Tulsa's Neon Sign Shines Again
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | May 5, 2009
Next week the city of Tulsa, Okla., will officially dedicate a beloved neon sign recently moved to a new site on Route 66. The huge Meadow Gold dairy sign has been a city icon since the 1940s.
"Even younger people—the 20-year-olds who would have no recollection of that era—are still gong to be awestruck," says Dennis Whitaker, city planner. "It's just really unique." Moving and restoring the glowing monument took years. "It was a lot of work," Whitaker says, "but it's something that Tulsans are remarkably excited about."
This week workers are testing the sign's neon tubes in preparation for the May 22 dedication.
"I'm overjoyed. It's a dream come true," says Lee Anne Zeigler, executive director of the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture, which oversaw the restoration of the Meadow Gold sign. "Watching it go back up again has just been a thrill."
The sign, neglected and dark since the 1970s, was slated to be torn down in 2004 by a car dealership. Owner Chris Nikel later agreed to donate the sign to the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture if it could remove and store the two 20-foot-by-40-foot panels. The Meadow Gold sign's new address isn't far away: the owner of an adjacent building donated land to the city of Tulsa for the sign's new home base.
Lights, Camera, Action
The Meadow Gold sign's revival spurred an interest in Tulsa's neon heritage. Last year the National Trust's Southwest Office gave the Tulsa Architectural Foundation a grant of $1,500 toward a neon sign survey of 198 locations in the city. After the survey is completed later this year, the foundation hopes to create a tour of the city's glowing gems.
Working with the state historic preservation office and the National Park Service, the city built a brick support pavilion that resembles the now-demolished one-story historic structure that once supported the sign. Whitaker says the city wanted to "to create a pavilion under that sign where people can come and commemorate and talk."
The Tulsa Foundation for Architecture partnered with the Oklahoma Route 66 Association to appeal to "Road Warriors" and preservationists across the nation. Within weeks, the foundation received nearly $8,000. The foundation also received a $15,000 grant toward the estimated $60,000 restoration of the icon the National Park Service's Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program.
Zeigler compares the Meadow Gold sign to a beacon that "may very well set a precedent," she says. "We have heard from several historic neon sign owners who would love to take their signs out of storage, restore and replace them along Route 66."
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