Miami-Dade County

A Miami mystery in neon: Where did the Allen’s Drugs sign go?

Allen's Drugs building on Southwest corner of the intersection of Red Road and Bird Road on Tuesday, March 15, 2016.
Allen's Drugs building on Southwest corner of the intersection of Red Road and Bird Road on Tuesday, March 15, 2016. adiaz@miamiherald.com

For some 60 years the big neon beacon of the Allen’s Drugs sign has dominated the busy intersection of Red and Bird roads, a rare and romantic relic of a bygone era.

allens historic
Allen’s Drug Store Peter Andrew Bosch Miami Herald archives

Or should that be past tense? The cherished sign’s sudden disappearance from its perch has left its many fans alarmed and aghast, but information about its fate is, alas, not forthcoming.

The drug and medical-supply store’s owner isn’t talking. Al Collazo, who has owned Allen’s since 1984, would not come to the phone when a reporter called last week. He did not respond to a message pleading for information on behalf of Miami’s worried citizenry. He wasn’t there when the reporter dropped by on Tuesday and again did not respond to a message asking for a call back.

A man working the pharmacy counter said he hadn’t even noticed the sign was gone.

South Miami officials, from Mayor Philip Stoddard to city manager Steven Alexander and his building staff, say they have no clue what’s going on with the sign, which has spelled out “DRUGS” in big neon letters since, as far as anyone knows, the store opened in 1954. Aside from the sign, the store and its still-open, throwback diner has been a popular fixture since it was run by the Allen family.

Collazo did post an ambiguously incomplete message on the store’s Facebook page: “To all our friends. The building is being painted. That's why the signs came down.”

Does that mean the big sign is going back up after the building is repainted?

“We don’t know,” said the woman who answered the phone at Allen’s last week — sounding … anguished maybe? — after restating that Collazo wouldn’t take the call. “He can’t answer questions about this.”

Why all the mystery? Sign lovers hope it’s not a, uhm, bad sign.

“Here in Miami, everything gets demolished,” lamented Carmen Franchi de Alfaro, owner of the Twice vintage consignment store in the building’s other corner. “But sometimes one yearns for that flavor from the past.”

“They can’t take it away,” said her customer, Jane Labrada. “That sign is pure vintage. It’s unique”

It all could be much ado about nothing. Crews that repainted the building did leave the rounded, concrete-ribbed building corner once occupied by the sign untouched, the outline of “DRUGS” on it clearly visible. Troublingly, though, South Miami officials say they’ve received no application for permission to re-install the sign.

“We don’t have any record of any request for re-establishing the sign nor did we require it to be removed,” city manager Alexander said in an email.

One bit of speculation: Collazo sold Allen’s prescription business to CVS, which in 2014 opened a new outlet next door on Bird, and the sign no longer makes sense. But Allen’s still maintains a compounding pharmacy mixing personalized medications for patients.

Another: That the antique neon sign, which needs periodic refurbishing and had recently deteriorated to the point that some of its neon tubes were no longer lit, may be too far gone, or too costly, to repair.

But some neon signs of equal vintage have survived around town long after serving out their original purpose. Most prominent of these is the famous Coppertone sign that once hung on the side of a building on Biscayne Boulevard in downtown Miami. The sign was saved by Dade Heritage Trust when the building was demolished, and moved first to Flagler Street and later to the Miami Modern historic district farther up the boulevard.

Like the Coppertone girl was, such iconic signs can be protected as historic landmarks, either as part of a building’s facade — as are the neon hotel signs in Miami Beach’s Art Deco District — or by themselves. The Allen’s sign is not.

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