A green glow that lit up the corner of Central and Garrison for decades in the middle of the 20th century has been restored in the 21st century with the lighting of the neon Saturday at the Boots Court.
In another step in the restoration of a Route 66 icon, Pricilla Bledsaw and Debye Harvey, the owners of the Boots Court, flipped a switch on Friday, turning on yards of green neon tubing along the edges of the classic building.
Bledsaw said the sisters have been working since they bought the hotel in August 2011 to restore the motel to its 1940s configuration, and while Route 66 aficionados have heard about restoration, adding the neon give people more reason than ever to come and see it for themselves.
“We were so excited we were finally going to get the neon on the building because that’s something people will see,” Bledsaw said. “Right now people come because they’ve heard about the Boots, but with the neon on, it just makes it look so much more open. It makes it look like what it is, it’s a Route 66 icon.”
About 75 people attended a two-hour open house at the Boots on Saturday.
Tables were set up with information about the Route 66 Association of Missouri, the upcoming Jefferson Highway Association of Missouri convention and books about the “Mother Road.”
The Carthage Middle School Tiger Choir, dressed in poodle skirts and dark jeans and t-shirts form the 1950s sang a variety of songs to entertain the crowd and several classic cars were on display.
The motel was filled for the night, marking the first time the restored Vacancy/No Vacancy neon sign was used.
As the sun went down and rain drops started to fall shortly after 8 p.m., dignitaries spoke and it came time for the countdown.
Holding up green LED pens, the crowd counted down from 10, then Debbie Dee, the manager of the Boots, turned on the switch inside the building, bringing to life the yards of neon tubing.
David Hutson, with Neon Time in St. Charles, manufactured the neon tubing to exacting standards replicating the green neon that was on the building based on photos and pieces of the original lights that Bledsaw and Harvey had removed and stored.
“Route 66 changed when the sun went down,” Hutson said. “Route 66 really came alive to try and attract people into the space. So you have this whole thing flooded with light when it gets dark. I think these kinds of places were so inviting for travelers.”
Bledsaw and Harvey said they applied for a grant from the National Park Service that paid for half the cost of the restoration.
Jim Thole, chairman of the Neon Heritage Preservation Committee for the Route 66 Association of Missouri, said restoring the neon is a big step toward restoring the Boots and giving Carthage place that will draw tourists from around the world.
“It’s just a real prize possession of Carthage in terms of tourism. Route 66 tourism,” Thole said. “People are going to go out of their way to see this. And if you’re here at this time of night to see this, what are you going to do? You’re going to stay here, you’re going to eat here, it’s a win-win for everyone.”
“Signs and architecture like this have taken on a new life in the sense that they are now symbols of local pride. They’re local landmarks, symbols of pride for the community, the community can be proud to have this back.”
By John Hacker – Carthage Press