40 Best Neon Signs in Metro Phoenix

The historic Sunland Motel in Mesa.EXPAND
The historic Sunland Motel in Mesa.
Photos by Benjamin Leatherman

Vintage neon signs have become a rare and treasured thing in the Valley. In fact, local preservationists estimate there are only there are only around three dozen of these illuminated displays that are still located around metro Phoenix. And that number has gotten smaller every year, says local historian Marshall Shore.

“There are so few neon signs left now that it's become a scarce commodity,” he says.

It's why Shore and other fans of neon are not only trying to save the scant amount of vintage displays that remain around town, as well as cherish the ones still in operation and welcome the handful of local businesses creating new neon signs.

The scarcity of vintage neon signs is a far cry from of 60 years ago, Shore says, when neon signs were a staple of businesses along major thoroughfares and highways around the Valley (as well as in other cities nationwide) during the art form's boom in the 1950s, which coincided with the growth of car culture.

“Neon really encapsulates a certain era when cars were heavily on the rise, people were traveling faster than ever before, further than they've traveled ever before, and didn't know what was around them,” he says. “So you had to have a sign that was bigger, bolder, brighter than your neighbors to attract the attention.”

That was particularly true of the main drags in and out of the Valley in that timeframe, including Van Buren, Grand Avenue, and Main Street in Mesa.

“All of those roads were chockfull of motels with some pretty spectacular signs,” Shore says.

Neon wasn't limited to the motor courts along highways as countless bars, restaurants, and retail stores in Phoenix boasted glowing signage powered by electrified noble gases. “We were a hotbed for Americana,” Shore says. “That whole neon era really speaks to the real heyday and the birth of Phoenix as we know it during that whole post-war boom.”

However, the popularity and prevalence of neon declined sharply over the decades. Mid-century culture guru Alison King, who edits website Modern Phoenix, says a backlash against neon began developing in the '60 and '70s when some considered signs to be cheesy or gaudy.

Grand Avenue's iconic Mr. Lucky's sign.EXPAND
Grand Avenue's iconic Mr. Lucky's sign.
Benjamin Leatherman

“The city used to be very full of neon signs,” she says. “In its time it was considered visual pollution because it got out of control and the city was just overwhelmed with neon [and] it was considered to be kind of tacky.”

The growth of the interstate freeway system also contributed to the foundering of neon culture, especially as businesses began to close along Phoenix's main drags for travelers. “Van Buren and Grand Avenue used to be a corridor for neon and everything started to be stripped away and stripped away and stripped away even more.”

A mass exodus of neon occurred in the Valley over the ensuing decades, with most signs winding up in the scrap heap and a scant few becoming part of private collections. Shore believes more effort should be made to save Phoenix's neon history and cites Las Vegas' famed Neon Museum as an example of a city preserving such culture.

"It's really quite a transitional time for neon trying to figure out how do we preserve our own history," Shore says. "If you look at Vegas, they've done a great job of preserving their history in terms of neon. We aren't quite as lucky to have a boneyard like that. But it's amazing how many times we can find signs that are sitting in someone's backyard or someone has in storage. So there's little flashes and glimmers because people still really appreciate the art of it.

If Phoenix ever did get its own neon boneyard, perhaps many signs that are no longer in operation or have fallen into disrepair, such as the infamous Jester-like Mr. Lucky's display along Grand Avenue, could find a better home instead of acting as silent reminders of another time and place.

Sadly, the Valley continues to lose more neon signs, both functional and otherwise, each year due to business closures, redevelopment, or the elements. Last summer, for instance, a monsoon storm toppled the historic sign at Watson's Flowers on the Tempe/Mesa border. Shop owner Jacob Johnson has been trying to crowdfund the $65,000 needed for a restoration but has only raised a fraction of that amount.

"The Watson's sign is remarkable and beautiful and is an example of a sign that's vulnerable to the weather," King says. "It's going to cost thousands and thousands of dollars to get it restored but they haven't been able to crowdsource the funding they needed."

