This presentation is part of the Are We There Yet: Preservation of Roadside Architecture and Attractions, April 10-12, 2018, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Lynn Rostochil: We’re going to talk about some of the great signs in Oklahoma, not just on Route 66 but throughout the state and I’m just going to briefly give a little history of either the sign or the company or both and we’ll go from there.
Starting off is the Round Up Cleaners sign. It’s in Oklahoma City on Penn and it’s all original, still lights up at night and is really cute.
Okay, so we’re going to talk about a few restaurants first. First up here, the green sign, the Hamburger Inn is in Ardmore, Oklahoma and it was, the eatery opened in 1938 and moved into a really tiny little ’50s building with a couple of booths and a lunch counter and the sign is from that time as well. It is in excellent condition, still lights up at night and the burgers there are pretty good too.
The Isle of Capri is the middle sign. It’s in Krebs, Oklahoma. And Krebs, if you don’t know it, is called the Little Italy of Oklahoma. There are several really fantastic Italian restaurants there and more than one sign. This town is a real blip so it’s got a couple of really good signs there. The Isle of Capri was started by a man named Dominic Giacomo. He opened it on Mother’s Day in 1950 and he named in the Isle of Capri because during World War II, he was in the Navy and his ship rode around the Isle of Capri and he thought that was a really romantic name and thought he’d keep it. The restaurant itself is built into; he built kind of a big house for the restaurant. Because he thought, well, if the restaurant goes under, he could live in the house and luckily, he never had to do that. The restaurant has been in continuous operation since 1950. So you definitely want to go there, it’s really good.
Happy Burger is in Sapulpa. And Bob, I’m going to butcher his name like everyone butchers mine, Nabozny, he opened it originally. It’s along Route 66 as a Tastee Freeze franchise. It opened in 1957 but by the 1960s, he was kind of tired of paying the franchising fees so he renamed it Happy Burger and it has been that ever since. They are really well known for their peanut butter shakes, so if you like peanut butter, that’s where you want to go.
Okay, this is Beard Motor Company and the Chrysler Plymouth sign in Bristow. This one is along Route 66. It was built by a guy named Hubert Red Beard and his partner, Watt Henry. They decided to open a car dealership and mechanics area in Bristow to take advantage of all the Route 66 traffic that went back and forth. Beard, he designed the streamline moderne building and it opened in 1947. Two years later, he had the sign constructed. It is two blocks off of Route 66, so he wanted something very tall that could be seen by passersby along the mother road and this sure fits the bill. It’s very tall and can be seen for much further away than two blocks.
Let’s see, in 1953, Turner Turnpike opened and the same year, Red Beard died in an airplane accident. He was a pilot and crashed in Colorado. So his partner, Watt, figured that the Turner Turnpike would take business away from the dealership so he went ahead and closed it down. It became a bowling alley for a decade and then an oil company moved in and did some restoration to the building. The building and the sign were added to the National Register in 2004. It’s in original condition. It doesn’t light up or anything like that, but it’s well worth taking a look at. It’s a very photogenic sign.
And I love a good Rusty Crusty sign and we have two great examples in Cache, which is on the way out to Lawton. So, we’ll start with the Eagle Park sign, which is the one on your right. Eagle Park was an amusement park in Cache. Originally, there was an amusement park called Craterville near Fort Sill and Lawton but the base needed that land and closed down the amusement park and so, let’s see … I gotta find his name. Herb and Cora Rosener thought that another amusement park needed to be built so they built Eagle Park on the outskirts of Cache.
They also acquired the house of Quanah Parker and they placed it on the amusement park grounds. And over the years, Herb acquired 22 buildings to put on his land where the amusement park was and people came and toured them. They were turn of the century, before statehood places and he had them all carted to this land here. Movies were filmed on site here. There were Old West days, chili cook offs, it was a very popular place and they had all kinds of rides. The rollercoaster was called the Mighty Mouse, no the Wild Mouse, sorry about that. I was thinking Might Mouse, but that’s not right.
Anyway, by 1985, the Roseners closed down Eagle Park because they could no longer afford the insurance premiums and ever since then it’s deteriorated. The Quanah Parker house is still open and the trading post, which is this first sign, is also open. And if you ever want to tour the Quanah Parker house, you have to go into the trading post, which is … It’s a hoarder’s wet dream, excuse me, and you can sign up for a tour of the house there, but the house is dilapidated, much like these signs and is in great need of restoration.
