PARTIAL WIN: Preservation Chicago’s Viral Tweet Leads to Good Outcome for Vintage Orange Garden Neon Sign

Orange Garden Restaurant, 1942 W. Irving Park Rd. Opened in 1926 and is the oldest Chinese restaurant in Chicago. Orange Garden Neon Sign, reportedly Chicago’s oldest working neon sign. Image Credit: Preservation Chicago Twitter
Orange Garden Restaurant, 1942 W. Irving Park Rd. Opened in 1926 and is the oldest Chinese restaurant in Chicago. Orange Garden Neon Sign, reportedly Chicago’s oldest working neon sign. Photo Credit: John Dunlevy

“On their way to a Cubs game a few years ago, Chloé Mendel asked her partner, Billy Corgan, if he wanted anything as a present. They happened to be driving down Irving Park Road and passed Orange Garden’s iconic neon ‘Chop Suey’ sign.

“‘[Billy] pointed up and said, ‘That’d be an awesome gift. I have always loved that sign,” Mendel told Block Club Chicago in an email. ‘Of course, my reaction was, ‘Why do you ask me for the impossible?”

“But wait — wasn’t it the Smashing Pumpkins frontman and guitarist who crooned ‘the impossible is possible’ in the 1995 hit, ‘Tonight, Tonight’? The lyrics proved prophetic.

“‘I saw on social media a photo of the sign and the words ‘AUCTION’ and I couldn’t believe it,’ Mendel said. ‘I couldn’t miss this opportunity.’

“‘Sold at the Chicago Joe’s auction April 30 for $17,000, the classic sign likely dates back to pre-World War II Chicago and has been an inextricable part of Irving Park’s streetscape for nearly a century. The owners of Orange Garden told Block Club they auctioned the sign in hopes it would go to a preservation-minded buyer, while they plan to retire and sell the business to someone who will keep the Cantonese restaurant going.

‘I was so excited to bring home and preserve this beloved piece of history,’ Mendel said. “It was meant to be.”

“‘We are thrilled to keep a beautiful piece of history for our community,’ Mendel wrote. ‘Billy remembers walking by the sign in the late 80’s during the early days of the Smashing Pumpkins and stopping to appreciate its beauty then. And I am just so happy to bring a smile on his face and make this dream come true.’

“When news broke the sign was up for auction, Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, said he initially feared it would mark a major loss for the cityscape.

“Once a ubiquitous part of the street wall, blade signs have become much less prominent as legacy businesses close their doors. Miller said the city should consider incentives like tax breaks or subsidies for business owners to keep their historic signs, but he praised the outcome of the Orange Garden sale. Miller also said the restaurant itself has a historic facade that also should be preserved, even as the business is put on the market.

“‘The Orange Garden sign is really an iconic sign for Irving Park Road, and for the community around it,” Miller said. “But the wonderful thing about this particular situation is we know that this particular sign is not to go to the scrapyard, but it’s going to somebody who has a great appreciation for it. It’d be wonderful to have that same type of interest in the restaurant itself.’ (Asimow, Block Club Chicago, 5/7/22)

Read the full story at Block Club Chicago

Billy Corgan Always Loved The Neon Orange Garden ‘Chop Suey’ Sign. Now, He Owns It; Chloé Mendel and her partner, the Smashing Pumpkins frontman, bought the 1930s sign at auction and plan to hang it in their Highland Park cafe, Noah Asimow, Block Club Chicago, 5/7/22

Orange Garden Isn’t Closing — But It Is Up For Sale After Iconic Neon Sign Is Auctioned For $17K; The sign is off to the suburbs as the longtime owners look to pass the business to someone who will keep the restaurant open. “I don’t want them to flip it and make a McDonald’s,” the manager said., Noah Asimow, Block Club Chicago, 5/3/22

Iconic neon sign at Orange Garden restaurant winds up in surprising hands after auction, Josh Noel, Chicago Tribune, 5/6/22

‘You never notice the little cool things that are around until it is too late,’ auction of beloved Chicago restaurants’ neon signs held in North Center, María Paula Mijares Torres, Chicago Tribune, 4/30/22

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