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Albuquerque considers turning abandoned signs into public art November 25, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Preservation, Signs.
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Let it rain

Albuquerque is considering an ordinance change that would make it easier to turn vacant and abandoned signs along old Route 66 into public art, reported the Albuquerque Journal.

Ellen Babcock of the Friends of the Orphan Signs nonprofit is one of those who support the idea. The newspaper said:

The art can be featured on printed vinyl and illuminated similar to a billboard, she said. The vinyl design can be taken down and moved when the term of the lease ends.

Property owners have already approached the city, she said. Some are eager to try five-year agreements and others like the idea of permanent artwork, Brueggemann said.

The city’s “1 percent for the arts” program would pay for the work. Artists would submit proposals when the city had a sign it wanted to lease, she said. […]

“They’re vestiges of history, and I’m always interested in that,” Babcock said. “To me, they’re portals to another a time period.”

A city committee recommended passage of the ordinance change, and the city council may vote on it as soon as next month.

At least one example of a sign turned into artwork is the former Serape restaurant on Route 66 (seen above). And it does include neon lighting in the outline.

I hold mixed feelings for the possibility of these orphaned but historic signs being altered. Route 66 travelers do take note of them when driving through the Duke City. Few would want anything to happen to the abandoned old Aztec Motel or Zia Motor Lodge signs. Hopefully, the city would take such icons into consideration before making changes.

But, sometimes, the motels or restaurants they advertised have been gone for decades, and the signs have deteriorated in New Mexico’s relentless sun and wind. If the signs are reused as quirky art and essentially preserved for a few more decades, that has to be a good thing.

(Image of a repurposed Route 66 sign in Albuquerque by Justin Waits via Flickr)

Bill Shea’s Route 66 Museum put up for sale November 24, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Gas stations, Museums, Preservation.
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14a Springfield IL - Bill Shea's Petroliana Museum 22

Bill Shea’s Route 66 Museum in Springfield, Illinois, has been put on the market after the property cleared probate following the longtime owner’s death in December, reported the Springfield State Journal-Register.

The newspaper noted the museum’s Facebook page had this message a few days ago:

According to the newspaper:

[Bill] Shea Jr. said last week that for-sale signs likely would go up soon as he begins to more actively market the property. He said he has not yet decided on an asking price.

“If someone comes along, we’ll work it out,” Shea said.

The museum, long operated by former gas-station operator and memorabilia collector Bill Shea, closed except for appointments in late 2012 after Shea became too frail and was moved into a nursing home. He died at age 91 about a year later.

Bill Shea Sr. started his career in the filling-station business after leaving the military in 1946 — the latter which included the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach. He owned Marathon and Texaco stations. Shea later converted a Marathon station on Route 66 into a museum of gas-station memorabilia that included a 1920s gas station moved from Middletown, Illinois. Shea greeted thousands of Route 66 travelers from dozens of countries at his museum.

Shea was inducted into the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame in 1993.

The city of Springfield has long talked about establishing a Route 66 visitors center, including the now-fading possibility of buying the decrepit Bel-Air Motel and converting it. But this opportunity may be better for all parties involved — if the city is wise enough to grab it. And there may be more urgency for Springfield to make a move — especially when Bloomington, Illinois, is building a Route 66 visitors center that’s slated to open in the spring.

UPDATE: Here’s a report by WICS-TV in Springfield:

(Image of Bill Shea’s museum by John Hagstrom via Flickr)

Skylark Motel tower glows again November 23, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Events, Motels, Preservation, Signs.
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The former Skylark Motel tower on old Route 66 in St. Clair, Missouri, shined with the glow of neon again after a ceremony Saturday night at the building, which now serves as the VFW Post 2482.

According to a news release about the event, about 150 people attending cheered when the light switch was thrown about 5:20 p.m.

The most unique feature, not found anywhere else on Route 66, is the glass block tower illuminated by red, gold, blue and green neon tubing behind it. It is a gleaming, sparkling sight at night, visible from a long way off, that no Route 66 roadie should miss on their tour of the Mother Road.

In addition to the tower, there is red striping around the eaves of the building, the word “Skylark” on the west side in blue neon, and “VFW” in green on the east side of the building.

The VFW membership celebrated the event in grand style with a BBQ dinner after the ceremony, which featured a tribute to all the veterans that were present, and speakers from the VFW State Commander’s office, the local community and the Route 66 Association of Missouri. The celebration also included music, vintage cars on site, and a special t-shirt to commemorate the event.

The VFW Post received  a $22,000 cost-share grant from the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program for the restoration of its neon. The VFW also received help from the Neon Heritage Preservation Committee of the Route 66 Association of Missouri.

The Skylark opened in 1952 and operated as a motel for about 25 years. It eventually was purchased by the St. Clair VFW in 1993.

(Image of the Skylark Motel tower courtesy of Jim Thole)

A glimpse at the future Billboard Museum November 22, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Museums, Preservation, Signs.
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Rio Siesta Hotel

If you’re a longtime traveler on Route 66 who wonders what happened to the old neon sign for the Rio Siesta Motel in Clinton, Oklahoma, we have an answer.

It — along with several dozen other signs and billboards — are safely in a storage warehouse in the Oklahoma City area until the Billboard Museum eventually is built.

Former Oklahoma Route 66 Association president Kathy Anderson now is president of the Billboard Museum Association, which is based in the Route 66 town of Bethany, Oklahoma. Anderson said by email the group hasn’t yet settled on a location for the museum.

