The old Valley National Bank sign, designed by Glen Guyet
Photos by E. Groves
Glen Guyett has designed the most iconic signs in Phoenix history. He created the signs for Buckhorn Baths, Mr. Lucky's, and Bill Johnson's Big Apple, among others, and last night, he talked about his long and storied career to a standing room-only crowd at vintage shop Phoenix Metro Retro.
Guyett was the guest speaker for "Information Curator" Marshall Shore's "Retro Spectacular: Sign of the Times" presentation. Shore, who holds similar events at Metro Retro every month and blogs every Monday for vanishingphoenix.com, began the evening with a slide show presentation of vintage Valley signs, including those for the Crystal Motel and My Florist Cafe. He lamented the loss of so many of our historic signs, and talked about what other cities -- particularly Las Vegas -- are doing to preserve theirs.
Then he gave the floor to Guyett, who gave a lecture and slide show presentation filled with colorful anecdotes, local history, and even a mention of jackalopes.
Guyett, now 80, started designing signs in Kansas City, Missouri in 1946. He moved to Phoenix in the early '50s and started working for Meyer Lieberman. His first sign design project was the neon Buckhorn Baths marquee. The baths have been closed since 1999, but in his introduction, Shore encouraged everyone to go peek in the windows.
"I'll tell you what you'll see behind the windows -- jackalopes," Guyett joked. "They're very, very rare. I don't think they're around anymore."
Regarding the casino-like aesthetic of the Mr. Lucky's sign on Grand Avenue, Guyett said, "There was a time back in Arizona, believe it or not, when everybody thought we were going to make another Vegas."
Guyett's slideshow included images of his artist renderings of signs, old newspaper articles, and vintage photos of Valley signs when they were new. Guyett had a story or anecdote for every slide. His Kraft Dairy sign, he said, was one of the first signs to use three-dimensional plastic figures. His massive porcelain Valley National Bank sign rotated with just one horsepower engine and a bull wheel, and he'd changed the original logo. "Valley National Bank had a logo, but I redesigned it," Guyett said. "The eagle looked like a sick chicken."
The Kraft Dairy sign, one of the first to use 3D plastic figures.
The kachina doll on The Arizona Bank signs was based on a doll in Barry Goldwater's kachina collection. The Kon Tiki motel sign was formed out of plastic. The intentional crack in the Superstition Springs Center sign "was supposed to have gold nuggets in it, but they didn't go for that."
Guyett retired 20 years ago, and currently teaches art classes (mostly watercolor painting) in Pinetop, Arizona. He received an extended round of applause from the audience, which was about 65 people strong. One audience member said Guyett was his hero, and thanked him for making his mark in Phoenix.
Overall, it was a delightful presentation. We're looking forward to Marshall Shore's Monday blog on vanishingphoenix, where he'll talk about what we can do to preserve the many vintage signs around the Valley.
Niki has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and PHOENIX magazine, and is now a full-time freelancer.