A planned Billboard Museum in Oklahoma will celebrate the history of Route 66

Posted Wednesday, Mar. 26, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

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After decades of attempts to preserve portions of the old Mother Road, U.S. Route 66, comes an effort to preserve landmarks from the landscape: vintage advertising that touted everything from long-gone motels to car dealers to shaving cream.

Vintage signs are arriving one by one at Superior Neon, a sign company near the Oklahoma Capitol that is acting as a quasi-headquarters for organizers of the Billboard Museum, a proposed memorial to historic billboards, signs and advertising from all over the country, including those that once lined Route 66 in Oklahoma. Supporters are in fundraising mode and have set up a new website to tout the proposed museum.

Kathy Anderson, president of the nonprofit Billboard Museum Association Inc., said her group envisions the Billboard Museum as an educational and immersive museum along Route 66 — near Bethany or Yukon, Okla. — that will house and display unique art and advertising dating to the late 1800s.

An indoor museum will house a variety of exhibits, while an outdoor driving loop will showcase vintage billboard structures and other signs. Anderson estimated that buying the undeveloped land alone could cost up to $4 million.

“This is not going to be cheap” she explained. “Even if someone out of the goodness of their heart donated land … it’s still going to cost a lot of money to develop, so not only do we need individual memberships, we need volunteer help when we come to construction or refurbishing. We will need corporate donations, certainly, and one-time large gifts, hopefully.”

Anderson was joined this month by Jim Gleason, vice president of the association and a second generation sign-maker, and secretary-treasurer Monica Knudsen, in unveiling the museum’s logo and new website at a vintage sign and mural workshop and demonstration for about 30 family, friends and colleagues.

Todd Schafer, who attended the ceremony, owns a sign company in Topeka, Kan., and is a fan of Route 66. He has restored a sign along Route 66 in Pontiac, Ill., and said sign-making and restoration is craftsmanship that must be learned and preserved.

Bob Palmer, one of three artists who was on hand to demonstrate his art, said he is eager to see how the museum develops.

“I think it’s quite unique. ... I feel inspired and it’s long overdue,” he said. “It’s just another way to appreciate this art form.”

Palmer, having spent 30 years creating murals, is the artist behind about 1,600 pieces across the state, including in Oklahoma City’s Bricktown and at the State Capitol. He noted that there are fewer and fewer muralists around, and a museum like this may attract people who want to learn more about the art form.

Back in the day, U.S. 66 was a major east-west route — winding from Chicago to L.A., as the song (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66 goes — until being bypassed by interstate highways in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Many states have sought to preserve old portions of the highway to allow motorists take a trip down Memory Lane.

Although most of the old route through Oklahoma is preserved and well-marked, the old advertising is long gone.

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