Gone but not forgotten.EXPAND
Gone but not forgotten.
Benjamin Leatherman

One of the more recent losses of a cherished neon-lit landmark came earlier this year, the legendary sign for the original Bill Johnson's Big Apple on Van Buren was sold at auction to a Maricopa bar owner after the restaurant shuttered in May. They reportedly removed the sign earlier this month from the property, which is now owned by Gateway Community College. 

Neon is still used by a certain amount of local businesses for signage and other commercial usage, but has been overtaken to a degree by more energy efficient and inexpensively priced LED technology. Local neon artist Sue Meyers of Bend-A-Light Studio, who has created signs for such downtown spots as Valley Bar and the Hotel San Carlos, says she's had a downturn in business over the last several years because of the growing popularity of LED-powered lighting.

“This has been going on for probably five years now and neon's just gotten clobbered by LEDs,” she says. “Its killed off a lot of neon for commercial signage. And in the meantime there's maybe a handful of us neon benders left in town or in the whole state.”

However, Meyers feels that neon is superior to LEDs for a variety of reasons.

“Neon is neon. You can't take something that's manufactured in China and put it next to something that's been around since the early 1900s. There's neon out there that's 50 or 60 years old that's still running,” she says. “When you put them next to each other, LED is going to be the brightest crayon in the box but neon is known for its glow, which I think is what really attracts people, that glow that it emits, which you're not going to get from anything else.”

Despite all these losses, there have also been a few bright spots glowing out of the darkness. In 2013, the Mesa Preservation Foundation restored the celebrated “Diving Lady” animated sign at the Starlite Motel after receiving more than $100,000 in donations from across the country. And the globe-shaped sign at Cheese 'n' Stuff Delicatessen at Central Avenue and Camelback Road recently returned to life thanks to the efforts of local sign maker Dane Christensen.

And then there's the upsurge of newer local business of a hip or stylish bent featuring neon signs. Many of the eateries that have opened in recent years in Gilbert's Historic Heritage District boast such signage, including spots like Joyride Tacos, Barrio Queen, and Petersen's Ice Cream Parlor.

According to the members of the Arizona Vintage Sign Coalition, a non-profit group aimed at cataloging, documenting, and preserving old-school signage around the state, the current redevelopment of the Uptown Plaza shopping center at Camelback and Central will include the creation and installation of a neon-laden sign inspired by the work of famed local designer Glenn Guyette (who consulted on the project).

King, who's an active member of the AVSC, says she's pleased to hear about the project.

“That's pretty exciting to have working neon signs at both Uptown Plaza and Cheese 'n' Stuff...all within walking distance of each other,” she says.

And once Uptown Plaza's display debuts sometime next year, we definitely plan to add it to the following list of the best and brightest neon signs, both new and old, that are currently in operation around the Valley.

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Benjamin Leatherman

The Nash
The purple neon spelling out the name of this Roosevelt Row jazz joint, which adds an extra aura of cool to the place, is the brainchild of local architect Shawn Kaffer, who was primarily responsible for designing The Nash and its logo. And according to Joel Goldenthal of Jazz in Arizona, the nonprofit arts organization that runs the venue, it fit like a glove. “We collectively [decided] it would be a cool look for the sign,” he says. “Neon goes with the bebop era of jazz in the '50s since there was a lot of neon back then at jazz clubs.”

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Benjamin Leatherman

Copper Star Coffee
Caffeine junkies aren't the only thing that's buzzing at this popular Melrose District coffee joint housed within a remodeled mid-century service station along Seventh Avenue. Starting at dusk, Copper Star Coffee's triangular neon sign, which oozes as much retro cool as either its neighborhood or the establishment itself, glows with blue and yellow light and entices passers-by into making a pit stop for a high-octane beverage. 

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Benjamin Leatherman

Groggy's
Groggy's in Mesa hits up passers-by with the hard sell via its circa 1980s sign, which proclaims the neighborhood bar's mix of food, fun, spirits, and billiards while capping off its case with a vintage-looking cocktail rendered in radiant neon. It's acted like a boozy Bat-Signal for barflies over the ensuing decades for anyone in the mood to get as groggy as the cartoon frog underneath. 

