Diver atop Museum of Neon Art

A new neon installation appears to be taking a dive off of the top of the Museum of Neon Art building under construction on Brand Blvd. (Roger Wilson / Staff Photographer / April 30, 2014)

Construction is on track for the Museum of Neon Art, which was topped off with a 19-foot-tall red neon statue of a female diver last week, one of the many elements museum officials hope will help lure visitors to Glendale’s first full-fledged art museum.

The $5.2-million construction project to revamp the exterior of the 10,000-square-foot building that will house the museum is expected to be complete by the end of April or early May, said Phil Lanzafame, Glendale’s economic development director.

Once that is finished, the museum, known as MONA, will take over and begin $1.5 million worth of interior improvements, including constructing office space. The museum is expected to open by December or January, said executive director Kim Koga.

“We’re really pleased and amazed how swiftly the project has moved along,” Koga said.

While the construction has moved smoothly, the road to construction had its bumps. Museum and city officials battled for nearly five years as they faced opposition from those criticizing a government subsidy for the purchase and modification of the building as well as funding glitches because the main funding source, the city’s former redevelopment agency, dissolved in 2012.

The museum has existed since 1981, but it has never had a permanent home until now. It was housed in various locations in Los Angeles over time until it closed in June 2011 to move to the Glendale location.

The revamped local building that once housed an arcade is now surrounded by large glass windows in the front and black tile along the sides and back. The front of the museum is designed to look like a lightbox, which is lined with translucent siding and illuminated by electric light. Lightboxes are often seen in art or photography studios.

The diver, which is a replica of a piece of neon art that once topped a Mississippi motel in the 1940s, features outstretched arms and pointed toes, as if it were soaring over Brand Boulevard. The original diver is in a private collection and was lent to the museum in 2008 when it was still in downtown Los Angeles.

A new diver was constructed to cantilever over the museum’s roof by Federal-Heath Sign Co. in Oceanside, Koga said. Although it retains the original work’s dimensions, some tweaks have been made so that it can balance steadily from its second-floor perch.

“The diver has withstood the test of time,” Koga said. “It’s still as eye-catching and beautiful of a design as it was in the ’40s when it was originally made. She is beckoning people to cross Brand Boulevard and visit MONA.”

The museum plans to light up the diver during a special event from 7 to 8 p.m. on May 27. Once lit up, the statue will be in good company, as the illuminated “Americana” sign that advertises the glitzy mall is just across the street, Koga said.

On Monday, the museum also removed a large, animated sign atop Zinke’s Shoe Repair, a downtown Glendale business that closed recently after 65 years and moved to Pasadena. The flickering sign showing a hammer striking a shoe heel is set to join the museum’s collection.

Glendale’s former redevelopment agency is also slated to subsidize a roughly $2-million paseo from the museum to the Central Library, which is expected to be finished by November.

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Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

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