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Neon Sign Restoration

(Released: October, 2004)

 

Route 66 congers up many images for those who travel the road, and some of the most impressionable of these images are neon signs. The colors, shapes, sizes, and messages conveyed by neon signs through their long association with Route 66 are as varied as the businesses that made up the road. An excellent book written by Lisa Mahar titled American Signs – Form and Meaning on Route 66, describes in detail the evolution of these signs, by analyzing the sign-makers intent, and by looking at how they reflected the cultural and economic trends of American society during much of the 20th century. Over the last few years, there has been a renaissance of this technology, with many neon sign restoration projects having taken place along the road.

The most visible project has been the one administered by the New Mexico Route 66 Association, which resulted in the restoration of ten neon signs through grants provided by the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program of the National Park Service (NPS). The original grant application called for the restoration of five signs, but through former Association president Johnnie Meier’s adept skill at leveraging matching funds and contracting good sign restorers, he was able to nearly double the number of signs restored for the same amount of money granted. The restored signs are geographically spread out along the New Mexico route in Gallup, Grants, Albuquerque, Santa Rosa, and Tucumcari. They again serve as beacons for travelers and locals alike, bringing in more revenues for the owners of the businesses and the communities they serve.

The media generated by the sign restoration project has been impressive: the project has been featured in numerous newspaper articles and magazines. The PBS award winning Colores public television program produced a documentary on the project titled "Route 66, the Neon Road” that just won a Rocky Mountain Regional Emmy. The documentary was funded in part by a grant from the NPS and the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division. "Not only does this documentary celebrate the artistry and craftsmanship of an important art form in America, but it shows the renewed pride the Route 66 communities and businesses have in their heritage," said Katherine Slick, State Historic Preservation Officer. Businesses highlighted in the film are: the Aztec Motel, the Westward Ho! Motel, and El Rey Theater in Albuquerque; the TePee Curio Shop, La Cita Restaurant, and the Paradise Motel in Tucumcari; the Lexington Hotel in Gallup; the Sun `n Sand motel in Santa Rosa; Grants Café in Grants, and the Rotosphere at El Comedor restaurant in Moriarty. The film is for sale as a DVD through the New Mexico Route 66 Association, and includes a soundtrack by the legendary Fireballs.

While the New Mexico project has received much deserved media attention and praise, there are certainly others that have greatly added to the preservation of the road. The Friends of the Mother Road, led by President Emily Priddy, has been involved with the preservation of a number of signs including ones at the Vega Motel in Vega, Texas, and at Vernelle’s Motel near Arlington, Missouri. The neon sign for the Wig-Wam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona has also been recently restored through an NPS cost-share grant from by Jeff and Kathy Register, two very capable neon sign restorers out of Arizona. Jeff and Kathy were also involved in the NPS-assisted restoration of the Frontier Motel sign in Truxton, Arizona a couple of years ago, and they have also have done work for the Delgadillo family at the Sno-Cap in Seligman. It is efforts such as these that ensure that Route 66 is still alive and vibrant for many business along the corridor. You can find information on preservation of historic signs by accessing National Park Service Preservation Brief 25: The Preservation of Historic Signs at: http://www2.cr.nps.gov/tps/briefs/brief25.htm

Michael Taylor
Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program
National Park Service

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