The sound of a crowd counting down from five cut through the typical roar of interstate traffic and buzzing cicadas Tuesday evening as Tulsa city and county officials prepared to switch on signs of the past.
Avery Plaza Southwest, named for Tulsa’s own Father of Route 66, Cyrus Stephens Avery, was welcomed to the city’s Mother Road offerings Tuesday evening along Southwest Boulevard just north of West 17th Street.
Three neon signs replicated from those that used to draw weary travelers to Tulsa motels stand 20 feet tall on the decorative plaza just across the Arkansas River from the Cyrus Avery Route 66 Centennial Plaza and East Meets West bronze sculpture.
The two serve as bookends to the historic Eleventh Street Bridge, and officials hope they’re just what the route needs to continue drawing Mother Road-enthusiasts through Tulsa.
Mayor G.T. Bynum thanked his predecessor, Bill LaFortune, for his initiative in Vision 2025, a sales tax voters passed in 2003 to fund projects like the $500,000 plaza, and drew attention to how unique a part Tulsa played in Route 66.
“And yet for years people from all around the world would come to drive down Route 66, and they’d drive through rural Oklahoma, and then they’d go around Tulsa and go on through the other rural areas because the rural areas were presenting things that people would want to see on Route 66,” Bynum said.
Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith joined Bynum in thanking Tulsa City Councilor Jeannie Cue for her commitment to seeing the road restored.
“With these enhancements, we can welcome tourists and other visitors to our neon-lit oasis and encourage them to stop at all these other fabulous Tulsa businesses,” Keith said.
Artist David Hoffer, who designed the replicas, tipped his hat to their original designers and spoke of his and Rhys Martin’s efforts to get the designs as historically accurate as possible. Some original colors were unclear, he said, based on a handful of old photos, and other aspects such as whether there was animation and even where neon was laid were up for grabs.
But as the signs snapped on and the neon glowed in the setting sun, the crowd erupted into applause, ooh’s and ahh’s, and those gathered offered their assurance.
“That’s exactly how it used to be,” one attendee said.
Officials reminded Route 66-adjacent business owners of the opportunity to partner with the city in revamping their signs with neon. Since April 2019, the Vision Tulsa Route 66 Neon Sign Grant Program April 2019 has awarded matching grants totaling more than $113,000 for 20 new neon signs along today’s Route 66 in Tulsa.
Remaining projects of the Route 66 Enhancements and Promotion Plan include the Kendall Whittier pedestrian lighting project underway at Admiral Place and Lewis Avenue, the Route 66 Experience and a historic preservation fund.
For more information about the Vision projects, go to bit.ly/TulsaVision.
Gallery: Throwback Tulsa:Cherokee Strip opens to settlement on this day in 1893
Get local news delivered to your inbox!
Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.