In the late 40s, the booming post-war tourist trade gave Phoenix the title, “Motel Capital of the World.” A lot of the signs in this exhibition date to the era, though some are newer 60s vintage signs. Artisans and manufacturers like Young Electric Sign Co., Bud Johnson and Guerrero-Lindsey in Mesa crafted many of these beautiful neon art pieces seen throughout our area.

Although most of the vintage neon in the immediate area is located on Van Buren or Grand Avenue in Phoenix and on Main Street in Mesa, many signs are scattered throughout the city. Courtesy Chevrolet on Camelback is perhaps one of the biggest and best, as in The Shamrock Foods sign just off I-17, and The My Florist sign where The Willo Restaurant and Bakery now resides. Some of my personal favorites are The Desert Inn (not their Van Buren sign, but their Polk sign), Aero Tire (formerly Aero BOWL - note the original shape of the sign beneath letters T-I-R-E) and Palomine Inn on West Van Buren Avenue. I like them best just before they fall apart, as the urban decay adds to their legacy.

The saddest part is when owners replace the old structures with some new, uninspired generic sign. In the time I’ve been shooting these photographs (which is less than 6 months), I’ve seen at least three come down. Every time one of these old masterworks is needlessly destroyed – be it The Phoenix Motel or The Coconut Grove Motel – our community is somewhat diminished.
The Diving Lady Neon Sign in MesaThe Phoenix Motel Neon SignThe City Cafe Neon Sign in Kingman
Whenever I travel outside of Phoenix, I always try to take my camera in hope to grab a few shots along the way. Tucson has an abundance on Miracle Mile, North Oracle and Speedway. Kingman has plenty along 'ol Route 66. Every city in Arizona with a population of more than 5,000 is bound to have a couple, usually somewhere along the old main highway.

This gallery is not meant to just chronicle, but to pay homage to these wonderful signs and the creative people who built them. Although there are only a couple dozen shown here, I’ve shot hundreds. If any members know of an old classic sign in some obscure place, please drop me an email noting its location. Thank you. Jim Hale, Photographer
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