House of Spirits sign saved from vandalism for future generations of Echo Park residents

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Wednesday, April 17, 2024

House of Spirits sign saved from vandalism for future generations of Echo Park residents
Archival photograph circa 1970 courtesy of the Telis family.

ECHO PARK, CA.- This week the Museum of Neon Art began removing the House of Spirits signage and transporting it to our facilities for safekeeping and repair. The need to work quickly became clear after theft of portions of the House of Spirits sign and escalating threats to the sign, which is attached to a building that was irreparably damaged by fire in December 2018. The sign was donated to the Museum by the Telis family, who have owned the store since the 1970’s, in order to preserve this iconic landmark. However the Museum intends to return the sign to its neighborhood as soon as a suitable new home can be found for it.

“Our father Sam Telis came from New York to start a new life in Los Angeles in the 1950's. He was a self taught entrepreneur and man of the people. A perfect combination to own and run the House of Spirits Liquor Store in Echo Park. He was recognizable in the neighborhood by his distinctive limp and respected for his no nonsense personality. All four Telis kids worked in the store at some point in our childhoods, dusting bottles, working the counter, checking inventory, etc. We were paid $1 to $5 a day depending on our age. The money usually went right back to the House of Spirits for candy. Sam and the staff developed relationships with the customers and offered home delivery. One of those regular home delivery customers gave their 67 Ford LTD to our dad saying, "If you can fix it, it's yours." He did and this became Susie, the eldest daughter’s first car. The liquor store had a deli showcasing their famously delicious pastrami sandwich and pastries from a local bakery, not to mention a variety of hard to find libations. Though thriving, by the end of the 1970's Sam retired from running the store. He continued to own the House of Spirits but rented it out. When Sam passed in 1997 our mother Phyllis took over as owner. Our family is so honored and proud to hand over these legendary Echo Park vestiges to the Museum of Neon Art to keep safe, preserve, and display. We know our dad would be as well.” states the Telis family.

MONA is located in Glendale, CA, a little more than 5 miles from where the House of Spirits sign was installed in Echo Park. For the last 39 years, the Museum has dedicated itself to educating, preserving, and exhibiting neon, kinetic, and electric art and signage. Our collection contains iconic signage from the Chinese Theatre, Brown Derby, and Circus of Books, among others. The Museum hosts neon tours throughout Los Angeles, offers neon bending classes, and protects and re-lights neon signage throughout Los Angeles through our LUMENS project. "The House of Spirits glows in the hearts of so many Echo Park community members. We are indebted to the Telis family for ensuring that this sign will continue to charm the public. It is unconventional for a museum to accept such a significant piece of history and immediately look for ways it can be brought back to the community, and the challenges will be considerable, however we believe that through community engagement and hard work we can find ways to shine together." says MONA Executive Director, Corrie Siegel.

The iconic 1958 Googie-style pole sign and dimensional fascia signage (rooftop sign) that beckoned to thirsty Echo Park residents are one-of-a-kind neon artworks designed by the Mueller Brothers. The idyllic cottage with a pink roof once puffed animated smoke clouds out of its chimney. Though the rooftop sign was placed on site in 1958, MONA has found evidence in the wiring and construction of the sign that the house portion of the sign may have been repurposed from another business and may date to the 1930’s or 40’s. During this period many sign companies would lease signs to businesses. The Museum also has reason to believe that, originally, the house glowed from the inside with an incandescent bulb.

The sign represents the history of a changing neighborhood and city. The Museum of Neon Art wants to preserve this unique and historically significant sign to share it with future generations and teach about the rich history of Echo Park, its family businesses, and the communities they served. We also want to pay tribute to the masterful neon artists and designers who created this playful and ingenious display. The Museum is in the process of collecting stories about the business and the sign, because we believe preserving these stories is as important as the sign that they are connected to. The Museum will share updates with the community about the discoveries we make in the restoration process. We will also offer special programming for Echo Park residents while the sign is on our premises.

Frequently, signs like these are destroyed when a building is sold. In preserving the sign we preserve family history as well as the stories of generations of the Echo Park residents who lived in the light of this sign. MONA is committed to safely stewarding this sign into a new era so that it can be enjoyed for generations to come. The sign is a complex and fragile work of art that needs special care. We hope that, through collaboration with local neighborhood groups and businesses, MONA can re-light the sign to its former glory.

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