I love big man signs and there are three in Oklahoma City that just kill me. So, the first sign here, the Cash America Pawn was originally constructed for the Joel Coley Lumberyard and he’s got cash in his hand right now, but originally he had a hammer in his hand. That sign was around until the ’80s, maybe early ’90s when Cash America took over and took out the hammer and put money in his hands instead.
The middle sign was originally a Big Giant Supermarket sign and it’s in southwest Oklahoma City and it was founded by Don Fox and it opened in 1959. The sign is 25 feet tall and it dates back to when the store opened up. It closed in the 1990s and the store front became home to paintball center and a nightclub over the years. And at one point, the signs, the man was painted black but about 10 years ago, he was restored to his caveman like appearance even though the buidling is completely vacant now. There’s nothing there but he stands out. I just love him. He’s so cute.
The third sign is the Winchester Drive In sign. There are three drive in theaters left in central Oklahoma. One is the Beacon in Guthrie, one is the Chief in Chickasha and then you have this wonderful Winchester sign in Oklahoma City. The drive in was built in 1968 by the Shanbour family who owned several theaters throughout the state. It had a 400 car capacity and the cowboy invites visitors to this day. As you can see, he’s a motion sign. There’s not that many motion signs in Oklahoma anymore, but he waves to people saying, “Come on in here and have some popcorn and enjoy a movie.” This picture of this sign I took in 2013 after a tornado had come through and I went to check out the theater to make sure it was okay. It had sustained some damage but Lindy Shanbour, who is in his 80s now and still runs the theater in the summer, had it all picked up and ready to go in time for the summer season that year. And it still thrives today. So, if you’re in the mood for a drive in movie theater, that’s where you need to go see one.
Also, there are several Native American themed signs in Oklahoma. These are two of my favorites. The Indian Lodge is in Wagoner by Fort Gibson Lake. And this motel is in perfect condition. Original owners, actually the son of the original owner has it now. I will say it went up for sale a couple of weeks ago so I’m kind of worried that a new owner may not take such care of it but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will happen. This motel and the sign were constructed in 1955 and really, if you want that retro experience, this is probably the best example of that in Oklahoma as far as motels are concerned.
The End of Trail Motel is in Broken Bow, right in the heart of town, right at the intersection of two busy highways. I don’t know exactly what year it was built. There’s not a lot of information about this motel but the sign does still light up at night and is in really beautiful condition.
I love Googie. So, in case … I’m sure all of you know what Googie is but just in case you don’t, it’s the craziest angles and funky mid century modern that you can think of. Think Jetsons and you’ve got Googie. And for some reason, Googie signs like arrows, so most of these have some kind of arrow attached to them.
The first one here is in Canute. Most people, Route 66 people, know the Cotton Boll Motel and this sign is not as well known but it’s in the same town and kind of across the street and down the way. Both the Cotton Boll and this motel are private residences now, but luckily the owners have kept their iconic signs out for everybody to enjoy.
The second sign is Bartlesville, Travelers Motel. It also dates from the 1950s. A few years ago, the motel letters were replaced with plastic and I don’t like them, so I didn’t put that picture in. I put the old one in. And, anyway, I like that one too. Otherwise, the sign’s in really good original condition except for the motel.
The third one is the Oasis Motel here in Tulsa. I think if y’all are doing the neon tour, you’ll probably see this one. It is one of my favorites in the state. It’s very cool. It’s on 11th Street. It was constructed in 1954 when the motel was opened and it remains in excellent condition today.
The next one is the Glancy in Clinton, also on Route 66. I took this shot about a year and a half ago. The motel has been really nicely restored. The sign has too. I don’t know where the L was when I was there but usually it’s there. It was also designed in the 1950s and is in really great condition. I love the arrow, then you’ve got the biomorphic shape with the Glancy on there and it’s motor hotel. This one kind of has a little bit of everything except for the Western Motel in Sayre. That one is certainly one of my favorite signs too. 1950, desert Western theme which is perfect for a town kind of out in the middle of nowhere, also along Route 66.
Okay, we’re going to have a little recreation now. Another place that you’re probably going to tour if you do the neon tour is the lovely Rose Bowl. It is the Googiest thing around. It’s so great. It was designed by an OU student. He was also a student of Bruce Goff named Bill Ryan. He just died about a month ago. And the Rose Bowl is pretty spectacular. Now a center for neglected kids and they’re trying to raise funds to restore the building. It’s from 1961. It’s pretty spectacular.
