Everywhere I go I see old neon. These signs remind me of the my youthful days in the 1960s and 70s when we traveled. Alas, for many, the only signs they see are the same unoriginal fast food, gas station and motel chain signs all over the place. But, in the by gone days there were few McDonald’s and Motel 6 spots. Instead, there were the little cozy motels with the old metal chairs in the front and the unique neon signs. There were the local burger joints with their big shiny signs. And there were the drive in movie theaters and the downtown theatres with their unique names. Here is a trip down memory lane with neon I have captured along the less beaten paths and just a few comments, when appropriate.
Of all of the unique neon signs, perhaps the hotel and motel signs are the most fun and bring back the fondest memories. My first ever motel stay was in some non-descript motel in Amarillo, Texas in 1968. At the time I was only 12. It was exciting to sleep in a motel bed, see the paper covered drinking glasses, taste the strange tasting water, sit on the metal rockers on the front porch. We watched the news and stock reports on the local television and ate pancakes at a local cafe before heading to our new home in Richardson, Texas (we were moving from Albuquerque, so yes, we were on Route 66 back then).
And to round off the trip, how about one of the more famed ones….
CAFES AND RESTAURANTS
After a nice evening a a comfy motel, what is better than starting the day off with a great breakfast at a diner, a pancake house or a local cafe. The servings are always big, the mom and pop service is better than any fast food joint. Of course, while on the road you can also stop for lunch and even a big dinner, in some cases even more than you can manage if you are willing to take the chance (think Amarillo, Texas!!)
How about some burgers for lunch?
Perhaps you want to try an ORIGINAL Cozy Dog….a Route 66 Classic indeed. This one deserves two photos
Don’t want a burger or a corn dog? How about a Maid-Rite Sandwich?
Or perhaps some great authentic Bar-B-Q?
And a little Ice Cream for an afternoon treat….
Okay. So this next one is not neon. But it is certainly Vintage. And who can resist stopping for an ice cream at a place that LOOKS like an Ice Cream?
There are lots of places that you can get dinner…many of the old neon places are a combo bar/grill or bar/restaurant. And many have unique signs. Personally, I don’t drink alcohol, but I have certainly enjoyed a few good meals at some of these kinds of places.
And let’s not forget two of the most iconic vintage neon places for travelers….
Maybe you prefer something a bit more ethnic in the evening….
Or perhaps just a late night Philly Cheese Steak? How about two choices and they are just across the street from each other in the triangle….(I actually tried one at each place on the same evening – add the whiz!)
Movie Theaters, Drive-In Theaters and Music Halls
Perhaps you have had a long day on the road and need a break from motel room TV. A visit to an old drive in theater with some popcorn and thus fuzzy little speakers hanging in your window will do ya.
Too cold outside? Then there are some classic old movie theaters around that show some cool movies or maybe even will have a live band playing in them. Many of the old theaters are multi-purpose nowadays, but their old neon signs still draw you in and bring back the memories of 1960s childhood.
Following are a few classic looks with neon I have seen over the years as I travel the back roads of America.
VARIOUS AND SUNDRY OTHER PLACES
Sure, I meant it when I included “Sundry” in this section. That term seems old fashioned now, but the old five-and-dime shops had “sundry” items. There were also the old drug stores that sold magazines, had fountains in the shop and they sold “sundries.”
I also include the “various” in here since there are a few odds and ends neon signs that I want to include in this section.
Now, wasn’t that just a yummy adventure through the past?
Ahh…now that the BBQ and Chicken Fried steaks are done, how about something sweet? Nothing like fresh donuts and pies!! But who needs the chains? How about some great independent bakeries and doughnut places? Every Picture Tells a Story, Doughnut?
Voodoo Doughnut – Portland, Oregon
Voodoo Doughnut is probably one of the most unique doughnut places in the world (not just the U.S.)!! Yes, they have amazing doughnuts, but they also have stained glass windows and even a wedding chapel. They have been featured on dozens of food and travel shows as well. And, by the way, make sure to bring cash if you want to eat. That is all they take.
