By Mary Ann Buckner
LAST SUMMER I spent a few days with a friend on a mission to photograph lighthouses on Michigan’s west coast along Lake Michigan. As a sidelight, we also took photos of some vintage signs along our journey. Here are the roadside highlights of our adventure.
The Lakeland Motel, located in Ludington, Michigan, has a large, colorful eye-catching sign. The words, “LAKE” and “LAND” are in all capital letters on red squares, while the “MOTEL” letters are on a bluish square. We didn’t investigate the motel itself, since we were attempting to photograph a lighthouse before the sun set. I have a feeling, however, that the motel has a vintage feel like its sign.
The Blue Spruce Motel
The Blue Spruce Motel’s tree-shaped sign dates to 1949 and is also located in Ludington on North Ferry Street. The motel is named for the blue spruce trees that surround the property. As the sign indicates, we found it amusing that such a retro motel would consider itself “cutting edge.”
Dog n Suds Drive-In
My friend and I are proud to say we’ve now had hot dogs at the Dog n Suds Drive-In, a visual roadside treat located in Montague, Michigan. Much like today’s Sonic Drive-in, Dog n Suds is a series of low-lying roofs with eaves to protect car diners from the elements. Their red and yellow sign features a dog named Rover wearing a chef ’s hat and toting a tray of food and a frosty mug of root beer. The words “DOG N SUDS,” are written directly below on a yellow picket fence. Below that are the words “Car Hops and Curb Service.” Two teachers from Champaign, Illinois are credited with starting the drive-in in 1953. The drive-in is famous for their Coney dogs and of course, suds (root beer).
Four Season’s Diner (formerly Lester’s)
The Four Season’s Diner, formerly called Lester’s, is located on the corner of Maple and Main Streets in the western Ohio town of Bryan. Years ago, my niece told me about this impressive sign. When it opened as Lester’s Diner in 1965, it was famous for its 14-ounce cup of coffee. The sign looms higher than the building itself, and the word “DINER” is written in large red capital letters. The slanted coffee cup has a neon-lit arrow which appears to be flowing out of the cup. And though it was midmorning when I was here, the neon lights on the arrow were fully functioning. A must see!
Editor’s Note: This is one of three original locations of Lester’s Diner, the others being in Sarasota, Florida and Phoenix, Arizona. The Phoenix location at 1747 NW Grand Avenue is still operating as Mel’s Diner. It was renamed when the diner’s sign was used as the backdrop for the television series, Alice that aired from 1976-1985 on CBS.
Balyeats Coffee Shop
I spied the Balyeats Coffee Shop from U.S. Route 30 as I was passing through Van Wert, Ohio. It is located on East Main Street, directly across from the courthouse. Pronounced “Bal-yats,” a wall sign proclaims it to be “nationally famous since 1924.” Their renown, other than coffee, is pastries and pies. The shop had the first neon sign in Van Wert. In the mid 1970’s the town government wanted it removed for being too “old fashioned.” The sign remained, however, because the owner couldn’t afford to replace it. The coffee shop sign is a bit shabby looking but the red, white, and blue letters were lit and properly functioning. The words “Young Fried Chicken” caught my eye. Due to time restraints, I didn’t stop in but plan to next time I’m in the neighborhood.
Mary Ann Buckner is a photographer from Louisville, Kentucky. She is an SCA member and a devotee of all things vintage.
Did you enjoy this article? Join the SCA and get full access to all the content on this site. This article originally appeared in the SCA Road Notes, Winter 2014, Vol. 22, No. 4. SCA Road Notes, informally known as SCA News, is a quarterly publication and a member benefit of the Society for Commercial Archeology. Back issues are available for download.
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