Museum of Vancouver highlights neon signs with guided app tour

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      The Museum of Vancouver has launched a new mobile app to help illuminate the past and present of neon signs in the city.

      The free, downloadable app guides users on two roughly half hour-long walking tours of the Granville Street and Chinatown districts.

      Along the way, users can access information in English and French about dozens of sites through a collection of photographs, audio recordings, video, and text.

      Featured signs include the Orpheum Theatre, Movieland Arcade, Yale Hotel, Foo’s Ho Ho Restaurant, Save On Meats, Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret, and many more.

      An “augmented reality” feature also allows users to hold up mobile devices at certain locations and see overlaid images of how the sites appeared in the past.

      While rows of glowing neon signs were a trademark of Vancouver’s streetscape in the mid-20th century, many have since disappeared.

      “Especially in a city that’s really rainy like Vancouver, and dark, neon was a way to brighten it up,” museum curator Hanna Cho told the Straight.

      Cho said there has been a revival of sorts in the past decade or so as appreciation for the signs has returned.

      The museum’s new Visible City “virtual exhibit,” which launched today (April 30), is designed to provide insight into that shifting relationship with the signs.

      “We want this to stimulate a conversation about our social and cultural history,” Cho said.

      The app, developed for the project by Vancouver’s Switch United, is available for iPhone and Android devices.

      Cho said the $200,000 project was funded by the federal government and took 18 months to develop.