A story published last month in The Californian appears to have inspired a number of people in the community to step forward in an effort to save a vintage neon sign in east Bakersfield and get it to its new home at the Kern County Museum.

News traveled fast after Amestoy’s proprietor Mike Miller told The Californian in November that he will close the dive bar next summer. Miller said he offered to donate the 70-year-old bar’s weatherbeaten but venerable old neon sign to the museum, but museum CEO Mike McCoy declined, noting that taking down the sign, stabilizing the neon, doing the electrical repairs, restoring the surface, and reinstalling the antique at the museum’s neon plaza would be cost-prohibitive for the nonprofit.

And that’s when the phone calls started coming in.

“After your story,” McCoy said, “a number of community people stepped forward to sponsor moving the classic Amestoy’s sign to the Kern County Museum.”

Mike Miller also received a slew of phone calls, each one essentially asking, “How can I help?”

“I appreciate every single person who called here,” Miller said Monday.

Miller probably could have pocketed a stack of greenbacks had he sold the sign to a private party. At least one potential buyer reached out to The Californian to ask about purchasing the sign. He wanted to place it in his spacious backyard like a party favor or conversation starter.

When Keith Pfeffer, owner of Vital Signs of Bakersfield, heard about the man’s offer, he didn’t mince words.

“No, no, no, no, no,” said Pfeffer, who is discounting his labor costs as part of a concerted effort to stabilize and transport the sign to the museum.

“What a mistake that would be,” he said of the notion of selling the sign to a private buyer. “Kind of like what happened with the Green Frog Market sign.”

Other donors include Wes Reese Crane Co, which will take down the sign “pro bono,” McCoy said.

The Harry and Ethel West Foundation is providing up to $1,200 for any costs associated with pulling down, stabilizing and transporting the sign. Another donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, will cover the restoration of the sign and expenses associated with mounting it at the museum.

This final cost will range between $4,000 to $5,000, McCoy said.

“Thank you for your story,” McCoy said. “You hate to look a gift horse in the mouth but as a non-profit we have to keep an eye on the bottom line.”

According to Pfeffer, who has owned Vital Signs for nearly 29 years, neon signs like Amestoy’s are becoming ever more rare.

“LED lights have taken over,” he said.

LED is less expensive and more durable. It has plenty of benefits.

“But there’s nothing like neon,” he said. “LED doesn’t give you that same vibe.”

Pfeffer’s crew is still working on the big Jolly Kone sign that was rescued from the corner of Wible Road and Belle Terrace.

That sign is also destined for the museum’s impressive Neon Plaza, which includes signs from the old Silver Fox bar; Far East Cafe; Tops Market; and many other businesses.

“I think it’s cool,” Pfeffer said. “I think these signs should be preserved.”

For Miller, the changes are bittersweet. He has other businesses that are doing quite well, but he has a soft spot for the old bar on the hill.

The Amestoy family gave him his start, Miller said. Frank Amestoy taught him the business, a mentoring that has enabled his success.

“I’m grateful to the Amestoy family,” he said.

“We are going to close this place in early summer. I want that sign to stay lit until then.”

Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

(1) comment


Neon signs were great--info, then art, then art for art's sake. Precursors to CFL's. Remember those? Now obsolete due to LED's (which were NOT mandated by tree-huggers and global-warmers . . . but invented by SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY, NATUR-ally. . . lo & behold!).
This sign needs a museum, like all industrial-age artifacts signalling man's conquest of his environment (with God's Direction).
Bravo Zulu to the donors!
Semper Fortis . . . !

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