Globetrotting: Vintage Signs

My love for Globe began with the lit sign at the El Rey Motel.  

Twenty years ago, I was invited by the San Carlos Apache Tribe to interview for a job.  Having never visited Eastern Arizona, I had no idea what to expect in San Carlos, Globe or Miami.  While the drive from Gold Canyon to Miami was spectacular, I was disheartened by the blight found along the highway once I hit the incorporated areas (this was before our concerted clean-up and beautification efforts began). I wasn’t sure I could transplant my life to an area of neglect and economic depression.

Then I saw it.  


The “El Rey Refrigerated Motel” sign was glowing with activated neon and simply captivating.  I had a sense of being transported back in time.  Suddenly the unappealing views of dilapidated buildings started to be overshadowed by the midcentury kitsch and uniqueness of this and other business signs in the area.  These little clues of coolness suggested there was more to this place than immediately meets the eye.  They represented a unique form of public art and were items that could not be replaced if lost.  Somehow the community had saved these signs.  

As I began to explore the region, it didn’t take long before I was smitten with the Globe, Miami, and San Carlos area. I found myself connecting to the history and charm of the region made evident by the old business and advertising signs.  I appreciated the classic and now very hip “Toastmaster’s,” “Under the Palms,” “Willow Motel,” “Bacon’s Boots and Saddles”, “Globe Theater,” and “Tonto Hotel,” signs hung in front of buildings with long and proud histories.  Some went beyond neon and cool fonts to include interesting shapes that made me smile like “La Luz Del Dia Café & Bakery” in the shape of a huge coffee cup, “Joe’s Broad Street Grill” in a soda glass, and the “Gems & Minerals, Mining Artifacts, Antiques” sign on the side of a historic ore car.


I also discovered engaging ghost ads created decades earlier peeking through the paint on the sides of historic buildings.   I loved the huge “Dominion Hotel Cactus Room” ad by the hanging tree, “The Daily [something]” on the side of Palace Pharmacy, and the alley treat of the “Lantin’s Store for Men” and “Every Puff a Pleasure — M & O Cigar” ads.  Later, when I learned about people in town who were quietly and carefully “brightening” the ads to keep them showing, I shared my gratitude.  These are things too good to lose!

As I explored the area, I was surprised to see that signs/ads went back a thousand years.  The Hohokam petroglyphs carved into stones and Apache petrographs painted 200+ years ago onto rocks in the Oak Flat region totally blew me away.  We are richer because of these indicators of our shared heritage.  The recent defacement of some of these historic treasures is absolutely unfathomable to me.  Some people don’t understand the loss created when these heritage markers are gone, be they 800-year-old petroglyphs or 80-year-old neon signs.

I realized over the years that not everyone valued our vintage signage.  Perhaps thinking it modernizes the buildings, we have lost many of our historic signs and ghost ads.  I feel heartache when these are removed, but encouragement with those that still exist and/or are restored like the “El Rey Reynosa” sign.  I am grateful for those that were saved when remodeling was occurring (I’m looking at you, Western Reprographics!). Similarly, I appreciate the existing businesses that choose engaging signs to draw people into our community like “Good Junk”, the huge “GLOBE” on the back of the train depot, the “Drift Inn Saloon,” “Bloom,” and others.


To all who have caught on to how important these public art features are to creating the uniqueness of our area, thank you for valuing this part of our history and working to restore and preserve these cultural icons. A sense of place is created from many things, including a lot of intangible features like how a place “feels.”  These vintage and engaging signs are features that contribute to what makes our community feel unique and special.  These are part of what make our home a place we choose to stay and why I love Globe/Miami/San Carlos.