PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A dazzling display is ready to delight dozens of people in Philly. The new Neon Museum is opening on a limited basis next week.

The very special museum has been in the works for more than 40 years.

Neon Museum of Philadelphia

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Don’t let its flat, nondescript exterior, along North American Street in Lower Kensington, fool you. Inside, the new Neon Museum of Philadelphia pops with color, movement and a whole lot of Philly nostalgia.

“The first thing that you see when you come in is the Levis’ hot dog sign,” Neon Museum of Philadelphia Founder Len Davidson said. “I used to go to Levis’ when I was a kid. My father went there, his father used to take him there.”

Neon Museum of Philadelphia

Everywhere you look is like a window into the 20th century.

Take the Horn and Hardart sign, originally at 30th Street Station.

 

Then there’s Pep Boys, Shirt Corner, and in one room alone nearly 100 more handcrafted vintage neon signs.

“This is a great sign, the Hair Replacement Center, which was on Ridge Avenue, shows a man with a toupée before and after,” Davidson said.

Davidson is the man behind it all.

“It’s almost like a sacred space to me,” he said.

Davidson has spent more than four decades amassing this collection. At first, working as a professor and consultant during the day and switching to his passion – neon at night.

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“Go home and put on dungarees, then go roam around North Philadelphia, going to collect signs,” Davidson said. “We repainted it, we fixed up the neon and that’s really the story with a lot of these signs.”

This is the original Pat’s Steaks crown that sat on top of its Strawberry Mansion business in the 50s. In its heyday, it had 39 tubes of neon and could be seen from airplanes.

The museum was ready to open last fall but the pandemic had other plans. And recently, only museum members could view the collection.

But starting April 15, Davidson is opening the doors to the public on a limited basis during a soft opening. To the delight of many who have already been following the museum online.

“They’re spellbound. That’s great but I want them to go beyond the signs and go into the history,” Davidson said.

Back to a time in Philadelphia before the digital age.

“A world of mom and pop businesses, of kids playing in the streets of Philadelphia, of rowhouse living where you knew your neighbor,” Davidson said. “I want to document what Philadelphia was like in the 20th century before the internet and the digital world took over.”

A place to share memories and make new ones.

The Neon Museum’s soft opening lasts only four days from April 15 to 18, and reservations are already sold out.

But if it’s a success in the era of COVID protocols, Davidson says he will open access to the general public on a more regular basis.

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You can follow updates on the Neon Museum of Philadelphia’s website and Instagram page.