Okay, this is my favorite. The Planet Bowl. Do you see the rocket on top of that? It’s so awesome. This one just brings me joy every time I see it. It’s such a great place. Hang on. I gotta switch my page. Let’s see, it’s in Midwest City which is probably why the rocket is there because Tinker Air Force Base is there and was constructed during World War II and right after the war, Midwest City boomed as suburbia and this place was built then. The building has changed quite a bit but I’m really thrilled to say that the sign is very original and very beloved in Oklahoma City. It was built in 1960, actually.
The third one is the Starlight Skating Center. That’s in Sapulpa which is just down the road a little bit, also on Route 66. The Starlight Skating Center opened in 1951 and this flying skate is from that era. The place set vacate for quite a while, from 2002 til about 2011 and I was really worried about this sign, but luckily a new skating rink opened a few years ago and they have kept this sign. I think it’s been painted since then, it looks a little bit more vibrant now. I don’t think they have plans to restore the neon, but hey, I’m just glad to have a flying skate. It’s very cute.
Lots of good shops and stores with signs. The Moody’s Jewelry sign is here in Tulsa. It’s also on Route 66. You’ll probably see that on the tour. Oh, wait a minute. I flipped too soon. It was founded by Earnest Moody in 1944 and they moved to this location in the 1950s and the sign dates to 1954. The same family still owns it, obviously. They love the sign. They take fabulous care of it. It is quite a spectacular sign.
The O’Daniels’ Jewelry sign is in Muskogee. The jewelry company was established in 1930 and this sign dates probably from the ’40s, I think, just by the type on it. It’s really a beautiful sign too and the diamond still lights up.
The Home Savings And Loan Association is in southwest Oklahoma City. This sign has been there since 1957 and it is all original too. And it does light up at night as well. It’s been very well taken care of.
The Sutherland Well Service is in Healdton. Now this isn’t neon, but it’s so crazy funky I just love this sign so much with the type going over the really Googie, zig zag. It’s a lot of fun. And you know gotta love a concrete block wall, right? There’s not a whole lot in Healdton, but this is on the outskirts and it’s definitely worth checking out.
Art’s Television is another treasure in Oklahoma City. The Art’s Television obviously went away a long time ago. There have been several businesses in the building. It was vacant for several years. There’s another company in there now. And thank goodness the owner of the building seems to appreciate the sign because I know of a lot of friends who have offered to take it off of his hands and he absolutely refuses. So it’s still there, hanging. It does not light up. All the neon is gone but it is still there for all of us to enjoy and who doesn’t love a thunder and a TV. It just has everything. I think it’s fantastic.
The Phoenix Cleaners sign is here in Tulsa as well, so you will probably get to see that on the neon tour. It dates to the 1940s and the current owner’s great uncle designed in back in then and it was constructed by the Wally Worth Sign Company, which I think might have been out of Tulsa. I’m not quite sure. Seven minutes, okay.
So now we’re going to do some theaters. The Franroy sign, this first one, is one of my very favorites in all of Oklahoma. It is in Snyder, Oklahoma which is west, which is basically, in other words, in the middle of nowhere. I don’t have a lot of information about this theater. It hasn’t been a theater for a very long time. It was originally, I think, constructed, it was a hotel that was built in the ’30s that was converted to a theater probably not too long after that. This is very deco sign so I would say probably, you know, 1940s. I’m assuming Fran and Roy might have been the owners, but I don’t know. Don’t have a lot of information.
The Esquire Theater is in Hobart and the theater originally opened in 1930 as the Rialto and it was designed, I think, by Harold Gimeno who also designed the Sooner Theater in Norman. It was renamed the Kiowa in 1936 and probably became the Esquire in the 1940s or early 1950s. The whole theater now is gutted but thank goodness, they still have the sign out.
The Woodward sign is in, duh, Woodward, Oklahoma and it is now … The theater closed in 1980. It was designed by Oklahoma City architect named Leonard Bailey and it is now a performing arts center and the group saved the sign and restored it partially. It does light up and it’s just a really pretty sign.
