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Illumination: Recreating Sai Woo’s neon rooster

Sai Woo’s owner, Salli Pateman, organized a special gathering for the sign’s unveiling. More than 250 people showed up to see it illuminated.
Photo by Malcolm Parry, courtesy Vancouver Sun

Home to roost
On July 28, 2017, the yellow, green and red rooster—measuring 2.4 m (8 ft) wide and 1.8 m (6 ft) tall—was finally delivered to  the restaurant.

“I saw Troy drive up with it and was so overwhelmed,” says Pateman. “It was one of the happiest days of my life. Plus, it was the year of the rooster!”

The on-site structural engineers, however, soon realized the restaurant’s façade would threaten to crumble if the sign were hung from it as planned, as the walls could not sufficiently disperse or absorb its full weight. They spent hours studying the problem.

“I was devastated,” says Pateman. “The unveiling was supposed to be the very next night, but it looked like that wouldn’t happen.”

Fortunately, by bringing in thicker cables and changing how they balanced the weight of the sign, Troy and his crew were able to find a way to complete the installation safely and securely.

So, as scheduled, there was a gathering at the restaurant on July 29 for the sign’s unveiling, which drew a crowd of more than 250 people.

“We had a countdown and then turned it on for the first time,” says Pateman. “Everyone took photos and we did the chicken dance to celebrate! It was so fun.”

“For us, it was very satisfying to be involved in a project for a client who was so happy and passionate about it,” says Troy. “She put all of her heart into this. It is rare to find a business owner who cares as much about their signage as she does, so that made the unveiling all the more special.”

Pateman explains the experience has given her a new appreciation for the art form of neon.“One of the installers told me his job 25 years ago was to destroy old neon signs, not put them up or restore them,” she says. “It’s a shame it has taken this long for them to come back in style. I’ve visited the Neon Boneyard in Las Vegas, Nev., and there are so many beautiful pieces there.”

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Crowing for a new dawn
Indeed, the addition of Sai Woo’s sign has helped mark the beginning of a new era for East Pender, integrating its rich history into its future. Several historic landmarks have risen from the ashes this year, including the Jade Dynasty restaurant in the restored Mah Society Building, which also features a new ‘retro’ sign based on early examples found in the area. Another iconic restaurant, the Ho-Ho, is currently under construction and will eventually feature a new version of its three-storey high neon sign, which was last seen in the 1990s.

“The Ho-Ho’s owner is going through the same nightmares with construction as I did, but on a larger scale,” says Pateman. “That sign, running along the length of the building, is going to be stunning. The art of neon hasn’t really changed since the early 1900s, but now it’s coming back, just as this area is coming back from disrepair.”

With files from Sai Woo and TDH Experiential Fabricators. For more information, visit www.saiwoo.ca and www.tdhsigns.com.

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