Sunday, May 28

‘Get Lit’ at Kern County Museum’s neon event | Entertainment

It takes a village to build a neon plaza, according to Kern County Museum Executive Director Mike McCoy

On Friday, the museum’s Mission Bank Neon Plaza, featuring 30 restored local neon signs, will be on full display for the “Get Lit” event, which will also feature tacos, beer and margaritas.

And as passionate as McCoy is about one of the museum’s crown jewels, he’s also quick to recognize what a community effort the project has been.

From eight neon signs a couple of years ago, the museum’s collection has more than tripled thanks to business owners and private donors. 

“I can’t say enough good things about our donors,” he said. “None of these happened without them.”

Along with Bryan Batey, whose family donation led to the plaza’s renaming recognizing the bank that he co-owns, others who have aided the collection include Roy Keenan, who donated the Vincent’s Cyclery and Sporting Goods sign; business owner Mike Miller, who gifted the Amestoy’s sign that stood at the east Bakersfield bar; and Anna Reading-Carey, who, with the aid of fellow local preservationist Di Sharman, rescued the Andre’s Drive-In sign from demolition when it was taken down on Niles Street.

Donations range from perfect signs, like the eight gifted from Frank and Demi Hinmon’s private collection, to the most in need of TLC, like Sinaloa Mexican Food, which had stood unlit outside the longtime downtown restaurant that closed in 2019.

“It had been turned off for 10 years,” he said. “It was full of raccoon poop and dead pigeons.”

Those bigger projects require cleanup then a three-step process: an artist or artists to repaint the sign (McCoy’s wife, Susan, painted the Sinaloa sign), a neon expert (McCoy praised Ambrose McRedmond for his recent work) and a team to get the sign ready to be hung, like CN Sign & Lighting Specialists.

Once complete, those signs are a visual testament to the businesses and people who have shaped and enhanced the community. For those who have lived in Kern County, they bring back a lot of memories.

McCoy’s own history includes a first bicycle purchased from Vince Clerou at Vincent’s; enjoying hamburgers at Andre’s, whose owners helped those in need; picking up a suit at Saba’s for a school dance; and finding relief at Amestoy’s when East High, where he was a teacher, lost a game.

“We’d go to Amestoy’s to drown our sorrows in cheap beer. Frank Amestoy would have you laughing your (expletive) off.”

Newcomers can benefit from a trip to the museum to enjoy the immersive history as well as some stories if they run into McCoy.

After Friday’s event, the museum’s executive director will hold a tour on Saturday in celebration of Historic Preservation Month. The 90-minute tour, which starts at 10 a.m., will highlight new exhibits and improvements including Pyrenees Bakery, the Bakersfield Sound exhibit, Bena Depot, Watson Transportation Center, St. John’s Missionary Episcopal Church and the Warrior Maidens statues from the 1912 courthouse.

McCoy recommends wearing comfortable shoes and bringing a bottle of water. A $5 donation is suggested.

Along with all the neon, Friday’s “Get Lit” will also include food from California Taco Shop, which will sell tacos and more from its menu. Beer and margaritas — classic, blended or mango — will also be available for purchase. (One margarita is also included with admission.)

Brenna Charatsaris, the museum’s events director, said photographer Justin Tobias will capture the moment, shooting guest arrival photos in front of the neon displays as well as event shots. The images will be available to attendees via a Dropbox link after the event.

DJ Adam will also provide music for the evening.

“With this crowd, I expect there will be a lot of ’80s, ’90s and classic stuff,” Charatsaris said. “And there is dancing if people want. It depends on how many margaritas they have.”

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter: @realstefanidias.

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