Museum of Neon Art Are New Caretakers of Circus of Books Sign

Symbol for LGBTQ community to be displayed at the Museum of Neon Art.
Museum of Neon Art Circus of Books sign

The Museum of Neon Art (MONA; Glendale, CA) has announced that they will be the caretakers of the Silverlake Circus of Books sign. Circus of Books was a bookstore and gay pornography shop that operated in West Hollywood and Silverlake, CA. For gay men, the sign was symbolic of a store, gathering place, cruising spot and resource to the community. Circus of Books survived the AIDS crisis, censorship wars and multiple recessions until its closure in 2016.

According to a release from MONA, the original sign, according to Barry Mason — the sign's owner who co-founded the store with his wife, Karen Mason — was a backlit sign with some acrylic or plastic that read "Book Circus." He had heard that people often referred to the store as "Circus" and when he looked at the sign, he realized he could saw the sign in half and flip it and add the word "of" and put it back up. So that's exactly what he did.

“The Museum of Neon Art has saved numerous signs from across Los Angeles, the county it calls home, yet the Circus of Books neon sign is the first piece in what we hope is a growing collection of neon signs representing LGBTQ culture and history," said J. Eric Lynxwiler, president of MONA’s board of trustees. "The Circus of Books neon sign is important to many, not just because of recent memory, but because of the bookstore's place as a safe haven for many generations of the LGBTQ community."

In April 2020, a documentary called “Circus of Books” by artist, filmmaker and daughter of the business owners, Rachel Mason, was released on Netflix. "I'm honored that the Museum chose the Circus of Books sign to represent one of the many important queer businesses that make up the foundation of Los Angeles history," said Mason. The museum is in the process of collecting funds to restore and relight the sign.

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Circus of Books sign after being taken down by MONA workers.

Circus of Books sign after being taken down by MONA workers.

Signs of the Times July 2020

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