1935 neon light inside Clifton's Cafeteria

Image Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

A 1935 neon light was left on for 77 years in the Broadway eatery, Clifton’s Cafeteria. Building owner, Andrew Meieran, estimates that the neon lamp has eaten up over $17,000 worth of electricity.

The long-forgotten neon light, believed to have been installed in 1935, was discovered to be on during an extensive renovations made on the downtown eatery. Clifford Clinton acquired the lease to Boos Bros. Cafeteria on Broadway and 7th Street and converted the place into a forest-themed restaurant in 1935.

The walls of the restaurant featured numerous hand-tinted transparencies of mountain and forest landscapes, each of which was backlit by a rectangular neon light.

One such light was installed in a window-like nook in a basement restroom, where it softly illuminated a woodland scene.

In 1949, the nook was covered over with plastic and plywood when part of the restroom was partitioned off as a storage area.

But for some reason, workmen never got around to disconnecting the electricity. For the next 62 years the illuminated tubing was hidden within the wall. Meieran estimates that the neon tube has racked up more than $17,000 in electrical bills.

The glowing light was discovered last February 9, 2012 when Meieran inspected the small storeroom with a member of his renovation crew.

“We were using flashlights, and I thought I caught a glimpse of a little light coming through the wall,” Meieran said. “I asked, ‘What is that?’”

The pair shut off their flashlights, thinking the beams were reflecting off something in the wall. A faint light still glowed within the pitch blackness of the storeroom.

Wondering whether the light might be coming from the basement next door, Meieran peeled away more of the wall covering. When the hole was large enough to stick his phone camera through, he reached inside and snapped several pictures, including one that clearly showed electrodes at the base of neon tubing.

Puzzled, Meieran uncovered the entire 3-by-5-foot nook, exposing six rows of neon tubing. Blackout paint covered one half of the neon tubes to obscure them.

Koga said she was amazed that insects or rodents weren’t drawn to the warmth of the fragile neon tubes, jeopardizing their operation. She speculated that being out of the weather and away from human touch for so long has contributed to the light’s longevity.

Meieran bought the building from the Clinton family for $3.6 million and plans to spend an additional $3.5 million on renovations before reopening it next year. He said workers have found other treasures within its walls and hidden crannies.

The building was constructed in 1904 as a furniture store, and renovation workers have uncovered a steel support post that was painted with directions to various store departments, as well as a non-functioning “ice water” neon sign from the 1930s.

Workers have also unearthed vestiges of past renovations. A piece of Sheetrock used in a 1949 remodeling bears the autographs of a number of workers.

Other items recovered by workers include Edison incandescent light bulbs circa 1932, original Boos Bros. Cafeteria tableware, an ancient Orpheum playbill and long-hidden original subway wall tiles and decorative honeycomb floor tiles in the cafeteria’s serving line area.

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1935 Neon Light in Clifton’s Cafeteria left on for 77 years has $17K in electric bills | AlxJM.com