 

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Benjamin Leatherman

Hippie Gypsy
It's been a long, strange trip for this downtown Tempe smoke shop and boutique that's been mainstay of Mill Avenue since its debut back in mid-'90s. Countless dreadheads, hippies, ASU kids, or anyone else in need of incense, tie-dyed threads, Bob Marley posters or, um, tobacco paraphernalia have passed though its doors. They've also passed by its trademark neon sign in the front window, which is big on flower power and just as psychedelic and groovy as the shop itself.

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Benjamin Leatherman

Desert Flame
The towering sign outside of this Apache Junction topless bar, which is topped by the silhouetted figure of a curvy gal lying in repose, not only tempts potential clientele but also upholds a longstanding tradition of neon being used at strip joints. “Signs like that go way back to the era where you would have a gentleman's club that would have a neon sign out front,” Shore says.

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Benjamin Leatherman

Duke Photography
Despite the mid-century origins of his namesake midtown photo studio, the late James Riley Duke didn't warm up to neon until well after the art forms golden age had passed. In 1999, the professional photographer commissioned a new logo for the business — which has been snapping senior portraits, prom pics, and modeling headshots for decades — and also spruced up it exterior with a new sign. Its teal and yellow color palette, as well as its signature crown, reflect Duke's lifelong hobby of raising peacocks. 

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Benjamin Leatherman

Shamrock Farms Sign
Valley natives and longtime residents are probably well-acquainted with this Interstate 17 landmark that towers over the Shamrock Farms Dairy along the freeway just north of McDowell Road. (Ditto for the equally memorable former Goodyear billboard just up the road.) The ovoid sign ringed with flashing bulbs and populated with neon lettering has been giving the time and temperature to passing motorists for several decades now, not to mention shilling the company's selection of wholesome dairy products.

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Benjamin Leatherman

Melrose Pharmacy
Befitting of its home in the 1930s Wagon Wheel Building, the sign at Melrose Pharmacy utilizes an Art Deco lettering and repurposed materials, as well as offering a vintage vibe. Building owner Kurt Stickler researched plaza and lollipop-style signage from the era when creating it along with Sue Meyers. “It's one of my favorites, and not because I helped make it,” she says. “[Kurt] did everything old school from the fabrication of the letters to the color of the neon. It's great.”

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Benjamin Leatherman

SideBar
When SideBar owner Josh Parry wanted to install a vintage-inspired neon sign back in 2009 to help accentuate the retro swank of his CenPho drinkery and lounge, he certainly did his homework. “I really wanted something with that old-school touch to go with our mid-century modern feel, so I went back and looked up a lot of old, vintage signs from that era with that classic cocktail feel to them,” he says. The result is the striking, vertically oriented creation situated above SideBar's front door boasting a tipped martini glass that perfectly embodies all the tippling that occurs inside.

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Benjamin Leatherman

Bashas'
This particular Bashas' location, which is situated at Seventh Avenue and Osborn Road, first opened in 1956 and has the distinction of being the chain's first-ever supermarket in Phoenix. There aren't many remnants from that era still left, save for the original neon sign that adorns the store's soaring pylon outside. Along with the building's mid-century architecture, its a reminder of the days when paper versus plastic wasn't an issue and you could pick up a gallon of milk or a pound of ground round for less than a buck. 

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Benjamin Leatherman

Hambone Sports Bar
Don't let its “sports bar” moniker fool you, the Hambone in Mesa is a dive, pure and simple – and a long-running one at that. In fact, booze pigs have been stopping by for a snifter or to shoot some stick for generations as it's been a mainstay of Main Street for more than 50 years. And the Hambone's jaunty and colorful neon-lit sign, featuring a dapper porker raising a toast, has been there since the first round was served.

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Benjamin Leatherman

Roadrunner Restaurant & Saloon
While most roadrunners have a tendency to quickly dart out of sight, there's little chance of missing the one bolted the roof of this western steakhouse and saloon out in the hinterlands of New River — probably because it's both enormous and trimmed in bright red neon. Heck, you might even spy its crimson glow after dark while driving along the northbound Interstate 17 nearby.

