CASA GRANDE, AZ (AZ HIGHWAYS TV) --It was a vision, that has become reality. Casa Grande's Neon Sign Park is now live and in vibrant, living color.
The signs are all from Casa Grande except for the Dairy Queen sign. That's from Holbrook, on Route 66.
Marge Jantz is the chair person of the Casa Grande historic preservation commission. "Most of the signs are from the early 1950's," Jantz said.
"There's so much history in these signs that go back almost 70 years," said Richard Rosales, who serves as the President of the Main Street Board in Casa Grande.
These signs of the past are also signs of the future.
"The Neon Sign Park is such a great addition to downtown Casa Grande. I serve as President of the Main Street Board, and we were always looking for projects to bring more people downtown in the evening hours to create a vibe in downtown Casa Grande and I think this park is the catalyst to starting that," Rosales said.
Rosales lives in Casa Grande and also works for APS community affairs.
"There's one that came actually from APS's predecessor, which is Arizona Edison and so that sign is near and dear to my heart and I think that's the prettiest sign out here," Rosales said.
He hopes the neon park will light the way for a bigger arts and entertainment district.
"It's just really cool to see all that in one place and to see them lit up at night, I'm just excited about what's going to happen downtown here in Casa Grande," Rosales said.
Believe it or not, Casa Grande beat out some major big cities, like Philadelphia for the grant money to build this park.
"American Express was going to give away $2 million across the country for preservation projects. They were contacting Main Streets and we had a project and they liked the project," Jantz said.
If neon required batteries, Marge would be the Energizer Bunny.
"We were on the street, so to speak, getting people to vote 5 times every day for 35 days," Jantz said.
And she kept going, going and going.
"And we were in first place for quite a while," Jantz said.
Casa Grande got the grant money which helped the Main Street Project and the Preservation Commission secure more than just cool works of mid-century art.
"We're saving our sign history. Why is it important for Casa Grande? It's a wonderful place, it's free, people can come down, they can do it at their leisure. It will be open every night from dusk until 11:00 p.m.," Jantz said.
"I'm the owner of Cook and Co. Sign Makers and we've done 9 of the 11 restorations here, all of the restorations," said Jude Cook.
We first introduced you to Jude Cook a few seasons back when we got a tour of Tucson's neon sign heritage, dubbed the Neon Pueblo.
"There's a lot of appreciation for the mid-century signs in Arizona. With what we've done in Tucson, what Casa Grande's doing here, I think it's going to help create a draw for people who are specifically interested in it," Cook said.
"What's fascinating about, especially the signs out in this part of the country, is they have a different feel than a lot of the stuff back East. Our stuff was, a lot of our stuff was really after World War II when the car culture took off and all these little hotels were trying to grab your attention and one of the ways to do that was have a sign that had character to it, because that's the fist thing you see. The hotels might be similar, but they wanted to stand out," Cook said.
Restoring these signs required quite a bit of research, that wasn't found in a history or art book.
"You know when you get these things in and their rusted out and there's pigeon nests 6 to 8 inches deep all the way through the sign, some of these signs have been changed three or four times," Cook said.
For the Horseshoe Motel, Cook turned to an old post card to make sure they got the color right.
"The other thing the postcard showed us, which was really, really subtle, is that it actually had the waving arm guy at the base of the sign," Cook said.
But neon art wasn't always popular.
"The movie industry did a lot of damage to neon by always showing it as downtrodden, flickering, flashing, buzzing kind of stuff, and I think neon would have held out a lot longer than that. I've seen in the last 4 to 5 years quite a resurgence in requests for neon," Cook said.
Some of that is repair, restoration, even custom work. Cook says all of it plays a part in neon's preservation.
"The importance of preserving this stuff is these things slip away quietly and they'll never be made again. These things need to be shared, people need to enjoy them," Cook said.