Neon Museum of Philadelphia Makes its Debut at NextFab North Philly
The wait is finally over for this unique and glowing celebration of Philly past.
Walking down the long hallway of North Philly’s NextFab building, you already see the glow in the distance, but nothing can prepare you for a gallery of wall-to-wall neon signs and the depth of history they represent.
For Neon Museum of Philadelphia founder Len Davidson, this was a lifetime in the making. As we explored the sensor-activated walls of neon, he told us about his mid-century upbringing Philly’s Oxford Circle neighborhood, full of street games, stoop sitting, and mom-and-pop shops announcing themselves in neon. That iconography stuck with him ever since, and he began collecting neon and studying the history and craftsmanship behind the signs.
“We’re an American art and history museum disguised as a neon museum.”
The Neon Museum of Philadelphia has over 120 pieces—from giant animated neon signs to original artwork. You’ll instantly recognize Philly mainstays like an old McGillin’s Olde Ale House sign and a Pat’s Steaks crown that takes up an entire wall. In addition to the neon adorning the walls, there are also movable displays for rotating art exhibits—currently the whimsical imaginary city “Blendini” by artist Mason Carter.
In addition to the sheer spectacle—and Instagram-worthy nature—of the collection, is an ever-evolving narrative. Museum guide cards describing the history and context of each piece can be found in milk crates along the walls; but just as frequently there are corkboards with index cards inviting visitors to add their own memories associated with the signs. For those who want to go further, there is also a lounge and library in the museum.
That interactivity goes a step further with the recreation of Deadbox—a classic Philly street game that Davidson will enthusiastically demonstrate for you and your kids. Originally chalked onto sidewalks, this version is immortalized into the floor, ready for weighted bottlecaps to be flicked across its gameboard. Because safety measures make it so that only four people are allowed in the museum at a time, every visit is personalized and you’ll definitely get a turn to play!
The Neon Museum of Philadelphia welcomes kids age 7 and up—due to the vast amount of delicate artwork in a relatively small space—with their parents. It’s a pretty quick visit, but it will give them a deeper appreciation for their city in the pre-internet age, and will likely produce some very interesting conversations—and photos. As NextFab fills its spaces and reopens to the public for events, the museum will be a shining beacon to add to your visit.
The Neon Museum of Philadelphia is located inside NextFab’s North Philly location at 1800 North American Street in Kensington. Tickets are $10, and free for members. All guests must be age 7 or older; kids under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. To allow for social distancing, the museum will admit up to four people per hour; online reservations are highly recommended. Masks must be worn at all times, without exception.
Catch a sneak peek with their virtual opening video tour:
Photographs by Laura Swartz.