ROUTE 66 ASSOCIATION OF MISSOURI

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Completed Neon Projects

  • Neon Signs & Scenes Restored with NHPC Assistance to Date

     

    (1)      Donut Drive-in (2008) – Built by John Harter in 1952, ownership eventually passed to his daughter and her husband (Bill Wachter) until 1996, when the four Schwarz brothers bought the business. They operated this St. Louis donut legend for 25 years, until 2020, when it was sold to Kevin McKernan. The neon sign went dark in the early 1990’s, and was the first one restored by the NHPC in 2008. Located at 6525 Chippewa Street, just a few blocks east of the world-famous Ted Drewes. 

    (2)      Sunset Motel (2009 & 2011) – It was built by the Lovelace family in 1947, and sold to Oliver Lee & Loleta Krueger in 1971. Still in the Krueger family after 50 years, this distinctively styled, 12-room motel is now owned by their daughter and her husband, Connie & Herman Grimes (although recently closed at this writing). This complete neon scene (multiple signs & gable striping) was restored in two phases after being dark for decades. The first phase in 2009 included a new roof and other building improvements as well. Located near Villa Ridge, MO, a couple miles west of I-44 exit 251, on the north/west outer road (Hwy AT).

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  • (3)      Munger Moss Motel (2010) – This Lebanon, MO motel was built by Pete & Jessie Hudson in 1946 – seven cottages at first – growing to a total of 71 rooms after several expansions in 1947-61. Purchased in 1971 by Robert & Ramona Lehman, they operated this treasure together for 48 years until Bob’s passing on February 28, 2019 – with Ramona herself still maintaining this Route 66 icon to this day, and celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2021. The huge 6-color neon sign has been a classic beacon for Mother Road travelers since 1955, when Pete copied the design from his friend Hillary Brightwell at the Rest Haven in Springfield, MO.

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  • (4)      Luna Café (2011) – Just four miles from the east end of the Chain of Rocks Bridge in Mitchell, IL, this legendary Route 66 icon with a long, colorful history is part of the St. Louis metro area, and as such, was a logical candidate for the first jointly sponsored NPS grant application by two state associations – Missouri & Illinois. Built by Irma Rafaelle & her husband in the late 1920’s, she operated it for almost 50 years until 1974. After a series of ownership changes, Larry Wofford has now owned it since 1998. The 7-color neon sign on the road side and the crescent moon neon sign on the tall false front were both restored in 2011, after being dark for decades.


  • (5)      Crestwood Bowl (2012). – It was built in 1957 by three St. Louis area bowling stars, who sold it to bowling champion Ray Bluth in 1973. He and his son Mike have proudly operated and maintained this property for almost 50 years now. The neon sign went dark in 2009, and was then restored in 2012 by the NHPC. It is one of only four signs in St. Louis County designated as a “County Landmark.” Located at 9822 Watson Road in Crestwood, MO.

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  • (6)      “Vic Suhling / Gas for Less” (2013) – Now the “calling card” in front of the new Litchfield Museum & Route 66 Welcome Center, the sign was erected in 1957 for Vic Suhling’s new gas station there, directly across the street from the Ariston Café. The business and sign shut down in 1973 when I-55 opened around Litchfield, IL. The station was razed in 1990, but the sign stood there for 40 years as a neglected, silent sentinel until it was restored in 2013 (again jointly with the Route 66 Association of Illinois.)

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  • (7)      Skylark Motel (VFW Post 2482) (2014) – The motel opened in 1952 and operated until the late 1970’s – and then was later acquired by the St. Clair VFW in 1993. This complete neon scene includes as its highlight the spectacular neon-lit Art Deco tower, a unique sight not found anywhere else on the Mother Road. A total rehab of the tower itself and replacement of all the glass blocks were also a part of the project. The VFW Post is located 1.5 miles west of I-44 exit 239, on the north side outer road.