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Benjamin Leatherman

Roadrunner Motel
It's been a long, hard road for this old bird. Back in its heyday some 50 years ago, the Roadrunner was one of a host of squeaky clean motels in the Valley that were steeped in the sort of southwestern kitsch that out-of-towners ate up with a spoon. These days, its swimming pool is now a cement slab surrounded by scattered weeds and there's a comfortably shabby vibe to the whole place. Its charming sign, however, still looks great after all these years (even if the plastic roadrunner placard is a little faded), especially under the cover of darkness when it comes alive with light.   

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Benjamin Leatherman

Harkins Valley Art
Having opened way back in 1940, the Valley Art on Mill Avenue has achieved the rarefied status of being Arizona's oldest cinema still in operation today. It's not the theater's only claim to fame, as it also boasts Tempe's largest and most resplendent neon signs. Sitting atop a similarly enormous marquee, its letters were one of one of historical elements at the movie house that were gussied up during a $1-million restoration in 2011.

Hobe Meats
Bret Pont is admittedly a "vintage kind of guy." So much so that after the local butcher bought Hobe Meats from its founders in 2009, he kept things pretty much the same at the long-running Phoenix shop. That includes its neon sign, which Pont says dates back to the establishment's opening in 1962 and still features its original glass tubing. And the addition of an enormous plaster statue of a steer, which Pont purchased from the now-defunct Pinnacle Peak Patio in Scottsdale, alongside the sign helps it stand out ever more.

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Benjamin Leatherman

Cleo & Clementine
The adorable needle-and-thread neon sign at Cleo & Clementine came about in 2013 via what proprietor and dressmaker Monique Sandoval describes as a “community effort.” Based around the boutique's logo, which was created by local graphic designer Lindsay Tingstrom, it includes metalwork by property owner Kurt Stickler, neon by Sue Meyers, and other collaborative elements. It's got a quirky and crafty vibe, just like the shop. “We wanted to keep the colors fun, that's why there's the pink and the yellow in there,” Sandoval says. “It was a nice little project that signified our first year here in the shop, so it was kind of our birthday candle.”

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Benjamin Leatherman

Liquor Wheel
With the rise of car culture in the Valley during the mid-century era came an increase in businesses geared towards motorists, including drive-thru establishments like this long-running liquor emporium along East McDowell Road in Phoenix that's been around from the '50s onward. And while times have changed, the Liquor Wheel's pretty much stayed the same (save for the fact its proprietors now offer auto title loans and buy gold), right down to the red and blue neon that trims the roof of the chalet-style structure and forms the glowing letters of its sign.

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Benjamin Leatherman

Hard Rock Cafe
Like with pretty much every other Hard Rock Cafe around the world, there are plenty of indications seen throughout the chain's Phoenix location that illustrate its rock 'n' roll bent, from the wealth of memorabilia on display inside to the slew of classic guitars arranged in a circle on the ceiling. Then there's the joint's eye-catching outdoor sign jutting from the side of the building, which resembles an enormous Flying-V guitar and is decked out with multicolored neon. It points skyward as if waiting for the spirit of Jimi Hendrix himself to reach down from the heavens and start wailing away on its golden neon strings.

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Benjamin Leatherman

Wagon Wheel Building
Kurt Stickler, owner of the Wagon Wheel Building, dropped a considerable chunk of change in 2005 to refurbish, restore, and rewire the historic Melrose District shopping plaza's sign, to the tune of around $3,500. It was worth every penny. “It's such a cool sign,” says Stickler, who got a major helping hand from Sue Meyers in the restoration. “It's iconic.” It's also one of the liveliest in the neighborhood, let alone the entire city, due to its constantly spinning pinwheel of individually colored neon spokes that create a rainbow dervish of motion and light that shines out in the darkness. 

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Benjamin Leatherman

Chandler Liquors
Drivers who happen to be cruising past Chandler Liquors might find it a little difficult to keep their peepers on the road, considering this eye-catching distraction up on the store's rooftop, which has been grabbing people's attention since the early '60s. Boasting a cascading array of incandescent lights that swoop up, over, and around into a neon explosion, it's definitely one of the more unique-looking signs in the Valley.

