Ignite Sign Art Museum, Tucson Is a Treasure Trove of Neon Signs

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Editor’s note: One of the most unique museums that you’ll ever have the opportunity to enjoy is Ignite Sign Art Museum, 331 S. Olsen in Tucson, which is filled with fabulous and historic neon signs—big, small and everything in between. We thought you would enjoy learning more about it from its co-founder Monica Hay Cook.

“. . . No Light Like Neon.”

by Monica Hay Cook

Ignite Sign Art Museum began with a sign maker—my husband Jude Cook—who has been collecting signs for over forty years. As the collection grew, so did the size of the signs and it was time to either share the signs with the community or to quit collecting. Due to Jude’s passion for saving signs of the past, we decided to open Ignite in the fall of 2018. 

Although the sign museum collection includes a variety of unique advertising items, such as clocks, thermometers, tin and plastic signs, our focus is on neon and neon restoration. Here at Ignite, we believe, “There is no other light like neon.” Our mission is to preserve historically significant signs, educate the community on the value signage plays in our everyday lives and to entertain visitors by offering a unique and visually entertaining experience. 

In accordance with our mission, we aim to preserve historic signs in Arizona that need a home. Our preference is for them to stay in the community where they can be appreciated by all. But, if they must come down, we are a great place for them to come. 

For example, a call came out in 2018 for help in preserving the Moe Allen sign from Phoenix. It was coming down fast and needed a place to go. This sign showcases “The Happy Bear” that represented Bear Alignment across the nation. Cook and Company Signmakers answered the call, sending two crane trucks and three sign employees to save the sign and bring it back to Ignite. The sign is on display but the restoration is on a temporary hold as we seek the colors of the neon tubing that once lit it up.  

Approximately nine years ago, through his business, Cook & Company Signmakers, Jude began restoring Tucson’s historic signs. He and his staff have now completed twenty-three restorations out and about in Tucson. Ignite Museum and its sister company, Cook & Company Signmakers, maintain Tucson’s Gateway Cactus on Oracle Road north of Drachman Street. 

One Tucson sign that came our way hours before demolition required a complete restoration because it had been re-purposed and renamed several times. The transformer told us the sign dated back to 1948 but what did the sign originally say? It took eight hours of careful sanding through the layers of paint to discover the original message. It now lights brightly as Tucson Small Animal Hospital. 

When visiting Ignite, you may observe signs in various stages of restoration. There is a sign bone yard in the rear and informative displays to see along the way. We invite visitors to enjoy our interactive displays, including sign scavenger hunts, as they go through the museum. One of our docents created a movie that documents the history of neon and highlights the neon bending process. You may catch one of our sign-bending docents giving a live neon bending demonstration. They love showing the process to visitors. 

Bring your family and friends and come enjoy the signs, the lights and the displays. Ignite Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. We are in a 7,000 sq. ft. space, plus we have 7,000 sq. ft. outside (sun umbrellas are available). We practice current Pima County COVID-19 requirements, including face masks for all individuals five years and older and social distancing. To learn more about our unique Museum, please check our website, ignitemuseum.com, visit us on Facebook or call us at 520-319-0888.

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