Historic sign getting repaired after years of being dark

Walking out of Masa tonight after dinner, I look up and was thrilled to see some light shine on the top of the historic Jensen’s Recreation Center in Echo Park. The 1924 Jensen building is a great piece of Echo Park history and architecture, and the 28 feet wide x 17 feet tall sign has 1300 red, green and white incandescent light bulbs (which not many existing signs in the area have any more since neon became popular in the 1920s).

In 1997, after 50 years of neglect and the sign unlit, it was restored and re-lit through a cultural affairs grant. We’re not exactly sure how long the sign was lighting up the Rec Center roof, but we do know it was fixed and re-lit again in 2005. However, that lasted only one month, and the sign has been dark ever since.

The relighting you see now is a part of some testing being done to check what needs to be repaired, according to an article Monday on The Eastsider LA. The relighting has been made possible by a $5,000 LA County Historic Preservation Society grant through the Echo Park Historical Society. Echo Park residents, fans of history, and Echo Park Improvement Association members have also privately donated to fix and maintain the sign as well. And in October 2010, Greater Elysian Echo Park Neighborhood Council approved the allocation of $2,500 to the Historical Society for the restoration.

With this new development comes the question: When will the Jensen’s Recreation Sign lighting officially happen?

Hopefully we’ll find out soon, and the fundraising continues! Visit the Echo Park Historical Society website for more information and to donate.

Also, a comment on The Eastsider LA article intrigued us: “What a waste of tax payer dollars we can’t afford to throw away!!!!! Way are we the public paying to improve a privately held commerical building.???? how is the public or community being helped out. ????”

I suppose technically the money allocated by the GEPENC is technically tax-payer, but, like most funds allocated by the neighborhood council, it was put to a vote. In addition, we do appreciate historical parts of our community here in Echo Park, and this building is officially Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument No. 652. There’s even remnants of an Egyptian themed mural in what once was the bowling alley of Jensen’s Rec Center that still exists (the Historical Society gave a tour in March).

But it can’t be done without grants and donations from community members and organizations, and for those we say hooray.


Flashback Fridays: Jensen’s Recreation Center Sign

Photo by Echo Park Now

The Jensen’s Recreation Center building has always been a favorite Echo Park monument of mine. A historic cultural monument since 1998, the 86-year-old building has undergone quite a few changes inside.

The old bowling alley at Jensen's. Flickr photo via Mary-Austin & Scott

The building was built by German immigrant Henry Christian Jensen in 1924 and designed by architect E.E.B. Meinardus. Originally, it was a bowling alley with a pool hall at street level with 46 apartments on the other two floors. The Echo Park Historical Society website describes the space as catering to mostly males throughout the 1930s and ’40s. Even though the storefronts might not look exactly the same as the original structure, thankfully the Beaux Arts and Italianate inspired ornamentation that wraps around the outside of the building still exists.

The bowling alley is no longer there, but the sign featuring a bowling figure remains on the roof of the building. The 28 feet wide x 17 feet tall sign has 1300 red, green and white incandescent lightbulbs. An interesting fact: even though neon was a more popular application for signs in the 1920s (especially this size!), this one maintains the incandescent light bulbs.

Relighting of the sign. Photo from Paul Furlong

In 1997, after 50 years of neglect and the sign unlit, it was restored and relit through a cultural affairs grant. We’re not exactly sure how long the sign was lighting up the Rec Center roof, but we do know it was fixed and relit again in 2005. However, that lasted only one month, and the sign has been dark ever since.

Lately there’s been some great headway to relight the sign. The Echo Park Historical Society received $5,000 from an LA County Historic Preservation Society grant. Echo Park residents, fans of history, and Echo Park Improvement Association members have also privately donated to fix and maintain the sign as well. And just this week, the Greater Elysian Echo Park Neighborhood Council approved the allocation of $2,500 to the Historical Society for the restoration of the sign.

Hopefully we’ll see the sign relit (and maintained) some day soon!

If you’d like to donate to the Echo Park Historical Society for the restoration and upkeep of the sign, click here for the EPHS website.


Neighborhood Council meeting tonight

If you’re curious about what’s going on in Echo Park and the greater area, there’s a GEPENC meeting tonight at 6:30 pm at the Rosemont Avenue Elementary School Auditorium, located at 421 N. Rosemont Avenue.

Why go? Besides being involved in your community, there are some items posted in the agenda that have been of particular interested to the Echo Park community:

  • May be voting on supporting the new Sunset Beer Company’s application for a Conditional Use Permit (CUB) and a Mitigated Negative Declaration (ZA 2010-2048 CUB/ENV-2010-2049 MND). Those permits will allow for on-site sales of wine and beer for their 14-seat tasting room, as well as the sale of beer and wine for off-site consumption.
  • 64-unit complex on Sunset Blvd. and Elsinore: Will review without committee recommendation. If you want to know if there are any updates to this project, this will be the time as the developer has been working with the Neighborhood Council on design plans.
  • Discussion/possible allocation of $2,500.00 dollars to the Echo Park Historical Society for the repair and maintenance of the Jensen’s Recreation Center sign. This is great as the sign has been left unlit for quite a few years now, and the money is coming in from GEPENC as a matching grant.
  • May vote on authorizing a letter to the bidders of CRES #14 (EPN wrote about this issue recently) emphasizing the support of parental and community involvement in the process, and GEPENC’s role in outreach to the community.

You can review the full agenda here.


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