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Benjamin Leatherman

Lenny's Burger Shop
Neon and fast food restaurants are as natural a pairing as burgers and fries. Both have had a relationship with each other for several decades and experienced a big boom period in the '50s. In fact, the first-ever McDonald's in Phoenix, which was built in 1953 near the intersection of Central Avenue and Indian School Road, was wrapped in glowing neon, including its signature golden arches. So when the owners of the homegrown Lenny's chain remodeled their Glendale Avenue location a few years ago, it seemed rather fitting that they spruced up its amusing sign and exterior with an array of glowing, gas-powered lighting.  

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Benjamin Leatherman

Melrose Vintage
The Melrose curve along Seventh Avenue north of Indian School Road got a little brighter in recent months after Wendy and Diane Christensen, the mother-daughter duo behind this classy boutique specializing in shabby chic vintage and antique items, had the neon on its elegant-looking sign, which is historic in its own right, restored to working order earlier this year. 

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Benjamin Leatherman

Cheese 'n Stuff
Local sign maker Dane Christensen did a major solid for longtime friend and Cheese 'n Stuff owner Stan Zawatski over the summer. Christensen completely repaired and refurbished the neon elements of the gorgeous globe-shaped sign atop the Central Avenue delicatessen, allowing it to come alive with light once again after more than a decade of disrepair. And he did it for free, owing to the fact his father, the late Leonard Christensen, originally created the sign for the spot when it opened back in 1949. As the story goes, Dane had been hounding Zawatski for years to fix the sign for no charge until the deli owner finally caved in several months ago. In other words, it pays to be persistent. 

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Benjamin Leatherman

Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles
The chicken is most definitely badass at the original Lo-Lo's over on Central Avenue — and we aren't necessarily referring to the deliciously deep-fried yardbird being served inside. There's also the muscled-up rooster decked out in yellow neon situated outside that debuted when the restaurant's moved into its new home in 2012. 

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Benjamin Leatherman

Dairy Queen
This old-school Dairy Queen location along Main Street in Mesa has been serving up sundaes, banana splits, and other frozen sweet treats for 60 years or so, a fact that's illustrated by its original neon sign perched up on the roof. Its vintage design, which is dominated by a delicious-looking soft serve ice cream cone lit up in orange and white neon, was used by many OG DQs throughout the United States in the mid-1950s.

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Benjamin Leatherman

Liberty Market
Rolled down Gilbert's main drag anytime recently? If so, you've undoubtedly noticed the surfeit of neon decorating each of the eateries that have opened within the town's Heritage District the last few years. Long before any of these new arrivals embraced the art form, however, the landmark Liberty Market was bathed with pink and green light from the gas-filled glass tubes wrapping the adorning and making up its picturesque marquee. Designed in 1958 by the late Mae Ong, who co-owned the historic business for 63 years with her husband, it has survived the decades and the property's transformation into an eatery by restaurateur Joe Johnston and is a gorgeous reminder of the Gilbert of yesteryear. 

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Benjamin Leatherman

Arby's
You don't have to be a fan of Arby's (or even fast food in general) to appreciate the throwback flair of the enormous sign outside of the chain's location on Thomas Road and 38th Street. Like the restaurant itself, the glowing hat-like monolith has been around for going on five decades and is the only one of its kind in Arizona. It's undergone a few cosmetic tweaks over the years, including adding the phrase “Drive-Thru” along the brim of the hat, but has remained largely unchanged since its debut in the late 1960s.  

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Benjamin Leatherman

Trava-Leers Motel
Adorned with cursive-like neon and topped by a trio of Space Age-style cones, the signage for this historic mid-century motel on in Mesa features style and charm to spare. “It's adorable,” says Alison King. “There's something about that white script that's so charming and very sweet. It makes it look very friendly and inviting to visitors. It's just this invitation to come by and check it out.”

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Benjamin Leatherman

Joe's Real BBQ
Restaurateur Joe Johnston's popular barbecue spot in Gilbert is not only big on sumptuous and smoked meats, it's also big on history. Inspired by Texas 'cue joints from the 1940s, its housed in an former Depression-era Safeway store, sports an interior mural celebrating the town's agrarian heritage, and is laden with antiques and ephemera. Another nod to the past can be seen in the lively and spirited neon sign hanging from the second floor that looks like it fell out of a time warp. A waft of smoke playfully forms part of the lettering while an animated golden arrow invites hungry diners inside to sit for spell and dig in to a plate of pulled pork or a mess of ribs.

