The Green Frog Market's iconic "Howdy Folks" sign, which greeted shoppers to the Alta Vista Drive store in northeast Bakersfield from the late 1940s until the family-owned business closed its doors this month, has a new home. It will have some impressive neighbors, too, as it takes a place in the Museum of Neon Art in Glendale alongside some classic Los Angeles historic signage of years past, including the old Brown Derby restaurant sign and the Grauman's Chinese Theatre dragons.
Some might be green with envy over this development, but we're hopping mad. Green Frog owner Scott Hair's decision to unceremoniously ship a piece of our history to Southern California is stunning. Simply put, the frog belongs in Bakersfield.
The visual landscape of Bakersfield has changed over the past three decades, and much of the signage that adorned the city, and gave it a unique identity, no longer stands. Who remembers the "Let's Eat" signs at the Rancho Bakersfield Motel? They're apparently gone forever. Or the famous bookend "Sun Fun Stay Play" signs on Highway 99? They likely ended up in a landfill somewhere.
As much as we loved eccentric Milt Miller's now legendary missile and "Alamo Tombstone" sign atop the Padre Hotel, we understand that with change comes tough decisions, and removing signage that connects citizens with the towns they live in can be difficult and even heartbreaking. We remember the dozens of Bakersfield citizens who sat somberly in lawn chairs on Union Avenue in June 1999, watching as work crews dismantled the "Bakersfield" arch. For some, tears flowed with the realization that part of their city's history -- and longtime identity -- was disappearing. (Singer-businessman Buck Owens, acknowledging that loss, later built a replica arch at his Crystal Palace dinner club, preserving the original blue porcelain letters of the sign.)
This is, in part, why we have museums in our communities. A museum can serve as a link to our past, a preservation of our history. Local relocation can soothe our psyche and take away a bit of the hurt, reminding us that the items may have moved, but they are still at home.
The Kern County Museum is where the frog belongs. The museum is already home to some of our historically important signage, including the glowing Bakersfield Inn Annex sign and others that invited customers to the Far East Cafe, Rexall Drugs and the Silver Fox.
The frog may have famous neighbors in Glendale, but people from outside Bakersfield who visit that museum (which is currently closed and not even scheduled to open until mid-2014) will have no emotional connection to it. The frog might attract some laughs, with his silly top hat, tuxedo jacket and striped pants, but it won't be the same sort of laugh he'd get here in Bakersfield, where he's family.
The Green Frog frog is one of us. He's part of our history, part of our identity. With all due respect to Mr. Hair, he is ours.
The Museum of Neon Art has a nice name, and once it opens in its new location, it may indeed be a fine attraction. But the Kern County Museum's neon sign collection is first-class and fascinating -- and the frog would be the cherry on top.
If the deal isn't chiseled in stone, we hope Hair will reconsider and bring the frog home, where it belongs.