Camera Signs and Giant Cameras

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The photos on this page were moved here from my Signs section to accompany an article I wrote for the Society for Commercial Archeology's Journal magazine.

Cordell Studio
Duncan, OK
Walter Bennett
Cameras [gone]
Oakland, CA
Camera Center [gone]
Modesto, CA
Coronet Portraits
Sacramento, CA
The Cordell Studio is long gone but this sign with an old-fashioned camera remains. [map]

Walter Bennett Cameras opened in 1950 and closed in 2008. This sign was destroyed when it was removed. For more, see this website.

The Camera Center opened in 1946. This sign had been there since at least the early 1950s. This photo was taken in 2014 just before the store closed and the sign was removed. It is not known if the sign was saved. For more, see this website.

Coronet Portraits was established in 1950. This sign is most likely from 1958 when the business moved to a different location. The business closed in 2000. This photo was taken in 2008 just before the sign was removed and put in storage at the Center for Sacramento History. In 2016, the sign was put on display with five other vintage signs at the Golden 1 Center. The neon has been restored. The signs will be there for at least five years. For more, see this website.

Dorn's Photo Shop
Red Bank, NJ
Dorn's Photo Shop opened in 1937. This neon sign was built in 1941 by the General Neon Company of Red Bank. It was modeled after a Kodak postcard-sized folding camera which was popular in the 1920s. It cost $750 to build. When Dorn's moved down the block, the sign was moved as well. In 2008, Dorn's closed and a new building went up. The sign was removed and is now on display at Fantastic Signs in Red Bank (third photo above). The sign measures 11 feet by 11 feet 8 inches. It had to be cut in half in order to fit it through the sign shop's door. The sign is now divided between the "Photo Shop" piece and the bellows. The first two photos above show the sign when it was still at the camera store. The third photo shows it inside the sign shop. Fantastic Signs repainted the flaking bellows portion of the camera. The neon had been missing for many years before the sign was moved. [map]

Photo Service
Pocatello, ID
Detroit, MI
Pointe Camera Shop [gone]
Detroit, MI
Stewart's Photo Shop
Anchorage, AK
The Fred's Photo Service sign was installed in 1938. Fred's was still in business when this photo was taken in 2008. The store closed in 2010 when the owner passed away. By 2014, the sign had been removed and put in storage. It is owned by the city. The sign was restored by Relight the Night and put on public display in 2019. For more, see this website. [map]

Swifoto and the Pointe Camera Shop are both gone but these signs remained when these photos were taken in 2011. By 2013, the Pointe Camera Shop sign was gone. Between 2013 and 2015, the Swifoto sign was repainted and now advertises for the Aladdin restaurant. For more, see this website. [Swifoto map]

Stewart's Photo Shop opened in 1942. This sign has been there since at least 1957. [photo thanks Sean Flynn] [map]

Show N Tell Showgirls Lounge
Louisville, KY
The Show N Tell Showgirls Lounge storefront sign originally advertised for Schuhmann's Click Clinic, a camera store which opened in 1946 and closed in 2001. The early 1950s sign was adapted (lettering changed) to advertise for the strip club. This photo is from 2010. In 2013, the strip club became the Meta bar and the neon lettering was removed from the sign. Meta then added their own name to the sign.

The second Schuhmann sign shown above at right is located behind the store on the wall in the parking lot. It remains intact. These signs were both animated. The lines of text were lit individually while the camera's flashbulb flashed. [map]

Dixie Photo Shop
St. George, UT
The Dixie Photo Shop closed in 1999 but this sign remain. The lower sign was already in place when T.P. Durrant took over the business around 1963. The painted metal sign was probably built in the 1950s and most likely never had neon. The sign features a photographer preparing to take a photo with an old-fashioned camera mounted on a tripod. A birdie is perched on his left hand. Brass birdies were developed by photographers in the 1920s to hold the attention of fidgety children during portrait sessions. Squeezing an attached rubber bulb created a whistling or tweet-like sound.

The upper sign at Dixie Photo came from Odegard's camera store just a couple of blocks away. When that store closed, Dixie Photo adopted the old-fashioned camera sign and installed it above theirs. This sign is most likely also from the 1950s. The neon may still be functional but the sign is no longer lit. Durrant's son says that the City of St. George would like to see these signs taken down. However, since he owns the building and they have been there so long, the signs are legally allowed to stay. [map]

Elliott Photo
Marysville, CA
Loomis Camera
Elyria, OH (now Cincinnati, OH)
The Elliott Photo sign appears to be from the 1970s. The store closed in 2013 but this sign remains. [map]

Loomis Camera was established in 1950. In 1957, the company moved to their current location in Elyria, Ohio, and had this sign built. The plastic letters are original but the giant camera feature has been replaced a couple times. The original folding 4x5 press camera was replaced with a Kodak 126 Instamatic in the 1960s. The sign currently features a Pentax 35mm SLR camera about four feet tall. The camera's flashing mechanism was turned off around 2004 when complaints were filed with the city. Prior to that, Loomis Camera fought and won an II-year battle to keep their sign. In the 1990s, the City of Elyria ordered the sign removed due to new building regulations. The community rallied to save the sign and it was finally determined that the sign deserved historic status. In 2012, it was announced that the store would be closing. The sign was purchased by the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati, OH.