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Benjamin Leatherman

Circle RB Lodge
Many a mid-century motor lodge along Main Street in Mesa or the Apache Trail played off Arizona's wild west past, including this ranch-style roadside stop from the Eisenhower era that featured Spanish casitas and an illuminated buckaroo that helped bring in weary travelers. According to Douglas Towne in a piece he wrote for the Society for Commercial Archeology, “wranglers were common inanimate barkers used to entice tourists. One of the most talented is the neon cowboy at the Circle RB in Mesa whose giant lasso forms the sign's boundaries.”  

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Benjamin Leatherman

Barrio Queen Gilbert
Both the Scottsdale and Gilbert versions of high-style Mexican restaurant Barrio Queen feature a Day of the Dead-inspired logo of a regal-looking katrina. The latter spot, however, utilizes it in far more flashy fashion as it's been transformed into a magnificent animated neon sign that was created by Valley design firm Trademark Visuals and reigns over the town's Heritage District, at least in terms of its pizzazz.

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Benjamin Leatherman

Ziggie's Music
The family behind this 88-year-old music store and studio in midtown Phoenix earned major props from local historic preservationists and neon lovers alike in 2013 after they had the establishment's aging and weatherbeaten sign expertly restored. And they did it with the donations of around two-dozen contributors from both the U.S. and U.K. (including rock 'n' roll legend Al Casey, who once gave guitar lessons at Ziggie's), each chipping in whatever they could to cover the costs of returning the sign to its glowing glory. 

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Benjamin Leatherman

Hotel San Carlos
When a hotel has been around as long as the San Carlos, it's inevitable that a few changes are going to be made to the place. And over its 87-year lifespan, the famed downtown Phoenix hotel has undergone myriad modifications and upgrades to keep up with the times, like the extensive renovation to its exterior in the mid-1950s.

Downtown had gone gaga for neon around then, and the San Carlos followed suit by transforming the blade sign ran that crawled up the side of the six-story building into a electrified marquee that spelled out the hotel's name in illuminated block lettering. Additionally, its canopy awning was replaced with a metal overhang and another neon sign. Both exist to this day and have become trademarks of the San Carlos. “The signs just look good and it adds to the hotel's atmosphere,” Meyers says.

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Benjamin Leatherman

New Hong Kong Restaurant
Jian Yu, the owner and chef behind this popular New Hong Kong Restaurant, dropped a bombshell earlier this year after announcing online that he's looking to sell the place. It's still on the market as of this writing, so here's hoping that whoever takes over the Central Phoenix establishment will not only hold on its historic and curious-shaped neon sign, which would pretty much require keeping some variant of “Hong Kong” in the name. The new owners might even consider giving it a bit of a makeover or simply some regular maintenance, since certain letters occasionally go on the fritz, humorously resulting in its name being rendered as “Ho Ko.” 

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Benjamin Leatherman

Hiway Host Motel
The staff at the Hiway Host in Mesa aren't exactly certain of when the Main Street motor lodge opened its doors to weary travelers. Its distinctive and quaint sign, however, is clearly steeped in mid-century kitsch of the 1950s, from its playful lettering to the starburst on top. It's worth checking out when cruising along Main Street, even if all the neon isn't working at that particular moment.

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Benjamin Leatherman

Jerry's Drive-In Liquors
Even if you've never attended an institution of higher learning, you're certainly aware that college kids have a thing for drinking. Thus, all the scores of liquor stores around Arizona State University's Tempe campus that Sun Devils have flocked to for ages. And from the 1950s onward, students of legal drinking age has been pointed in the direction of Jerry's thanks to the large arrow equipped with twinkling lights on its neon sign. Like many preservationists, Shore is a fan. “That's an amazing sign,” Shore says. “The fact it's very original and that it dates back to that era of, 'Hey, here's a big arrow that shows you that Jerry's Liquor is right this way.'” 

