This might seem like a peculiar “best” list – signs?  But if you really look around, you will start to notice things that are just part of everyday life that are really worth taking a  second look at through your camera lens.  I personally think signs, older signs in particular, are often works of art.  Most modern signs seem to have been  made at the quickie sign shop and are void of personality.  But vintage signs made a statement about the business they represented.  I think that makes those that have been preserved, which unfortunately are far too few, a very interesting subject for some creative photography.

Phoenix as a city is relatively new.  It has seen a growth spurt in the last few decades.  As seems to often be the case, metropolitan growth in the Phoenix area put progress before preservation in many instances.  As far as signs go that means many were lost and some were “modernized” and just lost their original character.  But if you appreciate things a little vintage and want to capture some photographs of signage in the Phoenix area you are not completely out of luck.

The signs in this first post are all along Grand Ave from the downtown Phoenix area at 7th Ave. and Van Buren St. through to Glendale at 75th Ave. and Olive Ave.  (Note that Grand Ave. cuts across the city diagonally)  Check out the Google Map I have set up for details on the locations of each of these signs.

City Center Motel - Phoenix, AZDepending on where you are in the valley you may want to start at whichever end of Grand Ave. that is closer to you.  But for the sake of this “tour” we will start downtown at the three-way intersection of Grand, 7th Ave, and Van Buren.   The Best West Inn looks like it has seen better days and the neighborhood is one you might want to avoid after dark.  But the signage on the roof for the City Center Motel, as the Best West Inn was once known, is an awesome classic space-age sign.  The motel itself also boasts some great mid-century modern roadside motel architecture.

Also check out the Friendship Inn Motel across the street.  The sign is not as interesting and I suspect not the original.  But the building is a nice find if you are into classic motels.

Grand Ave. Vintage Sign Photography - Smith Radiator ExchangeHeading northwest up Grand Ave. (remember it cuts through Phoenix at a diagonal) to Fillmore St. you come to Smith Radiator Exchange, or what used to be Smith.  I believe the building now has another purpose, but the old neon sign still sits atop the roof.  The rusting metal adds character to this vintage sign and presents some good photo opportunities.  I only have a close up of the sign here, but getting it in the context of its neighborhood could add more to the photographic story of this old sign.

Grand Ave. has a lot of character if you take the time to search it out and really see beyond the surface.  What may seem like another run down part of town has some gems for a photographer.  I am only highlighting what you might find here.  But keep an eye out for a lot more.

Grand Ave Phoenix Sign Photography - Mel's DinerNext on my list is Mel’s Diner at Culver St.  Although it was not filmed here, it is said that this was the inspiration for the late 70’s TV sitcom Alice which took place in Phoenix.  The diner only became Mel’s in name long after the show ended however.  Reviews of the food at the diner are mixed, but you don’t need to order up any eggs and grits to capture the classic diner sign out in the parking lot.  If you’re brave stick around until dark to see how the setting sun and night lights change the sign.

Grand Ave., Phoenix Sign Photography - Mr. Lucky'sCross I-17 and you will come to one of my favorite Grand Ave. signs, Mr. Lucky’s on the north side of the street just past 35th Ave.  I came across this one by chance, not knowing it was there before heading out on my Grand Ave. tour.  I am still not exactly sure what Mr. Lucky’s is, a bar or nightclub it seems.  But the sign looks like a vintage Vegas casino and it is just a fun classic sign that has a lot of photographic potential.  The colors are vibrant (although they were undoubtedly much more vibrant before years in the harsh Phoenix sun) and the grand scale of the size set it apart from some of the other signs I have listed.

Grand Ave Phoenix Sign Photography - Crystal MotelAfter Mr. Lucky’s we have two more classic roadside motels.  Back in the 1950’s and 60’s, before the freeway system cut back and forth across Phoenix, Grand Ave was a major travel thoroughfare with motels, inns and motor lodges up and down its diagonal stretch through the city.  Today most of those have fallen on hard times and few are operating motels anymore.  Or at least not the kind of motel you would want to spend too much vacation time in.  But they have manged to hang on to their classic signs, vacancy add on and all.  The first you will come to is the Crystal Motel. It even boasts a rare amenity in those days, refrigerated, i.e air conditioning.

Grand Ave Phoenix Sign Photography - Two Palms MotelFinally (at least as far as this list goes) is the Two Palms Motel just before you hit Olive Ave.  This sign is in pretty good repair and would probably be worth a trip out at night to see if it looks as good lit up as it does in the day light.

Don’t limit yourself to just the signs I list here, or even to just signs for that matter.  Take some time to really explore areas like Grand Ave that you might otherwise have driven past without noticing.  Notice it through your camera lens and it can be a whole different world.

Check back soon for Part II of my vintage signs posts for another area of Phoenix that you may not have noticed before.

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