Rare sign lights up again in Echo Park

Vin­tage dis­play atop a Sun­set Boule­vard land­mark is re­stored af­ter be­ing mostly dark for 50 years.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS BEAT - By Roger Vin­cent roger.vin­cent@la­times.com Twit­ter: @rogervin­cent

The sight of a very per­sis­tent bowler throw­ing strike af­ter strike looms high over Sun­set Boule­vard again, now that a nearly cen­tury-old elec­tric sign has been re­stored.

It’s atop Jensen’s Recre­ation Cen­ter, a 1920s land­mark in the heart of Echo Park that was one of the first build­ings in L.A. to fea­ture a mix of res­i­den­tial, re­tail and en­ter­tain­ment uses. It was de­clared a Los An­ge­les His­toric Cul­tural Mon­u­ment in 1998.

When com­pleted by busi­ness leader Henry C. Jensen in 1924, the three-story build­ing in­cluded a bowl­ing al­ley and bil­liards par­lor. To en­tice pa­trons, Jensen put a 17by-28-foot in­can­des­cent sign on the roof that de­picted a bowler throw­ing a strike.

The sign is ar­tic­u­lated, mean­ing it lights up in a pro­grammed se­quence. Col­ored lights say­ing “Jensen’s Recre­ation Cen­ter” light up in three pops. Then a male bowler ap­pears on the left side and ap­pears to launch a ball that slowly trav­els across the sign and then scat­ters a set of pins on the right side.

Con­sid­ered ground­break­ing tech­nol­ogy at the time of its in­stal­la­tion, the sign is con­trolled by a se­ries of elec­tric mo­tors that switch the 1,300 red, green and white light bulbs on and off to give the ap­pear­ance of move­ment.

The sign was mostly dark for about 50 years but has just been re­stored by new owner Vista In­vest­ment Group.

The Santa Mon­ica real es­tate firm pur­chased the build­ing at 1700 Sun­set Blvd. for $15 mil­lion in 2014. It spent $1.25 mil­lion on im­prove­ments, Vice Pres­i­dent Nick Cle­ment said, in­clud­ing a ren­o­va­tion of the sign over­seen by Los An­ge­les vin­tage sign re­storer Paul Green­stein.

“We wanted to do our part to re­store an im­por­tant part of that prop­erty,” Cle­ment said.

Jensen’s Recre­ation Cen­ter has 46 apart­ments on the sec­ond and third f loors. It no longer has bowl­ing or bil­liards, but it does have a cof­fee shop, fit­ness stu­dio, cloth­ing bou­tique, and ve­gan restau­rant and brew­ery. Cle­ment is look­ing for a ten­ant for the va­cant for­mer bowl­ing al­ley space, he said.

An­i­mated in­can­des­cent signs pre­dated neon signs, which be­came pop­u­lar in the 1920s, said Eric Evavold, for­mer board mem­ber of the Mu­seum of Neon Art in Glendale. The Jensen’s sign is one of the largest such vin­tage, op­er­a­ble signs left in the world, he said.

“It’s in­cred­i­ble that this sign was just sit­ting there in the mid­dle of the city for so long,” Evavold said. “This is a spe­cial jewel in our il­lu­mi­nated sign his­tory.”

Gina Fer­azzi Los An­ge­les Times

THE SIGN lights up in pro­grammed se­quence. “We wanted to do our part to re­store an im­por­tant part of that prop­erty,” said Nick Cle­ment, vice pres­i­dent at Vista In­vest­ment Group, which bought Jensen’s Recre­ation Cen­ter, the 1920s build­ing where the elec­tric sign sits.

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