Neon Signs on the Tempe-Mesa Highway

Glittering neon signs lit Apache Boulevard for Westbound travelers along the Tempe Mesa Highway, pointing the way to hotels, restaurants, trailer parts, and various shops. Signs for Harman’s Restaurant, the Tempe Bowl, Catalina Hotel, Pioneer Drive-Inn, and many others lined the route through Mesa into Tempe. Historian Vic Linoff conjures travelers’ experiences in the 1960s: “Imagine in the night, coming down the highway from the dark of Arizona, when suddenly there’s a strip of bright neon? It’s like seeing the Vegas strip now. These people were trying to get your attention while you were going by, 40-50 miles per hour. How do you do it? With interesting signage.”

Many of the signs were created by legendary Mesa sign maker Paul Millet, including the sign at Watson’s Flowers. The local flower shop has been in owner David Johnson's family since 1927 when his maternal grandmother, Irene Watson, established it. Johnson remembers that the sign cost $8,000 when erected in the late 1950s, a “small fortune.” Unfortunately, a recent windstorm knocked Watson’s sign down, endangering one of the last expressions of neon culture left along Apache Boulevard.

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