Epperson Photo [gone]
Oklahoma City, OK
Huron Camera [gone]
Battle Creek, MI
Epperson Photo opened in 1980. The original version of this sign was made of plexiglass and installed on an approximately 25-foot-tall pole. The store replaced it with a metal sign when it was blown apart in a storm. The camera portion of the sign was about six feet wide and outlined with red neon. The three white neon circles around the lens flashed sequentially. This photo is from 2011. By 2014, the place had become Bedford Camera & Video and the sign was gone. For more, see this website.

In 2005, the Huron Camera store became the Image Gallery. The lens cover of the camera sign was changed to reflect the new name. These photos were taken in 2007. By 2011, the store and the camera sign were gone. For more, see this website.

Bel Air Camera [gone]
Los Angeles, CA
Bel Air Camera was established in 1957. The business relocated to this Westwood in 1998. This building originally housed a bank. The exterior's mid-century modern details were left intact. The architect employed for the Bel Air Camera's interior modifications came up with the concept for the store's signs. An approximately eight-foot-tall camera was installed in an alcove above the still-functioning ATM machines. The camera was mounted sideways on a pole. On the roof on the opposite corner of the building, there was a pole-mounted giant roll of Kodak film. The roll of film is about three feet tall. Both the camera and the roll of film were always stationary. They were illuminated at night with spot lighting. The store's management does not believe that these signs could be installed today due to more restrictive local ordinances. The store closed in 2015. I'm told that the giant camera was found too far gone to be saved and it was destroyed. The store's owner took the giant film roll.

McCarty Studio [gone]
St. John, MO
The Darkroom
Los Angeles, CA
The McCarty Studio opened in 1948. This sign is believed to have been built in the 1950s. It was originally installed over the front door. The storefront was remodeled in 1962. This sign originally had neon and probably had a flashing bulb in the camera. These photos were taken in 2010. The building was demolished in 2013. A CVS drug store was built on the lot. The sign is now in a private collection. For more, see this website.

The Darkroom camera shop opened in the mid-1930s. It is one of the most famous examples of mimetic or programmatic architecture (i.e., buildings shaped like things). The Walt Disney Company recently built replicas of this building at their Hollywood, Paris, and Orlando amusement parks. While the freestanding neon letters were installed on a ledge above the Darkroom, the real sign was the facade itself. The storefront is a nine-foot-tall representation of a contemporary 35mm camera. The camera's body is faced with black Vitrolite glass and surrounded with glass block. Clear glass was used on both sides of the lens for display windows.

The Darkroom closed in the late 1970s, and the building has since been used by several restaurants. For many years, it was occupied by El Toro Cantina which has installed an aquarium behind the storefront. From the street, swimming fish are visible in the display windows. In 2014, the building's new occupant was the Spare Tire Kitchen & Tavern. The aquarium is still there. The facade itself is a protected landmark. Of the freestanding letters, all but the "K" were saved and are on display at the Museum of Neon Art in Los Angeles. For more, see these websites: 1, 2, and 3. [map]

Camera Obscura
San Francisco, CA
Shutter Shak
Westminster, CA
The Camera Obscura was built in 1948-1949 for the Playland at the Beach amusement area. It was designed by Floyd Jennings. The interior contains a parabolic lens which provides a 360-degree view of the beach outside. In 1957, the building was remodeled to resemble a 35mm camera with its lens pointing towards the sky. Playland is gone but this building has survived. For more, see these websites 1, 2, and 3. [map]

The Shutter Shak building functioned as a sign for a photo-developing business. It was located in Westminster in the late 1970s but may have been built earlier. The building is now installed at the Westminster Historical Society. The original flash cube on top of the building has been lost. For more, see this website. [map]

Giant Camera & Painter's Palette
Fresno, CA
The Giant Camera & Painter's Palette are installed on the roof of a building at the Big Fresno Fair. I don't know how old they are or where they came from.

More Camera Signs & Buildings:
Casa Grande Photo Shop (Casa Grande, AZ)
Harbor Photo (later Cal's Camera): 1, 2 (Corona del Mar, CA) [sign gone]
MONA's Iwata Photo Supply sign: 1, 2, 3 (Los Angeles, CA)
Idaho Camera: 1, 2 (Boise, ID) [gone]
Idaho Camera (Boise, ID)
D. Monosson & Son (Boston, MA) [vintage; gone]
photo shop (Malden, MA) [vintage; gone]
Giant Camera (Searsport, ME) [map]
Photo Shop (Las Vegas, NV) [gone]
The Camera Shop (Zanesville, OH) [gone]
Harano Photo Studio (Ontario, OR)
Giant Camera (Pigeon Forge, TN) [map]
Photo Service (Montréal, QC) [map]

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