The Tucson Fight: Preserving Historic Neon Signs
With a population of over half a million inhabitants, Tucson, Arizona is one of the prime cities in the US. Located in Pima County, this city has been famous over centuries for its contribution to the world in terms of its giant glowing Neon Signs.
People who grew up here have spent their whole lives glancing at these big vibrant signs all their lives, which is why they are not in favor of the authorities’ decision to take them downs. But let’s take a break and take a look at the story behind it.
A sneak peek into the history of Tucson’s Neon Signs
Southwest had been a popular tourist location when in earlier times, the idea of camping and vacation for most people meant travelling the country through interstates and highways. A spectrum of big flickering neon signs on the highways gave this part of the state a unique and appealing charm. Because of their placements on highways that ran throughout the city, these pink, blue and yellow neon signs proved to be the right kind of attraction for coffee shops, theatre and motels that their owners needed during the late 1940s to 1960s.
America’s Ugliest Street:
These signs were not always seen as an attraction or considered historic landmarks. People considered them as outdated, gaudy in appearance, and visual pollution barricading the beautiful view of the mountains.
Adding to the horror, Life Magazine in 1970 published an article labeling these neon-lit roads as the “ugliest streets” in America.
Plastic signs were the new trendy way of promotion which made these neon signs seems bulky and simply old-fashioned. People who owned them stopped maintaining them and they were left as they were. Too big to take down and repair, all that was left were these unlit ruined signs all over the state.
Tucson stands up against taking the Neon signs down:
But times changed. Inhabitants got accustomed to viewing them every day on their routes and began to appreciate the art form. So, when a few years back the Tucson authorities decided to take down these unlit, non-functional neon signs, It came out as a blow for the Tucsonans. They were not ready to give up something they had come to consider historic and sacred.
In 2011, Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation took a stand to preserve the signs that can be termed iconic landmarks. Restoration began the next year.
In 2013, the city invested $125,000 for a preservation program to restore these iconic landmarks. Currently undergoing sign restorations include two famous neon signs; the Hacienda Motel and the Riviera Motor Lodge. Notices were sent out to the owners. The Foundation will pay up to 75% of the cost of restoring the areas historic neon signs, if the owners agree to maintain them for the next ten years.
Jennifer Levstik, who is the preservation lead planner for the city’s Historic Preservation Office, expressed her views saying,
“It’s a part of our history that’s really unique. We have to start recognizing these historic resources of the past. Anything I can do to help bring these back to life, I’ll do it.”