The signs at the Paradise Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico, were removed this week after the long-abandoned property suffered two fires in less than six months — including one in February.
Vanessa Miller, service manager the Clovis Sign Services in Clovis, New Mexico, confirmed by phone Wednesday she had possession of both signs, including the distinctive diving-woman part of that stood near the main building. Clovis Signs is the closest neon sign company to Tucumcari, about 85 miles away.
She said the signs’ owner had purchased them, and they would be restored for his personal collection.
Miller declined to name the owner but said he was not local to the Tucumcari area. A message was left with the owner; it was not returned.
Emily Priddy of Tucumcari (Disclosure: I am married to her) on Tuesday afternoon said she saw a truck pulling a flatbed trailer carrying a neon sign, along a bucket-lift truck trailing behind. They were heading south on Highway 209 south of Tucumcari. Playing a hunch, she drove to the Paradise Motel and saw its main sign was gone.
According to county property records, the Paradise Motel is owned by Abel Cullum of Tucumcari. Its actual assessed value is $8,213. A clerk at the Quay County Assessor’s Office said the motel at 2202 W. Tucumcari Blvd. closed in 1991 or 1992. Several online sources place the motel opening in 1950.
The motel’s ground-level sign and other properties along New Mexico’s Route 66 received a grant for neon-sign restoration in 2003.
The unrestored sign included a lower section depicting portrait images of Tocom and Kari, characters from a tale of a tragic Indian couple from whom Tucumcari is said to have received its name. The project was bid as a restoration based on its existing Tocom-Kari features. However, subsequent research yielded an early photo on file at LaDeane Studios in Tucumcari.
The older photo revealed a very different sign that included a wonderful diving bathing beauty diving into a pool splash. After consulting with the Historic Preservation Division, it was decided that the restoration should include the original motif. At the same time, the creative use of the pool splash as a headdress for the Indian images and the quality of the images could be appreciated as folk art.
Therefore, the decision was made to allocate funding that would provide for the original restoration and also preserve the images of Tocom and Kari.
In recent years, many roadies head a radio playing inside the motel’s cafe / garage building. It seemed to be a ploy to keep visitors from thinking it was abandoned and therefore kept some vandalism at bay.
(Image of the restored Paradise Motel sign circa 2003 via New Mexico Route 66 Association website; other images by the author)