Route 66 is the most famous road in America. It was called the “Mother Road” as it made its way from Chicago to Los Angeles. Thousands, if not millions, of people, took the route in the 1930s as people moved to California. The route continued to be used well into the 1960s until the Interstate system replaced the road.
Today the route is a major part of American memorabilia and nostalgia. The route was dotted with restaurants, hotels, and sights to see for people making the trip. At the same time the neon sign was catching on in America, and very often neon signs marked those places where motorists were encouraged to stop and rest.
Preserving things along the route – including the ever-present neon sign – has become a cottage industry of its own. Today you can travel much of the route and there are places restored to look the way they did in the 50s and even before,
The route goes through several states, and all those states take a lot of pride in keeping the nostalgia of the route alive. Many are also preserving the mighty neon sign, but people in New Mexico are taking it even further.
In 1999 Congress passed the Route 66 Corridor Restoration Act, that set aside federal dollars for the route. New Mexico has taken about $10 million of those dollars and put it to work restoring signs along the state. Ten neon signs have been fully restored to their original glory, and they are not done.
The city of Tucumcari, long known for its neon, has three of these signs in its city limits.
One of the first neon signs to be restored was the TeePee Curio Shop on the east side of Tucumcari. It was installed around 1948, but in 1987 it was damaged by someone driving a horse trailer too close, and it had not been operational since that time.
Another sign to be restored in Tucumcari is at the La Cita restaurant, which featured a neon rotating sombrero. This sign was installed in 1961.
On the west side of town is the Paradise Motel sign, which was restored. This one had been modified, and it took some research to find original photos that showed how the original appeared.
These are just three of the 10 signs that have been restored in New Mexico. Other states have also been at work restoring signs along Route 66, but none have done as much as New Mexico. In many cases, small businesses have had their own restoration work done.
Just as the famous Route 66 still lives, the neon signs along that route also still live for tourists to see today.