No listing of the great neon signs in Memphis — and boy, we have enjoyed some great ones — would be complete without a mention of the Hart’s Bakery sign, which stood like a beacon at Summer and Mendenhall in the 1950s and 1960s. Despite years and years — well, maybe a half hour here and there, tops — of searching, I have never been able to turn up a decent COLOR image of this masterpiece. But one day recently, while idly flipping through my old copies of Key magazine, I found an ad for the bakery that included the sign, so take a look at it:
Too bad it’s in black and white, so let me try to describe what I remember. This was a combination neon and mechanical marvel. First of all, you had a huge bright-red heart mounted on a fluted aluminum pedestal. On each side were neon-shaped hearts, arranged one inside the other, which got smaller and smaller as they reached the center. These, as I recall, were in yellow, and as the neon tubes flashed on and off, in and out, in sequence, the heart seem to PULSE or BEAT. At the exact moment when every tube of neon was illuminated, the giant cursive letters spelling out “Hart’s” flashed across the sign. Then they turned off, and the whole “heartbeat” started again.
But wait, there’s more. Mounted on top of this, was a full-color Volkswagen-sized loaf of Hart’s bread, which slowly rotated. It wasn’t a real loaf, of course, but one crafted of sheet metal and brightly painted. The whole effect was really quite mesmerizing, and I can remember sitting in the parking lot for hours, hypnotized by the spectacle, until the doctors found me and took me back to the Home.
This Hart’s location was an actual production facility, not a retail outlet, but some of you longtime Memphians may remember there was a “secret” way to get a hot-out-the-oven loaf of bread here. In those carefree days — I’m talking the late-1950s — before the health department cracked down on things, you could walk up to a tiny window by the parking lot. A bakery employee would slide open the window, you’d hand him a quarter (yes, just a quarter!), and he’d pluck a steaming-hot loaf right off the assembly line, wrap it in aluminum foil, and hand it to you. There was something vaguely sneeky about it, like we were buying a pint of moonshine. But I have fond memories of the Lauderdales, sitting in our jalopy, splitting open that fragrant loaf of bread, drizzling butter over it (though I have no idea where the butter came from), and eating it in the car. Ah, good times.
Hart’s closed sometime in the 1970s, I believe, and the sign was pulled down. If any part of it was saved, I never heard about it. Nowadays a janitorial supply company occupies the old building. That little window is still there (see below) but if you rapped on it and handed somebody a quarter, something tells me they wouldn’t hand you anything back. And if they did, I certainly wouldn’t eat it. What a shame.