The menu of great items is abundant and ever changing at Voodoo Doughnut. On my visit in March 2012, I picked up a few, including their most popular items. Here is a sampling…
Other unique items include Mexican Hot Chocolate (Chocolate Cake doughnut dusted in cinnamon sugar and cayenne pepper); Captain My Captain (Raised yeast doughnut with vanilla frosting and Captain Crunch); The Loop (Raised yeast doughnut with vanilla frosting and Fruit Loops); Grape Ape (Raised yeast doughnut with vanilla frosting, grape dust and lavender sprinkles); Dirt Doughnut (Raised yeast doughnut with vanilla frosting and Oreos); and there are a few that I won’t include in here (they are a bit on the nasty side….)
And did I mention the stained glass and wedding chapel? And, oh yes, the proprietors are ordained ministers!!
Paris Bakery – Paris, Ontario
I lived in Paris, Ontario for a few months in 2008 and it had many benefits. It is a beautiful small town that is sliced by a lovely river (actually, two of them). There is a picturesque downtown area with a number of unique shops and one of those shops opens early (6 AM) everyday from Tuesday to Saturday and provides a pleasant aroma to the early morning air. In this day and age of big box grocery stores and fast food chains with their baked goods, a good Mom and Pop type of bakery is getting difficult to find. Paris Bakery remains one of those “pleasant places.”
Unlike the young folks who throw the donuts in the oven at Tim Horton’s and Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme, Gerry and Ross have been baking for over 100 years combined. Indeed, Gerry has been in the bakery business since he was 12 years old! And like many other small bakeries, this is a family affair. Vickie’s sister Liz works at the bakery as does Gerry’s daughter-in-law Heather. There are a couple of other who family members there as well.
Vickie Norris sold the bakery in January 2013, but some of the staff has remained. Vickie now runs the shop next door, which she has owned for a while, called The Paris Health Store and Yoga Studio. I think all that go to the bakery may need to visit Vickie’s new business to get back in shape after the Chelseas, doughnuts and breads!
Frontier Pies – Rexburg, Idaho
OK, so this place is really a restaurant, but it is called Frontier Pies and that is what is famous for. So, have some pie….the pictures say it all…
Oh, and I should mention that they make great breakfast, lunch and dinner items too!
Jaarsma Bakery – Pella, Iowa
Going Dutch was never so good as it was when I visited Pella earlier this year. This is Holland-ville USA and the Jaarsma Bakery does not disappoint with Dutch baked treats. Famous for its “Dutch Letters”, their other treats are just as good.
And, when done at the bakery, go get some Pella bologna a couple of doors down…
International Bakery – Omaha, Nebraska
Dutch baked goods are not the only delights out there. A good Mexicana Panaderia is also a great place for baked goodies and, typically a bit cheaper. I visited the locally famous International Baker while in Omaha for the 2012 US Olympic Swim Trials. Made for a great morning breakfast on Mexican Sweetbreads and other delights.
Not everything here is sweet. There are some great Cream Cheese Jalapeno Bolillos there as well. These guys are like little soft baguettes filled with cream cheese and jalapenos. Wowzers!!
And while there don’t forget the strawberry conchas. Everything is 50 cents so you can’t beat the price. But, bring cash as that is all they take.
Dutch Haven – Ronks, Pennsylvania
If you are going to go to Amish country in Lancaster County, there are a few places to visit including Intercourse, Paradise and Bird-in-Hand. You also need to stop in Ronks on the Lincoln Highway between Intercourse and Bird-in-Hand and visit the Dutch Haven for some real yummy Shoo-Fly Pie.
Shoo-fly pie is basically a molasses pie. Some say it is a variation of the older Treacle Tart. Treacle is a British term for any syrup made from refined sugar cane, which would include molasses. Gooey sweet goodness.
Presti’s Bakery – Cleveland, Ohio
I was born in the Little Italy area of Cleveland. Unfortunately, I was taken away from there when less than a year old. I never had the chance to meet my real father. However, I have been back there numerous times to visit my half brother and half sisters. And, each time I go to Cleveland I have to make a visit to Presti’s Bakery. Great cannoli and other baked goods.
They also make some great stiffed breads with good Italian meats and cheeses and veggies. But, nothing tops the melt in your mouth tingle your tongue cannoli. And, you can get them in a nice box to go.