Okay, this is kind of cool. This is in what is now … It was the African American community in Oklahoma City, northeast Oklahoma City, by OU Medical Center if you guys are familiar with that. So, Le’Ora’s was a beauty salon opened up in 1944 by Sadie Le’Ora Hodge. As with most smaller communities, small towns and obviously African American communities, this place was kind of the hub for the girls. Everyone would go in there and share the gossip and hang out. It was such an important part of the community that in the 1960s it was a polling station. And Sadie Le’Ora Hodge was so important to her community in 1964, she was appointed to the Oklahoma Small Business Advisory Council, which was a pretty big thing for a woman and an African American woman to boot. The Council was comprised of successful small business owners to help other small businesses get started and thrive, so this is quite a historic building in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, they tore it down.
The sign, I have no idea where the Le’Ora sign went to, but one day, I just happened to be driving down that way and I have my favorite building and I have to check on them like a mother. And I drove by and saw the building starting to, they were starting to dismantle it and I thought, “Okay, well, I have to take one last picture of the Le’Ora’s sign.” And kind of walked away toward the side of the building and I saw this. The Coca Cola Handy Six Box which I had never even heard of before. I was just astounded. I thought, “Oh, my god. Surely they’re going to save this sign.” It was so incredible to have uncovered this. There was ’50s siding on the side of the building but I realized very quickly that, no, they weren’t … They didn’t care about it. They just wanted to take the building down and replace it with nothing. It’s a vacant lot now.
So, I went home right away. And I’m also involved in another group called Retro Metro OKC, which is a local historic organization and I called some friends on that and I said, “Hey. We gotta get someone down there to save this sign because it’s going to go in the trash heap if we don’t.” Within an hour, this people were vigilant, within an hour, someone went down there to pick the sign, by that time, just an hour after I had been there and taken this shot, it was all lying on the side of the road, the pieces of it and it was about to be carted off. But he did save the sign. It’s in storage. I’m not sure what’s ever going to happen with it but it’s safe for now. I think we’re hoping if someone opens a restaurant and has a big wall and, you know, wants to use it then they can.
I did a little research on this after I found the sign and I had never heard of the six box. I had never seen this color scheme before. And what I figured out was, it really was yellow, not orange. I guess they did orange to stand out a little bit more. It was introduced in 1923 and within a couple of years, they changed the color scheme to the red and white we know today. So that was a great save.
Okay, Glen’s Hik-ry Pit. This is also in Oklahoma City. This was probably the most popular smorgasbord of the 1960s was … There were two. There was Glen’s Hik-ry and the Hik-ry Pit was more of a lunchtime spot. Glen’s, both of the places closed in 1980. There was a big fire in the bigger restaurant where the smorgasbord was and that burned down to the ground. But for years this Hik-ry Pit sign stayed up across the street. The picture on the left, I took in about 19 … 19, God, I’m not that old yet. I am that old, but it wasn’t that long ago. It was taken probably about 2010. At one point, Glen’s franchise … God, I got a minute. I gotta hurry. Anyway, sign came down. It was for sale and someone bought it a few years ago, so that’s what that is.
Beverly’s Pancake Corner. There were a lot of Beverly’s around the state and beyond and overseas. Beverly Osborne franchised Beverly’s and most of them are gone now. There’s only one left. This sign came down in 2008 and a Talbot’s was built there but they saved the round part and there’s a Beverly’s on Northwest Highway where that is now located.
Charcoal Oven came in 2016. It was an icon built in 1959. This sign was saved and it’s in storage.
Oasis Drive In was along Route 66 in El Reno. Originally, it had two tall palm trees and was a very popular lunch drive in place for kids and travelers along Route 66. In 2009, a big storm came through and toppled the sign over. It had been restored at one point in 2004 and they promised that they were going to try to restore it and it never happened, so the building’s gone and the sign is gone now.
Here are some Route 66 motel signs that are gone, pretty much. The Carlyle Motel was along Northwest 39 in Oklahoma City. That sign came down a few years ago and the buyer cut it up and sold different pieces on eBay. The couch one photo down there was part of the sign so it’s been all cut up and gone. The Arcadia Motel was around until the early 2000s. A used car dealership and mechanic and bought and tried to keep as much of the sign as he could even though he kind of botched it up. And over the years, the arrow was gone, almost everything about this sign is gone now, unfortunately.
Okay, so we’re going to talk about one of Oklahoma City’s iconic sign makers. He really is fantastic and I’m going to go real fast. Mac Teague was a sign designer extraordinaire. He was an artist student and he was working at Tinker Air Force Base. This was right after the war and he needed extra money and decided to be a sign painter. That led to him becoming a sign designer and soon he was not working at Tinker anymore and not in college anymore and he was designing signs full time.
