Lompoc’s Historic, Glowing Neon Past
The first neon sign made its debut in the U.S. in 1923, but it wasn’t until the 1930’s and 40’s that this unique signage experienced it’s zenith. From New York to Vegas and L.A., neon signs lit up the night sky, beckoning visitors to partake in everything from theater and food, and eventually even graced the front of local businesses like local cleaners and drug stores. These eye-catching displays even helped weary travelers find a place to lay their head for the night.
A symbol of progress, neon signs were designed to attract travelers on interstate highway systems, but eventually the neon craze made its way into the suburbs, and even the agricultural town of Lompoc was not immune to their allure. Lompoc’s main street was filled with neon signs advertising everything from the popular Chinese restaurant “Rice Bowl Chow”, a Lompoc staple, to the historic Lompoc theater.
Many history buffs in Lompoc have helped preserve and restore Lompoc’s classic neon signs over the years. In 2017, the Lompoc Valley Historical Society pushed to save the “Hi! Let’s Eat” neon sign that had been a fixture in downtown Lompoc since it was erected in front of the Hi Restaurant in March 1960. After five decades, the restaurant was closed, and the fate of the sign seemed uncertain as the new owners of the property did not want to keep it. The Historical Society successfully petitioned the Lompoc Planning Commission who designated the sign as a city landmark. With the sign now protected, the Hi! Let’s Eat heritage was preserved and it was moved to its new home in front of the American Host Restaurant.
Perhaps the most recognizable neon sign in Lompoc is the “Rice Bowl Chow” sign advertising the restaurant know for its eclectic mix of Chinese food, steaks and burgers. After 50 years, this popular, family owned eatery still serves up signature dishes like chow mien, sweet and sour pork, fried rice and noodle soup – with its original sign still adorning the building.
Opening in May 1927, the historic Lompoc Theatre was originally a state of the art facility hosting everything from local civic theatre and orchestra groups to nationally recognized acts like Liberace! The theatre even became the best place for locals to catch the latest Hollywood movie releases. Since its closure in the 1970’s, the theatre suffered from years of neglect. In 2017, the theatre was purchased and is currently undergoing a complete renovation! The historic neon sign gracing the front of the building is still intact and undergoing renovation!
Even the dry cleaning business was caught the neon sign fever! The family-owned Stillman’s Modern Drive-In Cleaners is still operating to this day. The new owners restored the original neon sign that is one of the oldest in Lompoc. You can find the business and sign at the corner of H street still serving up old-fashioned good service and
Roadside motels were all the rage with the interstate traveler crowd back on the 30’s and 40’s. Along historic Highway 1, Star Motel beckoned visitors with two neon signs to attract the busy motor crowd. The Star Motel on the corner of S. F Street and Cabrillo HWY is now long-term housing, but from time to time, the brilliant neon sign that still throws its light onto Lompoc’s streets.