: 3839 J St.
1936 -1944 as Walgreen Drug, 1944 -1992 as Franke’s Drugs
Acme Sign, Chicago, IL
Ron Kumasaki



When Edward Franke purchased a drugstore on J St. in 1944, an existing Walgreen’s neon sign was included. Franke covered over the embossed green sign with red paint but kept the word DRUGS in the corner. He painted his name in large white letters across the sign and added the word “Fountain” to advertise the new soda fountain in the store.  Franke claimed that his business increased by $57.00 a day after the sign was changed. In 1973 he sold the store to Ron Kumasaki who kept the Franke name. When the business closed in October 1991 the sign was taken down and donated to the Center by Kumasaki.

It’s called a shadow sign because if viewed at an angle, it is possible to see the raised contours – or shadows - of the original embossed “Walgreen” under the red paint.


Sign Location: 1700 J St.
 1938 - 1993
 Ad Art Sign Company, Modesto, CA
Glenn Vanderford


W.E. Newbert started a farm implement store in 1918 at 109 J. Street. By the time they moved to 1700 J. Street in 1938 the store had expanded and switched to primarily selling hardware.  Newbert’s was well known for its knowledgeable staff and as the place to get hard-to-find items until it closed in 1993.

This sign was made around 1938.  It is the earliest sign in the Center’s collection and the only one made of porcelain enamel. It has a heavy iron base coated with layers of colored powdered glass that were fired in a kiln. Made until the 1940s, porcelain enameled signs are rarer then later ones made of tin or aluminum. 


Sign Location: 5641 J St.
1954- 2002 
Federal Sign and Signal Corp., Sacramento, CA
 Jerry Thompson


Sherwood “Shakey” Johnson and partner “Big Ed” Plummer opened a restaurant in 1954 that served 90-cent pizza and 10-cent draft beer accompanied by live jazz bands. Shakeys Pizza Parlor and Ye Public House was an instant success. It was the first pizza restaurant in America to start franchises. By 1974, there were 500 locations across the globe. As of August 2016, there are still about 50 Shakeys in the U.S.; most are in southern California.

Johnson acquired the nickname “Shakey” due to nerve damage from World War II. An avid jazz fan, after he retired in 1965, Shakey devoted his time to organizing the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society and Jazz Festival. When this neon sign was taken down in June 2002, a Dixieland band was on hand to play a “jazzed up” version of taps.


Sign Location: 2700 J St.
1962 – 1994
 Federal Sign and Signal Corp., Sacramento, CA
Doug Sleeper


Sleeper Stamp and Stationery Company was a Sacramento staple for over 100 years. In 1889, Henry E. Sleeper purchased a seal and stamp-making company located at Fourth and K Streets.  His son and grandson followed in his footsteps and for three generations the Sleeper family made stamps and seals for fraternal lodges, businesses, and government agencies.  For decades the Secretary of State’s office turned to Sleeper to update the official state seal.

In 1962 Sleeper consolidated its branches and moved all their operations into a new building on J St.  This sign is from that store which closed in 1994.


Sign Location: 2514 Watt Ave.
1961 - 2006
Pacific Neon Inc., Sacramento, CA
 Howard Schlesinger




In the late 1940s, Sacramento native Russ Solomon started selling records out of his parent’s drug store located in the Tower Theater building near 16th and Broadway. In 1960, as he planned to relocate Tower Records to its first standalone building on Watt Ave., Solomon asked his friend Charles “Mick” Mickelson to create a store logo.  Mickelson used the capital letters from a font called Tower for the store’s name. He “stole” the red and yellow color scheme used in the Shell Oil Company logo because he knew that combination is one of the most visible and can be seen from a great distance.

As the business grew into an international company, the eye-catching red and yellow name appeared on signs all over the world.