These are just a few of the signs that he did. The Tahoma Motel was in Lawton. There was a Tradewinds in Oklahoma City. There was also one here in Tulsa. The Steven’s Cleaner sign was in Oklahoma City and the Lee’s Used Cars sign was also in Oklahoma City. I believe all these signs are gone.
He also did … How Googie are these? Are these fantastic? They’re so great. All of these were in Oklahoma City as well, as far as I know, and sadly, they are all gone, too.
There are a few Mac Teague survivors. The Classen Inn is in Oklahoma City. It recently went up for sale and for not a horrible amount of money in a very trendy part of town, so I’m hoping the buyer will keep this very cool ’50s motel and keep the sign there as well. You saw the Joel Coley sign earlier, that is a Mac Teague design. Okay, the black and white picture is really terrible, but it’s all I had. Originally, this is in southwest Oklahoma City, there was a Park Terrace movie theater. It closed in the late ’80s and it’s been various clubs since then but luckily all of the clubs have kept the sign and incorporated their name into it. And that’s what Cowboys is, that’s the sign today.
More survivors by Mac Teague. Drexel Cleaners, the one on your, this first one is what it looked like originally. I took the Drexel Cleaners sign photo in about 2008 but by 2010 a new buyer had it and mucked it up pretty well, huh? At least it’s still there. It could be restored. The Dorothy Criner Bar-B-Q sign was in southwest Oklahoma City. Apparently, he did several variations of this sign and I just recently found one, that bottom one, in southwest Oklahoma City. It needs a few balls replaced but otherwise, it could be repurposed and restored and look very fun and funky again.
Skateland sign is in Norman. It has been around since the 1950s and in about 2006, a new skating rink opened there and they kept the sign but just changed the lettering, which is terrible. They should have kept Skateland. Del Rancho, Mac Teague designed several of the Del Rancho signs, as you can see here.
Restored and good as new. You’ll probably learn more about the Meadow Gold sign later on. It’s along Route 66 and in 2004, the owner of the building on which it stood wanted to take the building down and also dismantle the sign. But the Tulsa Foundation For Architecture was able get it saved, store it. A new site was purchased, a building was constructed and now it sits atop there. Since I took this picture, there are now two clocks that were added in 2016 to finish out the sign. It’s pretty great and you’ll see it.
Tower Theater. That sign was dark for about 30 years and it was restored a couple of years ago, too. And it is pretty fantastic. It’s along Route 66, Northwest 23rd. 66 Bowl sign was in Oklahoma City along Route 66, taken down in 2010 and now it is up in Chandler, Oklahoma.
More signs that have been restored. The Rancho Grande is here in Tulsa. VFW club is in Supulpa. The Drum Room is Oklahoma City. Sunshine Cleaners, Oklahoma City and Yukon Best is along Route 66 in Yukon.
We have a lot of new signs going up which I’m very excited about. This are all in Oklahoma City. One thing that Tulsa has done is … Amanda here? Hey Amanda. She is our hero. She has and some other people, Tulsa Foundation for Architecture, have taught, have gotten legislation passed to where new signs can go up along Route 66 in and around Tulsa. I’m hoping that that will extend to Oklahoma City and other areas as well. You’re going to talk about that, right? Okay. She’ll talk to you about that.
There are also several sign collections in Oklahoma. One is the Stokely’s Event Center here in Tulsa. The Billboard Museum is, they want to have a museum in Oklahoma City. I’ve been hearing talk about that, Bethany, but recently I heard they might be putting it up some place else. Muscle Car Ranch in Chickasha has a lot of great signs. And then in Chandler, where the 66 Bowl sign is, the owner of that sign is building a recreation facility and he’s got the It’ll Do Motel from the movie Twister, so he’s got lots of signs inside as well.
Resources, if you want to learn more about signs, these are some great books. As you can see on the middle image, Signs, Streets And Store Fronts by Martin True, one of Mac Teague’s signs, the Dorothy Criner sign is on the cover of that. And that’s it. I zoomed as fast as I could.
Lynne Rostochil is an architectural historian, photographer, and founder of the Okie Mod Squad, a group dedicated to promoting and preserving Oklahoma’s impressive array of mid-century modern buildings and signage. She serves on the board of the Oklahoma City Foundation for Architecture and has written extensively about the Sooner State’s rich architectural heritage for many national publications and websites. She also writes a weekly blog for the Okie Mod Squad at okcmod.com.