Neon Argon Tuc-son!

by admin


I love to drive. A professor ( in support of my taking an urban planning studio in Kansas City while living in Lawrence) once said to me, “driving appears to be something you do very well.”

He was referring to the 40,000 miles a year I put on my car when living on a ranch. I’m not sure if his remark was a compliment. In my defense, I do some of my best thinking in the car.

But, I love to drive, to look ( safely) at the landscape, and to stop and take pictures. With the exponentially greater number of pictures we now are creating, I can’t think the historians up in that icloud office have time to sort out selfies from society balls from sandwiches. But, I do think ( hope) it might have some way of recognizing buildings. And I have been in many a dusty county historical society picking through these pictures, taken by much appreciated itinerant photographers of the late 1800s. Being self-employed (and on some days “un”), I see this as my work. Even when the pictures are not that great. 


I could just post these, or try to do some quickie Tucson google search, better yet, primary and secondary sources, but all it would do is remind me I’m a newbie in town and know nothing, that the pics are just from my iPhone drive-by, and maybe….that I just won’t take the time to “area educate” myself with other priorities taking precedence of equal importance and timelines. 

So, what to do? Think. And keep driving…

And suddenly, the neon of a few hotels, the patterns of where they are located, and the ‘always roads on my mind’ direct me back to ‘the father’ and kings of (books on) roads, J.B. Jackson, John Jakle, Chester Liebs. They explained growth patterns, developer names for areas still the norm, taxes, who paid for the roads, and mostly why buildings, sidewalks, cars and signs developed as they did. And it’s all here, the “taxpayer” era of streetfront buildings, the bare minimum “10 footers”, Miracle Mile and signs, signs, signs! Bring the people in!

So, I’m going to wait a while before I delve into the history books of Tucson and see if I can make some relatively educated guesses about why I am bothering to stop and take the picture, to ‘feel’ how it felt for motoring tourists to Tucson.  But, I did learn about neon. A very artistic and technical process, so major awards to Tucson on preserving (and keeping in operation) so many incredible signs. I just heard  Mario’s was saved, but restaurants are another post.

And now, when I look back at these pictures of two years living in Tucson, Kansas City is not so far away. The patterns of place and people start to emerge without even a Tucson history book. And I am transported to arriving in Tucson after a hot, dusty drive to find the perfect room at an Inn, looking for sign telling me of its amenities. 


If you are a Tucson historian, I hope you will please post and share…the details make the story.

Was this for Hunting Season? We have this in Kansas!




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