Save The Signs

Big Bunny Motel, Barbara Gal

Big Bunny Motel, Barbara Gal

Save the Signs is a movement founded by Corky Scholl to preserve and maintain the once-prominent neon signs that were, and still are a trademark of Colfax Avenue. In his own words, Corky beautifully describes the past, present, and future of these historic and unique works of art.

Neon lighting was invented in France in the early 1900s and the first neon sign in America appeared in California in 1923. After that, neon became a popular choice for commercial signs on well-traveled streets such as Denver’s Colfax Avenue.

Many of the neon signs that still exist on Colfax are remnants from the 1950s and 60s. They represent a time when Colfax was part of Route 40, the main route for cross-country travelers between New Jersey and San Francisco. This was a route familiar to Jack Kerouac and one he wrote about in his book On The Road. He would have seen hundreds of neon signs as he cruised through Aurora, Denver, and Lakewood on Colfax Avenue.

The large number of motels that still exist on Colfax is evidence of a time when travelers preferred this type of lodging and the amenities they offered, such as color TVs and telephones, amenities still advertised on the vintage motel signs that have survived along Colfax.

The construction of Interstate 70 rerouted traffic away from Colfax and many of the businesses along the old route suffered. The following decades saw a lack of investment along the corridor. This lead to what some refer to as “preservation by neglect.” Because development bypassed Colfax in the 70s, 80s and 90s, many examples of midcentury signage have survived to this day.

However, this trend is coming to an end. People are moving back into the urban core at a rapid rate. This surge of new residents is bringing a surge of redevelopment. This redevelopment is one of the factors threatening the neon signs along Colfax.

I started Save the Signs to build an appreciation for these signs and to create awareness that they’re valued in the community. If enough people support their preservation, the signs are more likely to survive into the future. Unlike modern signage, each of these neon signs is a one-of-a-kind work of art crafted from quality materials.

White Swan Motel, Barbara Gal

White Swan Motel, Barbara Gal

Ultimately, the fate of these signs rests with each individual property owner. They own the signs and can do with them as they please. Fortunately, signs are easier to preserve than historic buildings. Unlike buildings, signs can be purchased and moved if the need arises. Still, the preservation and restoration of these signs is not cheap. There are fewer neon craftsmen now than there were even a decade ago. Although neon isn’t currently in danger of dying out completely, it has definitely become more of a niche business.

There are many great signs on West Colfax. In Lakewood, Davies’ Chuck Wagon Diner is a classic that’s known throughout the country. The Big Bunny Motel has a great story and the crazed bunny holding a can of beer has captured the imaginations of countless passersby. The Trails End Motel and the Lakewood Lodge are also classic examples of midcentury motel signage. In Denver, the Aristocrat Motel and the Eddie Bohn’s Pig’n Whistle Motel signs stand side by side on West Colfax as reminders of a prosperous past.

It’s my hope that all of these signs will survive into the future. I feel this is a realistic goal and the ever-growing support from the community is testament to that.

For more information or to join the movement, head here: www.facebook.com/SaveTheSignsOnColfax

Photography: Barbara Gal
Check out Barbara’s latest exhibit at Denver International Airport, 45 Years in Colorado.

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40W Artist Documentary Series: Greg Wasil

My sincerest thanks to my co-conspirator Melanie Stover, artist and sculptor Greg Wasil, and artist and video artist Robert Evans for their dedication, commitment, and energy to this project.

Robert Tammany Evans grew up in Wyoming, Colorado, and Idaho, making art at an early age. He recently graduated from Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design with an emphasis in video. Robert uses modern digital technology as well as a combination of traditional artistic practices including drawing, photography, and music. See more of his work: roberttammanyevans.tumblr.com or contact him here: rte1023@gmail.com

Greg Wasil learned early to love the world of metal and machines. His father was a welder and passed to Greg the pleasures of making, shaping, getting dirty, and working with his hands. Greg transforms metal and other materials to craft large and small sculptures. You can read his full artist statement and look at more of his work here: www.justsomethingdifferent.com

How did he do that? Artist Greg Wasil explains his process.

Guest blogger Greg Wasil walks us through his artistic process for his recent work “Lug Nut” in our Rolling Route 40: The Hubcap Art Show.

Lug Nut, Greg WasilCONTEMPLATION:

I have been saving stuff for many years.
Mostly car stuff, but really anything interesting.
Then I heard about the hubcap show at 40 West Arts District.
I had a big box of hubcaps and knew I could do this.
It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.
I just started putting hubcaps on the floor and rearranging them until it looked good.
I had two matching caps and put them down as eyes.
Now I had the eyes, but how would I make a nose, a mouth?
I just kept trying different caps in place to look like a face, but it did not seem complete laying on the floor.
After many attempts I had something that looked good, but it still needed more.
I can see things in my head but I have a hard time drawing them, but I got a pencil and paper and scratched out an outline of a face, drew in the hubcaps, and had what I wanted.

ACTION:Lug Nut, Greg Wasil

I got some plywood, drew out my shape, and cut it with my reciprocating saw.
Then some sand paper to smooth the edges and it was time to put the hubcaps on.
I put the caps on, but it did not look right, so a little sanding and playing with different things and I had my face.
It still needed something.
I got some stain for the plywood, put in some red pearl paint I use for auto work, and stained the face.
Much better.
Now I had to make all the hubcaps stay on.
First I tried to glue them, but when I picked it up and the plywood started to bend, they all fell off.
Now that was not going to work, so on to plan two, screw them on.
I did not want screws showing so I had to screw them on from the back.
Easier said than done.
I had to measure where I wanted everything, drill holes, and screw it together.
It looked good, but was still missing something, hair.
Off I go looking for hair.
In the corner I had a bucket of lug nuts and after several try’s, had what I needed, but how to put them on?
I got screws, put them in from the front, and glued the lug nuts to them.
It only took me about ten hours to complete, but it took me weeks to plan and make “Lug Nut” look like I wanted it to.

Greg Wasil
WAZ
justsomethingdifferent.com

Greg Wasil learned early to love the world of metal and machines. His father was a welder and passed to Greg the pleasures of making, shaping, getting dirty, and working with his hands. Greg transforms metal and other materials to craft large and small sculptures. You can read his full artist statement and look at more of his work here: www.justsomethingdifferent.com