The Ambassador Hotel has completed restoration of its 85-year-old neon rooftop sign. Its preservation and restoration was quite a challenge.
"The sign is intrinsically tied to the history of the hotel itself and preserving it maintains the historical significance of the Ambassador’s 1920s Art Deco style and is a sign of a by-gone era in Milwaukee," says Rick Wiegand, the Ambassador’s owner since 1995.
Neon signs first appeared in the United States in the 1920s and reached the height of their popularity in the 1940s. Neon signs were well used in art deco and depression modern lettering of the 1920s and 1930s. In the 1960s and 1970s, neon signs were replaced with plastic.
Plastic had several advantages over wood, metal and the other traditional sign materials. It has the ability to take any shape, without the painstaking process of heating and molding glass into letters. LED lighting has become the modern day replacement for neon.
"It was never a choice to replace the sign with LED lighting. In fact, the newer signs on Wisconsin Avenue were created in 2005 during the restoration of the Ambassador, to replicate the art deco neon signs of the 1920s," says Wiegand.
Today, there is much debate on whether the neon signs should be replaced with LED lighting. LED may have cost savings benefits long-term, but neon signs still lend themselves to customization and niche design that LED is not able to provide.