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  • (8)      “Modern Cabins” (Graystone Heights) (2014) – Margaret & Ben Brewer opened this small 9-unit tourist court in 1935, made of native Missouri “giraffe stone.” The business thrived until 1960 when I-44 opened around Springfield, MO. Russell & Betty Schweke purchased the property shortly thereafter for their “R&S Floral” business. Their son John & his wife Alexa now operate that same 60-year old business, and are proud of its Route 66 heritage, as demonstrated by the 2014 restoration of the original neon sign from its days as a tourist court. Three of the four original cabin buildings still remain, and can be found just 5 miles west of I-44 exit 72, at 9323 MO Highway 266.

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  • (9)        Boots Court (2015-16) – Arthur Boots built the original 8-room motel in 1939 at the “Crossroads of America” (then US 66 & 71 in Carthage – Garrison & Central Avenues). After 5 more rooms were added in 1946, the motel was lovingly cared for by Reuben & Rachel Asplin for 44 years (1948-1991), after which it declined – closing as a motel in 2001, and on the brink of destruction in 2011 when it was rescued by Debye Harvey & her sister Priscilla Bledshaw. Both the motel and neon sign were restored to their 1950’s heyday in 2012-13; and the remaining architectural green neon shown here enjoyed a grand relighting on April 9, 2016.


  • (10)     Chicken Basket (2016-17) – Originating around 1930 in a next door service station, the present building was built in 1946 by founder Irv Kolarik – then in Hinsdale, IL but now a part of the Willowbrook community. It was purchased by restauranteur Dell Rhea in 1963, who operated it with his wife Grace until their son Patrick took over the business in 1986. The 75-year old, restored neon sign has remained a colorful calling card for the Chicken Basket ever since 1946, during which time the restaurant has received numerous accolades and awards.  (Purchased by the Lombardi family in 2019)

      (11)     Wilder’s Restaurant (2017-18) Located at 1216 S. Main St. in Joplin, Wilder’s is actually 5 blocks off the Route 66 intersection at 7th & Main.  Nevertheless, its classy neon sign that hangs over the front door, its recently restored rooftop neon sign shown here (that lights up the night sky in downtown Joplin) and its long restaurant history back to 1928, all make it an extended Route 66 business that has been operated since 1996 by Mike & Marsha Pawlus.

      (12)     Ariston Café (2018-19) – Originally established in 1924 in Carlinville, IL by Pete Adam, he moved the business to Litchfield, IL in 1929 and then built the current restaurant in 1935 at 413 N. Old Route 66. Nick & Demi Adam inherited the business in 1966, and for 52 years until 2018, became the acclaimed owners of this legendary establishment, as well as respected ambassadors for the Road itself. This project included the restoration of the two neon signs on the front arched façade, plus the neon window accents, in order to reinstate the vintage appearance during its Route 66 heyday.

      (13)     Red Cedar Inn (2020) – Former bootleggers James & Bill Smith built the Red Cedar Restaurant & Tavern in 1934-35 on newly designated US66 in Pacific, MO (now listed as 1047 East Osage St.). The restaurant became extremely popular amongst both the local patrons and Route 66 travelers from around the world. It remained in the Smith family during its entire life until they closed it and turned out the neon sign over the front door on March 7, 2005. In 2017, the City of Pacific purchased the building and plans to convert it into a welcome center and regional museum.

       (14)    Paramount Jewelers (2021) – Located in the St. Louis suburb of Maplewood, at 7348 Manchester Avenue (the original Route 66 in 1926-  33), Paramount Jewelers celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2021 with a complete restoration of its iconic neon sign that was installed in 1962. Founded by Arnold Hirsh in 1946, current owner Paul Buenger began working there in 1979, and finally took over the business in 2008. It is one of only four signs in St. Louis County designated as a “County Landmark.”

Submitted by Jim Thole

January 22, 2022



P.O. Box 8117
St. Louis, MO 63156

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