Sometime Sunday, a piece of Route 66 history will be sold via eBay auction, and for the last time leave its home in Oklahoma City.
According to Route 66 News, the neon sign disappeared in January, replaced by a “nondescript, orange-and-white lettered backlit sign”.
Much of the neon from this, the original Carlyle sign, has been salvaged, and the sign was in working condition. It sounds like hail damage and the cost of maintenance are responsible for it being removed from its Mother Road post of over half a century.
As a documentary photographer, I shoot places like the Carlyle to show them as they are—and as a sort of insurance should they be lost. This is actually one of the bittersweet things about my work; quite a few of the places I’ve photographed, several of them quite historic, have been razed or destroyed by the elements, or, as in the case of the Carlyle Motel’s neon sign, they’ve been taken down for sale at best and for scrap at worse (as in the case of Cincinnati’s Capri Motel neon).
I must have had some odd foreboding about the Carlyle, or had simply learned from experience, because when I posted the above photograph of the neon sign and this photo of the sign, which also includes the motel’s office, I wrote, “…Sometimes I like to get the offices and buildings. We never know when they’ll be disappearing, after all.” Indeed. Getting them together was, as it turns out, a good idea.
The Carlyle started business in 1943, when Lyle and Ruby Overman left their pretty and successful but frequently-flooded motor court on the Meramec River in St. Louis. The Major Court was their first OKC motel; after World War II, they built the Carlyle around a horseshoe drive. The rooms featured carpeted floors, radiant heat, tile baths, and casement windows allowing for cross-ventilation on steamy summer nights; by 1956, the couple had added not just a swimming pool, but air-conditioning, which was pretty luxe for the 50s!
According to the Route 66 News post from January,
Because of the sign and the 1950s architecture of its buildings, Carlyle Motel had been listed in previous editions of the Route 66 Dining and Lodging Guide. But it no longer made the cut with the most recent book, and isn’t in the soon-to-arrive 2013 edition, either.
In a 2009 story, The Oklahoman published a story about Preservation Oklahoma and its list of threatened historic properties. It mentioned the Carlyle Motel as one of the endangered sites on Route 66, due to it being “threatened by missed opportunity and abandonment.”
Mom-and-pop motor courts, tourist cabins, restaurants, neon signs , roadbeds and bridges are all part of the Route 66 structures that sprang up in the 1920s. Today, many have gone out of business and suffer the indignity of abandonment.
It’s the “indignity” that gets me, because its true. Many of these endangered places were built by determined people, people making a better life for themselves—and if not better, at least independent lives, lives that allowed them to stand on their own two feet and even pass the business on to their children or grandchildren. I come from a family of very hard-working businessmen, so that sort of thing means a lot to me. Seeing the motels and shops and cafes empty and crumbling, while unfailingly inspiring me to see what they could be again, breaks my heart a bit. They’re dreams dead, right before our eyes, right beneath our hands.
Happily (I think…), though the Carlyle’s pretty-darned-fabulous neon is gone, the motel itself still stands. Though the loss of the sign and the slightly shaky condition of the motel itself—no longer being in the guidebook—are blows, there’s always the chance that someone could walk in, buy it, and turn the Carlyle Motel back into the sort of place Duncan Hines would gladly step into and give high marks to, as he did in 1946.
Moreover, as Ron Warnick said in his post, at least the Carlyle’s sign was saved instead of trashed; she belongs on 66, but better in a private collection or a museum than in the scrap heap.
Hat tip to Debra, aka Agility Nut.