Route 66 in the News

The Neon Glow of WeHo

2011-12-21 16:38:57

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. - The famed Santa Monica Boulevard is part of the legendary Route 66, and is the City of West Hollywood's main thoroughfare. Originally, Route 66 ended in Los Angeles proper, but in 1935 the highway was extended all the way to the beaches of Santa Monica.

During its prominence, Route 66 gave birth to a wide berth of stores, diners and hotels along its 2,448 (estimated) mile span, many of which used bright neon lights to attract motorist as they cruised through the night. That tradition lives on in West Hollywood, thanks to an effort by the Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission and the Museum of Neon Art (MONA).

Beyond the streetlights and minimal Christmas displays, Santa Monica Boulevard shines several shades of neon; and itís not just the store fronts that are glowing with nostalgia. There are a few prominent pieces of neon art in the public space.

We spoke with Andrew Campbell, Cultural Affairs Administrator for West Hollywood about the signs on display. As he told us, in 2009 the city decided to celebrate its 25th anniversary by embracing its heritage and the spirit of Route 66. With the help of the Museum of Neon Art, West Hollywood was able to secure four classic neon signs to put on display along its small portion of the Mother Road.

Heading westbound on toward Santa Monica, the first sign youíll come across is the famous Winchellís Donut House sign in Plumber Park. The sign was built by the Cox Neon Company in Montebello, California in 1967. For years, the sign illuminated the Route 66 in Upland. The sign was moved after that Winchellís Donut House lost its lease. The sign was donated to the MONA in 2005.

The other three signs are grouped together at the intersections of Santa Monica Boulevard, Olive Drive and Holloway Drive. The first, located in the center divider, is the oldest sign on display. Depicting a hammer hitting the heal of a womanís shoe, the Zinkeís Shoe Repair sign was built in 1928 for Zinkeís in Glendale. Itís one of three Zinkeís signs in existence. The other two, located in Glendale and Pasadena, are still in working condition. The sign was donated to the MONA n 1983.

Just past the Zinkeís sign youíll find the La Fonda and the Diver. The La Fonda, named after La Fonda Mexican Food in Glendale, was built in 1946 for the restaurant. One of the most complex signs on display, the La Fonda showcases two people engaging in a spirited dance. The Diver is actually a replica of the original Virginia Court Motel Diver that was installed at a motel in Mississippi.

Unfortunately, time is running out to see these unique pieces of Americana. The displays are on donation from MONA and Campbell tells us that all four should be taken down by the end of the year. The first to go will be the Winchellís sign. Campbell expects it to come down in March as the city begins work on Plumber Park. The other displays are expected to be moved by the end of 2012 to a new MONA facility in Glendale. The city is working to add more neon installations after these pieces are gone.

But even if the city is unsuccessful, Santa Monica Boulevard will still glow brightly at night thanks to private businesses. As part of its celebration of its 25th anniversary, businesses on Santa Monica and Sunset Boulevards installed neon lights way beyond the typical glowing open sign. From Joneís to Dan Tanaís, there are about 60 different neon lights that combine to create the cityís own virtual museum of pop art.

If you want to tour the neon lights of West Hollywood, the Chamber of Commerce provides a map of all the locations of neon art. If you want to further embrace the spirit of 66, make a point to stop at Irvís Burgers and Barneyís Beanery, two steadfast remnants of a bygone age.

~CJ Andriessen,


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