Who buys a five-metre high neon letter? And where do they keep it? Coca-Cola raised more than $100,000 for the Wayside Chapel when it sold off the letters from the old iconic billboard in Kings Cross. Now we can reveal who won the bidding for a piece of history.
The Conversation Piece
“Everyone I know has ended up under the Coke sign on a night out, one way or another. Now I get to enjoy the fact that I will always get to remember my Kings Cross days and also help a good cause like the Wayside Chapel,” he said.
“I’m hoping it will make a really cool conversation piece somewhere on display for all to see and ask the question of how I found it.
“I’d like to be able to tell people I stole it,” he said.
The Reimagined Collectable
Max Shand would most definitely characterise himself as a collector, so the ‘a’ and ‘o’ are now the favourite of all his treasures.
“I’ve been collecting things from stamps to coins for as long as I can remember. Anything that has some link to history I’ve always loved to be a part of,” he said.
Max’s love of interesting memorabilia runs from the minuscule to the massive. “Everything from records to old things I’ve picked up off the street. Recently I bought a terrible car from 1974 which is exactly as old as the Coke sign itself,” he said.
He’s doing some serious restoration work including a new neon array that matches the original design. Once it’s finished Max hopes the letters will pop up all around Sydney.
“I intend for these Coke letters to always be within the general proximity of the Kings Cross area. Wherever someone wants the ‘a’, it will go,” he said.
The Best Neon in Town
Kings Cross local Wendy Knobel has walked under the Coke sign more times than she can count. So winning the ‘o’ was a particular pleasure.
“Every day I would walk past the Coke sign to come to work and walk past the Wayside Chapel,” Wendy said.
“You can’t help but look at it. The neon is on and I’d stop, stand, have a bit of a look and then keep walking,” she said.
Along with her love of Sydney, Wendy is a certified neon tragic and an avid collector of late 1940s and early-50s pieces from the United States and Australia.
“I love neon. I don’t know what it is. It’s bright and shiny, like being a moth, I guess. This is sort of the ultimate in neon collection I think,” Wendy said.
It was Wendy’s love for her neighbourhood that ultimately persuaded her to buy her two-metre-high ‘o’. “To give to the Wayside Chapel, to help the locals, the homeless, the less fortunate, that’s what it was about,” she said.
“What really fueled it was that it was all going to a good cause. To see a global organisation set something up locally I think really made me more determined to get it,” she said.
As for the future of her ‘o’, Wendy plans to restore the letter to its former glory and return it to her neighbourhood where it belongs. “I’d love it to go on the balcony of my new apartment eventually. That will be about 150 metres from where it has spent its last 42 years,” she said.
The Future Works of Art
James Culkin knew what he was getting when he purchased ‘C’, ‘C’, ‘c’, and ‘l’ of the Coke sign for an anonymous Southern Highlands art collector. What he didn’t quite imagine was the sheer size.
“My first thoughts were about the scale. I’d seen the dimensions but I didn’t realise how big they were. Some of them are five to six metres long,” he said.
As caretaker of these four enormous letters, James’s first job was to find a place to store them. “When I saw the size of them I thought, well you know, there was only one spot really: over in the old hay shed and that’s where they are now,” he said.
While the letters are standing in their temporary accommodation, James and his employer have big plans for the giant collectibles in the local community.
“The arts community in the Southern Highlands is really vibrant. There’s a lot of real grassroots groups that meet, you know, drawing groups, painting groups, sketch clubs. There’s a strong Aboriginal arts group as well,” he said.
“One idea that we have is that we’re going to use the three ‘c’s and the ‘l’ as the foundations for an art competition.
"We’ll approach artists to reconfigure the letters into an artwork, ideally a free-standing sculpture,” he said.
So while the old Coca-Cola sign will no longer grace the gateway to the Cross the letters themselves will go on to fascinating new lives of their own.
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Find out more about our winners as featured in the Sydney Morning Herald.
More on Journey
- From One Icon To Another: The Wayside Chapel Keeps on Supporting Sydney Communities
- Times They Are A Changing: The History and Future of the Kings Cross Coca-Cola Sign
- Reigniting Sydney Streets: The Iconic Kings Cross Billboard on Track for Unveiling
- How the Coke Billboard Hyphen is Starring in the Best Christmas Lights of 2016
- A Little Piece of History: Coca-Cola has Auctioned off the Original Kings Cross Sign Letters for Charity