Lighting up Lone Pine

Register Staff
Staff Writer

Lone Pine recently “got lit.”
An extensive project to restore the town’s classic neon signs has been completed and the reviews from residents and visitors alike are, well, glowing.
In addition to overhauling numerous large neon signs on Lone Pine buildings and businesses, the neon project also revamped neon signs on two hotels in neighboring Independence.
The return of vibrant neon lights along U.S. Highway 395, which also is Lone Pine’s main street and business corridor, “makes my heart smile when I see the signs. They bring back all my memories of childhood,” said Kathleen New, director of the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce.
New’s grandparents ran what is now Gardner’s True Value Hardware for 20 years when it was Hopkins Hardware, and her grandfather made the ice there. Both the True Value’s iconic flashing rainbow trout neon sign and the neon sign advertising ice were restored to their former glory as part of the project.
New added that the entire downtown area has been literally “brightened up” thanks to glow from the numerous revamped neon signs. “You can really tell the difference,” she said. “This town looks really alive, now.”
The idea of restoring the town’s fading neon signs had long been discussed, and those discussions and the noticeable deterioration of the signs themselves caught the attention of artist Lauren Bon, of the Metabolic Studio, who has been directing the studio’s ongoing engagement in Lone Pine and the Owens Valley for more than a decade. Bon thought rejuvenating and upgrading the signs would be a unique blend of artistic restoration, community building and historic preservation.
“Since 2009 Metabolic Studio IOU projects have been a small token of our appreciation for the water we use from the Owens Valley in Los Angeles. The IOU Neon project celebrates Main Street/Route 395 which has thousands of people pass through it annually,” Bon said.
The idea started to take more tangible shape in 2018 when Bon and the Metabolic Studio team began a conversation with business owners and residents about restoring the six remaining vintage galvanized steel and neon signs in Lone Pine and Independence that were originally installed in the 1940s and ‘50s.
The Metabolic Studio provided funding for the neon restoration project as part of its long-term, ongoing engagement with the Lone Pine community and Inyo County.
Metabolic Studio’s action included the skills of New, neon restoration expert John Iadipaolo, owner of Artistic Sign Company, and the proprietors of the businesses with original neon signage in need of repair, which had not yet gone digital or LED. The project kept intact the vintage patina of the galvanized steel signs and put all the neon signs on timers to preserve the beauty of the dark sky in the area after hours.
The site assessment, complicated logistics and careful, time consuming repairs for the neon project began October 2019.
Artistic Sign Company had to bring all neon and glass back to its shop in Ventura where craftspeople took field patterns on paper of the signs. Next, new neon tube glass that matched the color of the vintage neon was remanufactured from the original tube glass, filled with neon gas then returned to the towns of Lone Pine and Independence to be reinstalled.
In addition to the neon fish and other signs at Gardner’s True Value, the other rejuvenated neon signs are located at the Merry-Go-Round restaurant, the Mt. Whitney Motel, the “jumping salmon” at the High Country Outfitters and Sporting Goods; Ray’s Den Motel and the Courthouse Motel in Independence.
The local businesses and agencies that make this the project possible include:
Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce – Kathleen New
Caltrans for permitting – Mark Reistetter, Stephen Winzenread
Previn Joshi – owner of  the Courthouse Motel, Independence
Linda Ellsworth – owner of Ray’s Den Motel, Independence
Peter Bhakta –  owner of Mount Whitney Motel, Lone Pine
Dustin Hardwick (aka Tackleman Dan) – owner of High Sierra Outfitters, Lone Pine
Don and Margaret Warner – owners of Gardner’s True Value, Lone Pine
Qui Chu and Dan Siegel – owners of Merry Go Round Restaurant Lone Pine
The neon restoration project is the latest collaborative project between the Lone Pine community and Metabolic Studio.