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The Year of the (Neon) Sign: 2011

January 17, 2011

Once upon time there were a couple of crazy kids freshly transplanted from New York City.  They found full-time access to an automobile exotic and the town of Mesa a far off undiscovered land. A road trip was planned, lunches packed, film camera and tripod tossed in the back seat.  So off we ventured into the outback in search of the elusive neon sign.

Buckhorn Baths sign

Woweee, did we ever strike the motherload of vintage signs: a flower shop, the Hambone, amazing hotel neons, and an unexpected treat: the Buckhorn Baths.

Amidst recent discussions of our built environment, signs seeped into the mix.  The Valley of the Sun once was full of them, but unfortunately the herds have been thinned to almost the point of extinction. 

Kon Tiki sign

What signs that once lined many streets, such as Van Buren, are now only a pale comparison.  Gone is the Kon Tiki  Fortunately, Bill Johnson’s Big Apple restaurant is a holdout from that era. 

Last Thursday, “Marshall Shore: Retro Spectacular” had the honor of hosting Glen Guyett, an unsung hero who created a good deal of our urban fabric.  Read the Phoenix New Times review of the event.

During a recent road trip, we saw that Mr. Lucky’s on Grand Avenue was for sale (both the building and the large sign).  A little further north is Crystal Motel (now barren land).  The My Florist sign on W. McDowell could be in jeopardy since the restaurant by the same name closed unexpectedly in 2010.

Las Vegas signs

Many road trips I have been on seem to involve signs.  While in Albuquerque, I noticed many signs still standing even though the adjacent building was gone.  In Las Vegas, the Bone Yard, also called the Neon Museum, is a must stop and see.  The Vegas signs where leased from the sign company, not built outright like most other places.  They have an amazing collection of signs.  Some are being refurbished and displayed around town.

Mesa's "diving lady"

After the “Marshall Shore: Retro Spectacular” with Glen, there was a flurry of Facebook and e-mail activity from Route 66 country on down to Phoenix, Mesa, and Tempe and further south to Tucson about the future signage across our state.  So expect over the next year or so, signs to be a hot topic (including a presentation by Jonathan Mabrey, Historic Preservation Officer for the City of Tucson, at the 2011 Arizona Historic Preservation Conference).  Way before that, I’ll feature Mesa’s “diving lady” and local efforts to save her.

Crystal Motel sign (demolished)

What are some of your favorite neon signs — standing or not?  What can you do to help the cause?  SIGN up today!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. September 6, 2011 4:02 am

    The Courtesy Chevorlet sign on Camelback is the most important one not mentioned here. I hope it remains even if the Chevrolet car brand vanishes one day.

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