“We do know our preference is the greater OKC metro area, preferably on or very very close to 66,” she wrote.

A recent article in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s blog gives some details about what the museum will be like, when built:

The museum plan calls for a building to house the vintage pieces that will give a thorough history of sign-making as well as a driving loop to showcase examples of old advertising. […]

Among the recent pieces that the group has acquired are a sign from the Rio Siesta Motel along Route 66 in Oklahoma; a Ralph’s Drug Store sign from Oklahoma City dating back to 1947; and a Taft stadium sign from Oklahoma City. Located along historic Route 66, the stadium was completed in 1934 as a New Deal-era Works Progress Administration project.

The group also recently acquired a doctor’s buggy dating back to the early 1900s.

A photo from the museum group’s newsletter shows many of the signs in storage, including the Rio Siesta:

Jim Gleason, vice president of the group, told the National Trust he believes many people hold other signs in garages and warehouses who would be happy to donate them to the museum.

Memberships to the museum are here. The museum publishes a newsletter, and has a Facebook page.

(Image of the Rio Siesta Motel sign in 2008 by Kris via Flickr; image from the Billboard Museum warehouse courtesy of Kathy Anderson)

Rancho Cucamonga station may reopen by July November 19, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Gas stations, Museums, Preservation.
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The historic Cucamonga Service Station along Route 66 in Rancho Cucamonga, California, may reopen next year as a museum — perhaps by July, in time for its centennial, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

The article details the work the nonprofit Route 66 IECA group has done since taking over the property in January:

When the group moved in January, the gas station was in disrepair. The windows that surround the building were broken; there was a large hole in the roof and the walls, and the electrical wiring needed to be replaced. […]

More than 50 volunteers are helping to bring it back to its glory days.

New custom-made windows have been installed; the wiring and the walls have been replaced and primed. The exterior is entering the final stages and is ready for a three-color paint scheme. The lower half of the building will be blue, with a red stripe in the middle, and topped with yellow, akin to the past. […]

In September, Gonzalez was able to acquire key historical items. Two gas pumps from that era — one from 1914 and another from the 1920s — and a Richfield sign will eventually be placed on the station’s roof.

Inside, the service station display cases will line the walls and be filled with historic artifacts and car memorabilia.

To raise money, the group hosts a monthly breakfast buffet at Sweeten Hall the first Saturday of each month. The next one is Dec. 6.

Many photos of the gas station restoration work may be seen here.

The gas station opened about 1915 and closed during the 1970s. A billboard company used the property for storage until Route 66 IECA came with its offer in 2013 to buy the property. The Rancho Cucamonga City Council gave historic landmark status to Cucamonga Service Station in 2009.

Neon relighting of former Skylark Motel is Saturday November 17, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Events, Motels, Preservation, Route 66 Associations, Signs.
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The relighting of the former Skylark Motel’s neon — including its distinctive glass-block tower — will occur about dusk Saturday at the site in St. Clair, Missouri, according to a news release from the Neon Heritage Preservation Committee of the Route 66 Association of Missouri.

The ceremony is scheduled to last about 20 minutes. According to Accuweather.com, sunset on that day will occur at 4:43 p.m., although clouds could make darkness arrive earlier.

According to the release:

The property is now owned by local VFW Post 2482 and is located at 1087 North Service Road WW, which is 1.5 miles west of I-44 exit 239 at St. Clair, on the north side outer road.

The VFW Post leadership welcome all to attend this event and are planning to serve food and refreshments after the relighting ceremony, which will include music, vintage cars on site, and speakers representing the local community and the Missouri Route 66 Association. A limited number of distinctive t-shirts commemorating this special event will also be available.
The VFW Post was the recipient of a $22,000 cost-share grant from the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program to assist in the restoration of this neon scene, which will now return one of the Mother Road’s most dazzling light displays for Route 66 travelers.

According to Jim Thole, the Skylark opened in 1952 and operated as such for about 25 years. It eventually was purchased by the St. Clair VFW in 1993.

(Image of the former Skylark Motel tower courtesy of Jim Thole)

Baxter Springs theater nominated to National Register November 16, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Preservation, Theaters, Towns.
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The Ritz Theater, a former movie house on Route 66 in Baxter Springs, Kansas, has been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, according to a news release from the Kansas Historical Society.

The building is at 1145 N. Military Ave. (aka Route 66). The theater’s inclusion is all but assured, because the National Register rarely rejects a nomination from a state agency.

The nomination summary:

The Ritz Theatre opened in 1926 in a converted two-story commercial building along Route 66 in downtown Baxter Springs. The building had previously housed John M. Cooper’s Dry Goods and Clothing Store, which opened in the 1880s, and the upper floor had served as a gathering space for various social organizations. Under the guidance of Joplin architect T.E. Martinie, the building was converted to a theater in 1926 and officially opened on April 30, showing The Ancient Highway, distributed by Paramount Pictures. A packed house heard music from Mrs. Roy Brooks, an organist at the Victory Theatre in Rogers, Arkansas. The popularity of drive-in theaters throughout the tri-state area likely contributed to the closing of the theater in the mid-1950s. The building then functioned as the Blue Castle Restaurant from 1957 to 1980. At the time of nomination, the building is being renovated to reflect its former use as a theater.

According to Cinema Treasures, the Ritz held 488 seats with one screen.

According to the nomination papers, Ronald and Judy Puckett bought the building in 2007 with the intention of restoring it as a theater. A number of photos by the Kansas Historical Society shows the work that’s been done on the building in recent years.

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