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Iconic neon sign at Orange Garden restaurant winds up in surprising hands after auction – Chicago Tribune

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Iconic neon sign at Orange Garden restaurant winds up in surprising hands after auction – Chicago Tribune

The Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan joked with his wife Chloe Mendel that if she ever wants to buy him a gift, it should be a neon sign readi

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The Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan joked with his wife Chloe Mendel that if she ever wants to buy him a gift, it should be a neon sign reading “Chop Suey” in bold type outside the Orange Garden restaurant on a busy stretch of street. Irving Park Road in the North Center area.

“It was like, ‘Of course you would ask for something that I could never do,'” Mendel said on Thursday.

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But suddenly she did.

Browsing social media in recent weeks, Mendel learned that the 90-year-old brightly colored Orange Garden sign was to be sold at auction over the weekend. Corgan was out of town touring with the Smashing Pumpkins, so Mendel arrived with her father, Gilles Mendel, a famous fashion designer in town, to celebrate his birthday.

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In a flurry of trading that, according to Mendel, did not last even five minutes, she came out on top. Her winning bid: $17,000. Prior to speaking with the Chicago Tribune, the buyer was anonymous.

“I was in the mood to buy,” Mendel said. “I knew I wanted it and I wanted it for Billy.”

Corgan, who is touring Mexico with the Smashing Pumpkins, was unavailable for comment on Thursday.

But in a text message through his wife, he said he’s admired the “Orange Garden” sign for years.

“When I lived on Irving Park Road, in the early serene days of the Pumpkins circa 1988, I passed this iconic sign 1,000 times,” he wrote. “And I always found a moment to stop and admire its beauty and connection to the lost and gilded age.”

The sign will be removed from Orange Garden, 1942 W. Irving Park Road, on Sunday, and relocated to the Madame ZuZu, Corgan and Mendel vegan cafe, tea shop and performance venue in Highland Park. The store also sells used records from the Corgan collection.

The sign has not been lit since 2020, but Mendel said it will be restored and on display at Madame Zuzou’s, most likely inside the store.

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An Orange Garden manager told the Tribune that the restaurant will likely close next year as the owner prepares to retire. The double-sided porcelain sign is believed to have hung outside the restaurant since 1932.

“We don’t want the sign to go to waste,” a Tribune manager said. “So we decided to auction it off before selling the place to the company that’s blowing it up.”

The auction included dozens of restaurant items, including tables, milkshake cups, plates, framed newspaper articles, lamps, sporting goods and a jukebox. But the most expensive item was two neon signs: Orange Garden’s and another that hung outside a Chicago Joe’s restaurant three blocks west of Orange Garden.

A Chicago Joe’s sign was sold to an anonymous Michigan buyer for $32,450. Mendel said she and Corgan are happy to keep the Orange Garden sign in the Chicago area and make it available for the public to see.

“It’s about preserving Chicago’s history, making it famous, and making it accessible to everyone,” she said.

jbnoel@chicagotribune.com

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