Photographers start Kickstarter campaign to save iconic neon sign in Williamsbridge

An effort is being made to salvage the famous neon sign at Palomba Music.
Photo by Jason Cohen

While the Bronx continues losing small businesses to COVID-19, two photographers are trying to save an iconic store sign from facing a similar fate.

Palomba Academy of Music at 974 E. Gun Hill Rd. had been in Williamsbridge for 64 years but was forced to close. With a bright red neon sign displaying its name, husband and wife James and Karla Murray are attempting to salvage this and started a Kickstarter earlier this month. So far it has raised $3,660 of its goal of $5,500.

Karla Murray, who along with her husband James, is trying to save the sign.

“Through our outreach efforts, we have found a permanent home for Palomba’s historic 25-foot, two-color neon signage designed in 1956 by Milton Grauer of the famous Grauer Sign Co. of the Bronx,” they stated on the Kickstarter page. “The historic signage will be displayed at the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio. Unfortunately, there is no museum in New York City willing to take or display the large and heavy signage.”

The couple are architectural and interior photographers and multimedia artists based in New York City. For the past 25 years, they have focused their lens on the streetscape through portraits of storefronts and shop owners.

They are working with Let There Be Neon, an iconic NYC neon shop, to document the process. The Murrays created a short film, “Saving a Historic Neon sign in NYC,” where they interviewed owner Michael Palomba about operating a family-owned music shop and school and why he was forced to close.

Palomba told them, “A great music school involves more than teaching the right notes, the correct techniques or the best music. It starts with great teachers who not only train but care, inspire and nurture their students.”

In fact, many of the students at Palomba have gone on to rewarding careers as performers, music educators and studio musicians including Grammy Award winning drummer, Will Calhoun of In Living Colour, bassist Ron Long and drummer/percussionist Leroy Clouden who has played on the Tony Award winning “Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk.”

The costs of removing the neon sign and transporting it 675 miles from the Bronx to Cincinnati is quite expensive. The Murrays explained that if these were normal times, both Let There Be Neon and the American Sign Museum would typically donate money to help relocate the sign. But since these businesses have also been affected by COVID-19, they are also in need of support.

“Any additional funds raised in the campaign will help pay for the costs of filming, editing and producing our documentary,” the pair said. The largest risk we have in this project is meeting our tight deadline we need to adhere to for filming the process of removing the neon tubes and porcelain enamel from the facade of the Palomba Academy of Music storefront and transporting it to Cincinnati, Ohio as this must all be done in October before the colder weather potentially sets in the northeast.”

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