DENVER (AP) – They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway, but here in Denver, they could be bright again on Colfax.
Twelve midcentury neon signs on Colfax Avenue, at risk of being dimmed forever, have been included on Colorado Preservation Inc.’s 2014 list of endangered places. The signs were placed on the annual list with the hope that they – and four other historic sites in Colorado – might be restored.
“The signs represent an era that we haven’t focused on in our endangered-places list and are a resource that people don’t think of as inherently historic,” endangered-places director Rachel Parris said. “These are a valuable resource that should be preserved.”
The organization, which aims to save and restore all the signs that glimmer throughout town, narrowed the first wave of restoration to the Timberline Motel, Carriage Motor Inn, Riviera Motel, Driftwood Motel, R&R Lounge, Royal Palace Motel, Pete’s Kitchen, Satire Lounge, Eddie Bohn Pig’N Whistle restaurant and motel, Aristocrat Motor Inn, Scatterday’s Lumber Yard and the Big Bunny Motel.
The signs are in various states of disrepair – some with bulbs out, others with broken neon tubes and covered in rust. They were chosen as a reminder of Colfax Avenue’s historic role as “Gateway to the Rockies.”
“Long before I-70 took people to the mountains, Colfax did,” Colorado Preservation Executive Director Jane Daniels said. “It was the longest Main Street in the U.S., and we want to honor that.”
Making the list doesn’t include funding for restoration. Nor does it guarantee the signs will be preserved. However, their place on the list helps to attract financial partners and other support. Colorado Preservation also will help with grant writing, project management and teams of volunteers to help paint, clean up and assist in the restorations.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Save the Signs founder Corky Scholl, who nominated the dozen signs. “To me, they are works of art and historic artifacts that tell a story.”
Scholl began his grass-roots campaign in November 2012. He gathered support for the idea and quickly organized fundraisers for the dilapidated fixtures. The work pushed him to nominate the stretch along Colfax Avenue.
The R&R Lounge has been a staple on East Colfax. It began as the Coral Lounge in the 1950s before becoming the R&R Lounge in the 1970s, said Rich Illgen, who has owned the bar since 2008. The last time he repaired the sign, he spent $7,000. Currently, the orange and yellow sign, anchored by a glowing martini glass, has “a few letters out,” he said.
“I’m thrilled to be on the list,” he said. “That sign is the crowning jewel of the building.”
Saving some of the signs will require an extra battle because the establishments for which they once glittered no longer exist. Colorado Preservation hopes those signs will be spared demolition to be displayed as public art installations or reincorporated into the businesses that take over the buildings. The idea of a signs district is a possibility, too.
Colorado Preservation has issued an endangered-places list for 17 consecutive years.
Of the 101 sites on the list, restoration has been completed on 33. Six sites have been demolished. Work continues on the others, spokeswoman Danielle Dascalos said.
The signs are joined on the 2014 list by 4 Bar 4 Ranch in Grand County, Hahn’s Peak Lookout in Routt County, the Midcentury Resources of Littleton Boulevard in Arapahoe County, and Montoya Ranch in Huerfano County.