Along the Less Beaten Paths there are many interesting places to stop and get some goodies. I wish I had more time to stop at them all. Here are a couple of more places I could have visited while on the road. At least I snapped a photo of some of them…
Other Places I could have gone
Check back in a couple of days for Part 4: Leftovers – all the other places
THIS POST IS DEDICATED TO THE THOUSANDS WHO EITHER LOST THEIR LIVES OR WERE DIRECTLY IMPACTED BY THE TERRIBLE EVENTS OF SEPT. 11, 2001
All of us have been to a local store or restaurant that is now no longer in business. Many times we drive by the empty shell of the former restaurant or store and may have a sense of sadness. I know that here in Lexington I can probably drive by well over a dozen such restaurant locations and probably as many store locations.
World Trade Center – Formerly in New York City
Sometimes, similar things happen to tourist attractions, roadside attractions and the like. I am pleased that I have had an opportunity to document some of these sites before they disappeared.
While I was working on my Master’s Degree at Arizona State University in 1986, I had an opportunity to participate in a conference at West Point and flew into New York City. I captured this scene from the plane. It was my first time to ever see the twin towers of the World Trade Center, then the tallest buildings in the world. Each of them was 100 stories tall. The North Tower was completed in December 1972 and the South Tower was finished in July 1973. These were amazing structures and I could never have imagined that I would witness their destruction while it happened live on television in 2001. And now I will never forget the event. In 1990 and again in 1998, I had the opportunity to see these amazing buildings again (see photo at top and the one below)
Last March (2012) I once again had occasion to visit the area while on a business trip to New Jersey. I was fortunate to get a glimpse of the One World Trade Center (also known as the Freedom Tower), which is being built in the same area as the former twin towers. This will be built to 1776 feet tall (yes that number is intentional…) making it the tallest structure in the Western Hemisphere and the third largest in the world.
The original World Trade Center was not the only attraction I have seen that no longer exists.
“Spindle” aka Cars on a Spike – formerly at Cermak Plaza, Berwyn, IL
Another one of the famous, but more quirky, roadside attractions that is now gone was known as “Spindle” but probably better known as Cars on a Spike. This sculpture by artist Dustin Shuler, was built in 1989 at the Cermak Plaza in Berwyn, Illinois. It was one of many kitschy sculptures in the shopping center. On May 2, 2008 the sculpture was disassembled. The Berwyn Arts Council took the top two cars (the VW was owned by Shuler and the BMW was owned by the original chairman of Cermak Plaza at the time of the sculpture). I visited the site on August 29, 2007. See my original post here.
The impaled cars on the spindle, from top to bottom, were:
1967 Volkswagen Beetle, red
1976 BMW New Class, silver License Plate reads “DAVE”
1981 Ford Escort, blue
1974 or 1973 Mercury Capri, green
1978 Ford Mustang, white over blue
1981 Pontiac Grand Prix, maroon or burgundy
1980 or 1979 Ford LTD, light yellow
1981 or 1979 Mercury Grand Marquis, black
Tallest Can Pile – formerly in Casselton, ND
May and June 2005 were very busy months for my family. All three of my daughters were married in a six week period. The first wedding, my youngest daughter, took place in Gatlinburg, TN in late May. Then, in mid-June, my oldest daughter was married in Cardston, Alberta and one week later, my second daughter was married in Louisville, KY. It was a wild time.
Since it was a big event in Great Falls, MT and Cardston, Alberta, some of us drove. I borrowed a conversion van from a friend at work and drove to Great Falls with my two sons and my second daughter. We made a road trip out of it. Along the way we saw a ton of things, but one of the more unusual was the giant can pile in Casselton, ND (see photo above). The can pile was started in 1933 by a man named Max G. Taubert, who owned and operated a Sinclair gas station at the intersection of then Hwy 10 and Hwy 18. Max began stacking empty oil cans into a cone shape, probably for lack of a better place to discard them. After a while the “Can Pile” had grown to a height such that it attracted viewers from all around. It eventually gained enough notoriety to have its own website.
At the time of our visit (see the original blog post here), the can pile was 45 feet tall and had an 18 foot diameter at the bottom. Who knows how many cans actually were piled on? Loegering Manufacturing eventually purchased the property it was on and, according to one news article, used three tractors and a bulldozer to move the immense pile. On May 29, 2008, the pile was shrink-wrapped and then moved to a location near the Casselton Water Tower (see photos here). According to a news clip from WDAY-TV, the can pile was taken apart in November 2011.
