EXCLUSIVE: Campaign kicks off to save dancing neon pig sign in San Jose

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- It's a familiar sight to fans going to games or events at SAP Center and to commuters heading to Diridon Station in San Jose. It's a 50-plus year old neon sign for Stephen's Meat Products, no longer in business.

The meat processing plant was torn down 10 years ago to make way for development, but the sign still stands. A technician from YESCO, a local sign company, raised himself in a boom bucket this morning to inspect the neglected sign, which no longer lights up. A campaign is being launched today in conjunction with this news story to restore it so that people once again will say, "Meet me under the Dancing Pig."

The Preservation Action Council of San Jose is trying to raise the tens of thousands of dollars needed to repair the well-known sign. Its efforts are part of a growing movement globally to save, protect and restore neon signs, which its advocates say are historic and part of the fabric of many communities for their art, design and connections to the retailers and other businesses that erected them to catch the eyes of customers, especially along busy thoroughfares, with their bright colors and animated features. There is also the nostalgia factor.

Heather David, who has done extensive research on the Dancing Pig and other neon signs, says "it is an example of public art. It was hand-crafted, most likely in Oakland at the headquarters of Electrical Products Corporation, which at the time the largest manufacturer of electric sign displays on the West Coast."

After an hour-long, up-close inspection, YESCO neon sign technician Richard Jackson described the Stephen's Meat Products sign to be in poor condition. Its neon glass is filled with mercury, which is no longer allowed, so new neon tubes will need to be made.

There are also two bullet holes in the sign.

He's happy to hear of the campaign to restore this sign. At its base, the sign makes clicking sounds, which makes it appear power is still going to the sign. However, the sign is dark at night.

San Jose's neon signs have been catalogued by the San Jose Signs Project. Many can be found along San Carlos Street and along Stevens Creek Blvd. One of the most prominent is a towering sign over Western Appliance.

The store spends $5,000 a year to power and maintain it. It can be seen from a long distance.

However, some signs are showing signs of age or lack of maintenance. Some have gone dark because the businesses have closed. Neon sign advocates say they seeking not only help to repair the Stephen's Meat Products sign, but also for the public to alert them when a business with a neon sign might be closing so the sign can be saved.

Two such signs are already in storage by History San Jose from Mel Cotton's sporting goods store and from the downtown Greyhound station. The long-term goal is to put them on display with others, perhaps in a local neon sign museum.

The Preservation Action Council of San Jose has set up a crowdsourcing site to get donations large and small.

To donate, you can visit www.preservation.org/pac_donate.html Look for "Save the Dancing Pig" on the donation drop-down menu.

The Council also is planning a fundraising event in the next month or two with assistance from Bassian Farms, which purchased the Stephen's Meat Products brand. Bassian has made a $5,000 donation toward the Dancing Pig restoration fund.

The Dancing Pig sign is located at 105 S. Montgomery St. in San Jose.

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