What better way to light up the night than a safe, controlled ignition of a gas. Arizona Daily Star photographer Kelly Presnell revisited neon signs that dot the landscape in Tucson. Many are a throwback to a time when a handful of longtime restaurants, hotels and bars served a smaller city, and motor hotels beckoned thousands of Americans traveling interstate highways after World War II.

Neon is a signature for many Tucson businesses, such as Caruso’s Italian Restaurant and Hotel Congress (the first to be designated a landmark sign). While desirable, it’s an expensive way to market a business.

Neon signs were introduced in the U.S. in 1923 with two signs at a Packard dealership in Los Angeles. They were carefully constructed using blown lead-glass tubing, filled with pricey neon or argon gas and lit using a high voltage transformer. However, a well-built neon sign can have a life of more than 30,000 hours — roughly three and a half years.

The Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation has led efforts to preserve Tucson’s neon signs. It has educated the public on the historic value of the signs and worked with the city to revamp the sign code to encourage restoration. In 2012, the foundation, working with Pima Community College, restored and reinstalled a group of historic neon signs along West Drachman Street on the PCC Downtown campus.

For dozens more photos, go to tucson.com/neon. There’s link to “The Neon Pueblo,” a downloadable PDF guide to neon signs in Tucson produced by the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation.

Pop quiz: Can you identify the signs used to spell out “Tucson” on the cover of this week’s Caliente? Go to tucson.com/neon for the answer or find it in next week’s Caliente.

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