Lynn’s Paradise Cafe – formerly in Louisville, Kentucky
Lynn’s Paradise Cafe was perhaps one of the most iconic and kitschy eateries in the United States. Located just down the road from me in Louisville, KY, I had the opportunity to visit there on a number of occasions. My most recent visit was in December 2012, and, unbeknownst to us at the time, was only a couple of weeks before Lynn closed the doors on this unique eatery. The restaurant opened in 1991 in the Highlands Neighborhood of Louisville. It was started by Lynn Winter. It had even been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show and Throwdown! with Bobby Flay on Food Network, where Lynn defeated Bobby Flay in a breakfast contest. The restaurant had been featured on other TV shows and was reviewed in numerous consumer magazines. On an episode of Man v. Food Nation set in Louisville, host Adam Richman paid a visit to Lynn’s to try the restaurant’s Quadruple “B” French Toast, which is dunked in buttermilk and black walnuts and topped with blackberry glaze and a Bourbon meringue. He experienced a unique way of grilling the toast when Lynn showed him how to launch it onto the grill with a 19th-century catapult.
On January 12, 2013, just about two weeks after my family all met there after Christmas for a big breakfast, Lynn’s Paradise Cafe closed the doors. (See WAVE-TV article here). I posted a short article on this blog site about it as well. Thank goodness I got the Flamingo Glasses and a great photo…
Travelers Club International Restaurant and Tuba Museum – formerly in Okemos, Michigan
On June 1, 2008 I was in Grand Rapids, Michigan to attend an arena football game between the Utah Blaze and the Grand Rapids Rampage. My good friend, former University of Kentucky wide receiver Aaron Boone, was a receiver for the Blaze and I had gone to visit him. On the way home back to Kentucky, I made my way to Okemos, MI to visit the fairly well known Travelers Club and Tuba Museum for lunch and a look see. You can see my original posting here. The place had different international cuisine served daily, was famous for their buffalo burgers (which is what I had) and, of course, their unique display of Tubas, including a wonderful Sousaphountain. They even had live music.
The restaurant and museum was in a very old building, originally a house built in the 1870s. The restaurant had been a fixture of the community since the 1980s, and, after 30 years, mainly due to financial difficulties, the eatery had to close its doors. (See WLNS TV article here.) On January 23, 2013 the demolition of the building took place to make way for a new Day Spa. According to the owners and the museum website, they are looking for a new spot to house the eatery and all of its Tubas.
“Smokesax” – currently in Houston, Texas is being moved
In mid-July 2010, I was on business in Houston for about one week. While there, I took some of my free time to drive around the town and catch some of the sites. Included in this was a drive to “The Horn” Bar and Grille (which later became Billy Blues Restaurant and Bar – which has since gone out of business), which had a 70 foot tall blue saxophone made out of car parts, oil field pipes, a surfboard and an entire Volkswagen out front. “Smokesax” was created by artist Bob “Daddy-O” Wade. Wade is also known for a number of other giant Texas-sized sculptures including a giant iguana, giant cowboy boots, a sombreros shaped roof top and more (obviously, still a bunch of quirky sites to visit in Texas!!!). The saxophone, originally painted red and then later blue, is being dismantled and moved to the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art in southeast Houston. These are the same folks that managed the Beer Can House Project (see my post on this blog).
The Smokesax was sawed into 5 pieces as artist Wade oversaw the project on February 28, 2013. (See Houston Chronicle article) It is now in storage until a site can be determined for it.
The National Mustard Museum – from Mt. Horeb, WI to Middleton, WI
Ironically, on the same day that we visited the Spindle in Illinois, we also made our way to Mt. Horeb, WI to visit the Mustard Museum (see original post here). This was a fun little spot. I even got an MBA (Master of Bad Attitude) degree from Poupon U!!
The National Mustard Museum began as the “Mount Horeb Mustard Museum” when its founder & curator, Barry Levenson, started collecting mustards on October 27, 1986. The actual museum opened in Mt. Horeb, WI on April 4, 1992. In 2009, the Museum moved to its current facility in downtown Middleton, WI, and changed its name to the more encompassing “National Mustard Museum”. On August 7, 2010, the National Mustard Museum hosted its annual mustard festival in Downtown Middleton after years of putting on National Mustard Day in Mount Horeb.The detailed history can be seen here.
Hopefully some of the other places above will have the same success in moving as the Mustard Museum has. I am tired of being saddened by visiting places and then seeing them go the way of the world.