photo by Lily Witham
Anybody who lived in East Memphis in the 1950s, 1960s, or even 1970s surely remembers Hart’s Bakery, at the corner of Summer and Mendenhall. First of all, you probably have good memories of aromas emanating from the tasty bread they baked there. Second, you may remember the little window out front, where you could walk up, hand one of the bakers a quarter, and he’d reach over to one of the ovens and hand you a fresh-baked loaf of bread, wrapped in aluminum foil to keep it toasty warm until you could take it home and slather butter over it.
But the third reason you may remember Hart’s is because of the company’s massive sign, which surely ranks as one of the best (and busiest) neon signs in Memphis. My pal Lily Witham, who lived in Memphis before moving to Portland, drove around town one day in the 1970s, armed with her Polaroid SX-70, and snapped photos of old signs and buildings that appealed to her. It’s too bad that most of the neon had been stripped from the Hart’s sign when she took this photo, but that’s not her fault, is it?
It’s hard to describe everything that went on when this sign was working. That huge loaf of bread slowly rotated, illuminated at night with spotlights. Bright red neon tubing flashed off and on in sequence, arranged concentrically on the red heart, making the heart seem to throb or beat. And when the heart was fully illuminated by all that red neon, gold letters spelling out “Hart’s” flashed on.
The painted version you see here looks grand, but at night, it was really something to see.
But if you think this image seems a bit forlorn, with all the neon missing and the paint fading, don’t drive to Summer and Mendenhall to see how the sign looks now. When Hart’s closed its bakery, sometime in the 1980s I believe, the building was converted to a janitorial supply company, and the sign was chopped down. Nothing left but the base.