[KOSU Radio Commentary]
I don’t know about you, but the staycations are starting to make me a little stay-crazy. The other day, I said to my husband, Robert, let’s take the kids to Albuquerque for the weekend. We’ll stay in a hotel and the kids will swim in the pool all day long. It’ll be awesome, just like when we were kids.
He said OK and then he fired up the search engine and we tried to find that hotel. You know the one. The clean, roadside Holiday Inn with the lit arrow sign. It was like a carnival springing up in the desert of night.
But, instead, we navigate to a resort with golf, a zip line and bike trails. The phrase, “vacation packages,” deflates me like batteries-not-included on Christmas morning.
As a kid, my family stayed in dozens of cheap motels across the country. We’d swim in the pool all day long and at night dive for pennies by pool light.
The next day, after pancakes and syrup we’d do it again, until noon when we had to pack up our suitcases and turn in the room key.
There were many kitschy motel signs on our trips across America. They were eye-candy on the roadside, three equal parts of lighting, sculpture and billboard.
Retro Sign Language
Over the last five years, I’ve photographed many retro signs throughout Oklahoma, from the Dairy Boy in Lexington to the Catalina Motel on Shields Boulevard. But, one by one they’re disappearing.
The Lockheed Shopping Center boomerang sign on Air Depot in Midwest City is gone.
The green Standard Engraving Sign on Main Street – gone.
The vintage sign at the old Beverly’s Pancake House – gone.
The old sign at Olivet Baptist Church – gone. They replaced with a backlit sign.
In 2006, we lost the Ouy Lin Chop Suey neon treasure near 12th Street. It had charm the super buffets could only wish for.
I love progress and development, but sometimes, it cuts off its nose to spite its face. So many wonderful signs have been sacrificed for polite and boring corporate imagery. In the Happy Bunny vernacular, some beautification projects make me throw up a little.
Treasure Trove of Retro Signs
Holly Baumann Ambuehl, a commercial photographer, has photographed what she calls a treasure trove or retro-modern artifacts. These include the drive-thru lanes on the old Central Bank on Classen and The Lunch Box in downtown Oklahoma City.
“As the city grows and changes,” she writes, “I hope the community will work together to preserve these gorgeous examples of days gone by.”
That’s exactly what Mod Betty from Pennsylvania is trying to do. She documents roadside architecture on her website, RetroRoadmaps. She wants to encourage business owners to keep and maintain vintage signs, not replace them with backlit plastic.
Signs reflect our culture and technology. They tell stories, evoke memories and serve as landmarks. The broken and abandoned retro signs across Oklahoma represent more than visual clutter. They are folk art widely collected by museums. We should preserve all that we have left…
What’s your favorite retro sign?
Retro Signs in Oklahoma City