Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan used to joke with his wife, Chloe Mendel, that if she ever wanted to buy him a present, it should be the neon sign that read “Chop Suey” in bold letters on the back. exterior of Orange Garden Restaurant on a busy stretch of Irving Park Road in the North Center neighborhood.
“It was like, ‘Of course you would ask for something that I could never deliver,’ Mendel said Thursday.
But then, suddenly, she could.
Scrolling through social media in recent weeks, Mendel learned that the 90-year-old Orange Garden neon sign was set to go up for auction last weekend. Corgan was out of town on tour with the Smashing Pumpkins, so Mendel attended with his father, Gilles Mendel, a well-known fashion designer in town to celebrate his birthday.
In a flurry of bidding that Mendel said didn’t even seem to last five minutes, she won. His winning bid: $17,000. Before speaking with the Chicago Tribune, the buyer had been anonymous.
“I was pretty set on buying it,” Mendel said. “I knew I wanted it, and I wanted it for Billy.”
Corgan, on tour in Mexico with the Smashing Pumpkins, was unavailable for comment Thursday.
But via text message via his wife, he said he had admired the Orange Garden sign for years.
“When I was living on Irving Park Road, during the early happy days of the Pumpkins circa 1988, I walked past this iconic sign 1,000 times,” he wrote. “And I would always take a moment to stop and admire its beauty and its connection to a lost and golden time.”
The sign will be removed from Orange Garden, 1942 W. Irving Park Road, on Sunday and taken to the vegan cafe, tea room and Madame ZuZu, Corgan and Mendel’s performance venue in Highland Park. The store also sells used records from Corgan’s collection.
The sign hasn’t been lit since 2020, but Mendel said it will be restored and put on display at Madame ZuZu, likely inside the shop.
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An Orange Garden official told the Tribune the restaurant will likely close next year as the owner prepares to retire. The sign, double-sided and made of porcelain, is believed to have hung outside the restaurant since 1932.
“We don’t want the sign to go to waste,” the official told the Tribune. “So we decided to auction it off before selling this place to a company that is trashing it.”
The auction included dozens of restaurant items, including tables, milkshakes, plates, framed newspaper articles, light fixtures, sporting goods and a jukebox. But the most expensive items were two neon signs: Orange Garden’s and one that hung outside Chicago Joe’s, a restaurant three blocks west of Orange Garden.
Chicago Joe’s sold for $32,450 to an anonymous bidder in Michigan. Mendel said she and Corgan were happy to keep the Orange Garden sign in the Chicago area and make it accessible to the public.
“It’s really about preserving Chicago’s history, celebrating it, and making it accessible to everyone,” she said.
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