Museum of Neon Art diver

Apartment windows at The Residences, The Americana at Brand create the background for a recently lit neon of a diving woman on the top of the future Museum of Neon Art on Brand Blvd. in Glendale on Thursday, June 26, 2014. (Tim Berger / Staff Photographer / June 27, 2014)

As the red double-decker, sightseeing bus cruised down Brand Boulevard on Thursday night, several of the roughly 50 art fans aboard began to cheer and snap photos as they neared the newly lit statue of a neon diver perched atop the under-construction Museum of Neon Art.

Dressed in an orange construction suit and orange sneakers, Eric Lynxwiler, a museum board member, cooed about the 19-foot-tall diver in a red swimsuit and cap, a replica of a piece of art originally from a hotel in Mississippi.

“We’re driving, we’re driving and holy cow it’s happening,” Lynxwiler said into a microphone as he led a short tour of downtown Glendale’s neon signs. “That’s lovely. I’m so happy to see her, the first of many neon signs coming to Glendale.”

The diver was hoisted onto the museum’s roof in April, but it got its first jolt of electricity Thursday, letting it shine above the empty museum across from the Americana at Brand in the 200 block of North Brand Boulevard.

The city completed the $5.2-million project to build the 10,000-square-foot museum’s shell. Now, it’s time for the nonprofit to take over and construct the $1.5-million interior.

Kim Koga, the museum’s executive director, said she expects the interior work, which will include exhibits and office space, to be complete by winter.

“It will be Glendale’s best Christmas present,” she said.

Museum and city officials battled for nearly five years to get the museum project off the ground as they faced opposition from those criticizing the hefty government subsidy for the purchase and modification of the building, which once housed an arcade, as well as funding glitches.

The money source, the city’s former redevelopment agency, dissolved in 2012.

But the stresses and headaches dissipated when museum officials flipped the switch to light the diver, the first neon sign at the museum.

“It’s the beginning of our new life,” said Eric Evavold, another museum board member. “It feels like we’ve been a plane flying at sea and now we’re coming into the hanger.”

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 site.

Paula Devine, city councilwoman-elect, called the museum the anchor for the city’s Arts & Entertainment District. Glendale has been building up the district near the Americana at Brand for years, with new apartment buildings in the works and a $15-million revamp of the nearby Central Library in the planning stages.

The museum has more than 100 signs, including a 100-foot dragon from Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood that it is restoring. Board members plan to bring the dragon to Glendale once it’s been fixed up.

“The Museum of Neon is going to glow from afar most definitely,” Lynxwiler said.

The Museum of Neon Art has planned several neon cruises aboard double-decker buses on June 21 and 28, July 12 and 26, Aug. 9 and 23 and Sept. 13 and 27, starting at 7 p.m. at the corner of Main and Fourth streets in downtown Los Angeles. The cruises are $45 for museum members and $55 for others.

For more information, call (213) 489-9918 or visit neonmona.org.

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

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