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Benjamin Leatherman

Walgreens North Phoenix
By our estimation, there are around 125 different Walgreens scattered across the entire Valley, from Avondale to Apache Junction. This particular location at Seventh Street and Dunlap Avenue, which celebrated its 50th birthday this year, stands out from the rest due to its stylishly vintage-looking exterior. A pair of signs with the drug emporium chain's name rendered in crimson-colored neon adorn the building, with one perched atop a lattice-like facade of Superlite-style faceted brickwork and a smaller version running along the side of its canopy. King is a fan of the signage and enjoys how it “blazes red at night” and it's still in good condition, among other reasons.

“What I like about it is that it's a real lesson in lettering and an adaptation of neon in different scales because it has the large Walgreens facing Seventh Street, which is big with this triple stroke [of neon] in it, and then on the south side there's smaller version of the lettering,” she says. "And both have a different level of detail. For me, that's the most exciting thing about the sign. Seeing the same word interpreted two different ways in two different scales. The lovely brick backdrop is also really unique and is also part of the experience.”

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Benjamin Leatherman

Sunland Motel
Despite our oftentimes contentious relationship with the sun, the blazing celestial object and the overabundance of light and heat it casts our way ultimately defines the Valley. And it's brought countless millions to these parts over the decades, starting around the time that the original owners of the Sunland first flipped on their signature neon sign in the '50s. “Visitors to Arizona often made the journey because of the mild climate making the sun a powerful image used to symbolize the state,” Towne says. Hence this motel's theme, which juxtaposes nicely with nearby Starlite Motel, home of the famed Diving Lady. “The fiery orange-red neon lighting [of] the Sunland Motel sign in Mesa was in stark contrast to its legendary neighbor, which features an oasis theme,” Towne says.

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Benjamin Leatherman

Courtesy Chevrolet
The Camelback Corridor wouldn't look the same without the ever-present sparkle, glitter, and glow provided by the iconic and historic sign at Courtesy Chevrolet being a part of the street's skyline. Built in 1957 when the auto dealership moved to its present location, it has a significant Midcentury Modern flair with its arrow-shaped design, emphasis on twinkling lights, and rounded edges, making it very much a product of its era. A flashy tableaux of hundreds of shimmering and winking lights are contained within the letters, each of which is outlined in cerulean neon.

According to Courtesy Chevrolet general manager Scott Gruwell, the sign has undergone some changes in recent years, such as replacing its mechanical flashers and incandescent bulbs with LEDs, in order to make it more energy conscious. The dealership staff also conduct routine inspections and maintenance on the sign, both to keep things in good working order and to ensure the towering sign is structurally sound. “It's always a big concern when we have a big windstorm out there,” Gruwell says. We bet, considering mother nature has dealt a few tragic blows to many historic signs around the Valley.

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Benjamin Leatherman

Starlite Motel (a.k.a. the Diving Lady)
Fans of neon culture and local historic preservationist crowd cheered in 2013 when this towering animated neon sign, which depicts a bathing beauty taking a high-dive plunge into a pool, located at the Starlite Motel in Mesa was restored after being toppled by a thunderstorm three years earlier. Widely considered to be the most famous neon sign in the Valley, dubbed the “Diving Lady,” debuted in 1960 and has become both a local landmark and cultural touchstone for longtime residents, as well as a beautiful remnant of a bygone era.

“Oh my gosh, it's just spectacular...the scale, the dramatic verticality of the whole thing is so beguiling. It's gorgeous,” King says. “It's a beacon and so many of us in the Valley have memories ingrained in our consciousness of seeing it.”

What's more significant, King adds, is that the groundswell of support that the Mesa Preservation Foundation received, including more than $100,000 in donations, to make the Diving Lady's restoration a reality can serve as an example of how other vintage neon signs can be saved.

“What's more important is that its symbolic of our community coming together to save something that's culturally important. It's not just an advertisement, its not just an art piece, it's also a symbol of who we are and what we believe in,” she says. “And for me, that's very encouraging of what we care about and the city we like to live in. And we should take that as a cue of future preservation efforts of what people want.”

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