One of San Francisco's oldest, more famous signs gets face lift

Vic Lee Image
ByVic Lee KGO logo
Wednesday, November 14, 2018
One of SF's oldest, more famous signs gets face lift
The lantern sign outside the iconic Li Po Lounge bar in San Francisco has gotten an upgrade, thanks to the city.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- It's one of the oldest standing signs in San Francisco -- and one of the most famous.

And now the lantern sign outside the iconic Li Po Lounge bar has gotten a new face lift with help from the city.

RELATED: Beloved Orchard Supply Hardware sign disappears from oldest retail site in SJ

"The most happiest thing is to see the local customers to tell me they're so happy to see the neon is on," said Jackie Cheung, the manager of Li Po Lounge.

She minces no words when she talks about her newly-restored sign above the venerable bar on Grant Avenue.

She thanks the city's SF Shines program, which gave her a matching grant, part of a new project to restore old signs in historical neighborhoods.

The sign has been up since Li Po Lounge opened its doors in 1937.

You can see it in a still from the 1947 movie "The Lady from Shanghai."

Anthony Bourdain loved the bar for its Chinese Mai Tai's.

But age took its toll.

"There was corrosion and rust. Most of the tubes in the sign were broken. So there were a lot of steps in the process to restore the sign."

SF Neon preservationists Al Barna and Randall Ann Homan helped Oakland's Arrow Sign company meticulously rebuild the famed lantern sign.

Homan says this was the most unique neon she'd seen.

"Most Chinese lanterns are spherical shaped. This one is a hexagon. It has six sides."

She says it was beautiful -- all it needed was love.

But it was a challenge.

" We actually got up there and got paint samples so we could match the colors exactly, and a lot of them weren't standard paint samples."

The restoration had to be done on the spot. It was too risky moving the sign.

"Everything was done on site. And that requires parking permits from the city and scaffolding permits."

Now, this new neon sign is ready to lure customers back to this old Chinatown watering hole.