El Mocambo's neon palm sign is being entirely rebuilt

CAMBRIDGE, ONT.—On a humid morning this week, Bismarck Coca, a veteran neon bender for Pride Signs in Cambridge, gingerly suspended a glass tube over the blue gas flames shooting out of a ribbon torch.After a few moments, it glowed red and began to yield to his expert rolling motions. In a brisk, practiced gesture, Coca put the hot, pliable object onto a paper pattern and shaped it into the form of a letter.He then attached electrodes to either end, zapped all the impurities with a massive jolt of power and filled the resulting vacuum tube with a mix of neon gas and mercury. Once hooked up to a power supply, the shape he had formed came vivaciously to life, casting a sexy green glow across his workbench.“That there,” said Pride’s 59-year-old president Brad Hillis as he watched the production, “is the E-L.” The syllable should be instantly recognizable to Toronto music fans. Pride, a 180-employee firm that engineers giant commercial signs, is in the final stages of reconstructing the El Mocambo’s famed marquee. Since 1948, the familiar sign has adorned the landmark venue where acts ranging from local indie bands to the Rolling Stones have performed “under the neon palms,” as the club’s famous slogan had it.Article Continued BelowWhen the old sign was removed, it revealed decades of rust damage. so it's being entirely remade.Elsewhere in the 80,000-square-foot facility, the stamped components of the new version — palm fronds, coconut clusters and that looming, slightly arched trunk — were waiting to be sent into the paint shop for a coat of pale green primer and automotive-grade finishing.Overhead, an illuminated billboard declares “Pride Signs welcomes El Mocambo,” hinting at just how hot the cool factor has been with this gig.The finished version will be installed on the building’s restored façade in the fall in anticipation of a re-launch of the club next March, in time for its 70th anniversary.