08 April 2009

The Great Neon Sign As Civic Soul, or: Tulsa's Getting Its Route 66 Meadow Gold Sign Back

2020.(Updated with a link to ModernTulsa, who has a couple of gorgeous pictures. Scroll to end of post).

We here in the City Of Unicorns and Roses should relate to this story.

While not a point of controversy, the reaction of the Tulsa, Oklahoma community to the final fate of the Meadow Gold Dairy sign, a great neon bauble with nearly the same landmark status along Historic US 66, seems to be in the same class of public affection as the emotion the Made in Oregon sign garners.

According to Tulsa's The News On 6, The Meadow Gold Dairy sign was a fondly remembered landmark at the corner of East 11th Street and South Lewis Avenue, about a mile east of the downtown core, for many:

In the 1930's, Meadow Gold put it up atop a small building at 11th and Lewis.  It was a beacon along Route 66 until sometime in the 1970's.

"It's more than just a sign, it lives in people's hearts and memories it truly is a landmark," said Lee Anne Ziegler.

Meadow Gold, while still a regional brand across several Western states, appears to have moved on from Tulsa. But the sign remained for decades. Recently, the owner of the old building the sign rested on decided to raze that building. Local Tulsans sprang unto the breach:

The Tulsa Foundation for Architecture and others mounted a sign rescue project.  They got a grant from the National Parks Service Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program.  They were able to take the sign down and begin restoration.  Other grants and donations helped finish the project

"I just wanted it to be like I remember when I was a kid driving down Route 66," said architect Steve Vogt.

Of course, this wasn't meant as much of analogy: the power players and the people who consider themselves "stakeholders" in the discussion have much different attitudes and connections. But it would do everyone well in such discussions of changing the visual character of city skylines to remember that, whether or not they want to admit it, the public will claim a certain "ownership" to something that forms the backdrop of their very lives.

In a visual and subjective way, it becomes public property. The citizens of Tulsa handled it one way, and we're handling it ours. Adopting an "our way or the highway" approach, as the U of O side has done has, instead of being seen as an assertion of a fundamental American value, that of private property rights and doing with what belongs to you as you see fit, has instead come off as arrogant fiat. And then they ran into Randy Leonard.

Such is the course of the visual landscape. You may own a part of it, but frequently, it only seems that way. As for Tulsa, I'd suggest Unicorns, but I don't think that would get very far with them.

It all makes me think of that old T & R Truck Stop sign on I-5 at Albany. I think it's mostly gone now. And nobody has a picture of it. Pity ...

Update: The proprietor of the blog ModernTulsa, Cole Cunningham, pointed me to an post at his place which has (as already stated) two gorgeous vintage photos of the Meadow Gold Sign. Enjoy, and thanks for sharing them, Cole!

NB: The photo in this posting of the Meadow Gold sign was from the Wikipedia article on Tulsa, and is public domain.

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moderntulsa said...

Great to hear the word has spread all the way to Portland! I just posted more about this along with some photos @ http://www.moderntulsa.net/2009/04/08/meadow-gold-sign-resurrected/

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

No problem spreading the word on this highly admirable project. My commentary was meant to center on the way people feel the visual environment "belongs" to them regardless of who owns the physical works, and I was fascinated the way that manifested itself in Tulsa.

Truly this sentiment is a common thing.

In Portland, we have our own set of problems, but we work them out evenually. With unicorns!