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An Ode to the Holiday Motel

A while ago I blogged about finding my “must shoot” sign in Montana, the glorious Circle Inn Motel in Havre. But what happens when you drive to a location and learn that your “must shoot” sign is no longer standing? Today is the story of one such sign, and the moment I discovered it was gone.

After spending three days in Washington, the Chasing Neon crew headed to the eclectic city of Portland. I’d only been to Portland once before for approximately 8 hours in July of 2012. It was a dreadfully overcast day and I was beyond dissatisfied with my photographs, including my images of the famed Holiday Motel. I couldn’t wait to return when the weather was better, and even asked a Portland native I happened upon serendipitously when it would be sunny in the City of Roses. He told me to visit in the week after the Fourth of July, so when this Chasing Neon trip happened, that is exactly what we did.

The advice I received couldn’t have been more true. We drove into town two days after the holiday to a beautiful blue sky, and headed straight for Northeast Martin Luther King Boulevard. As we drew closer, buildings began to look familiar and I careened my head from side to side searching for the sign.

And then it happened.

I recognized the motel building and large satellite dish, our GPS triumphantly announced we had arrived, and the sign was nowhere in sight. A red and black plastic monstrosity stood in its place. I kept looking, fighting disbelief. Maybe its been placed in the courtyard for some reason, or tucked in the odd storage building next door. Perhaps its behind the property, or in the lobby, or some other part of the tiny motel I haven’t seen yet. The roof? That had to be it. Each hypothetical hiding spot I thought of was more ridiculous than the last.

We sat in the empty parking lot next door as I dealt with the reality that was staring me in the face. Shock, anger and grief were experienced almost simultaneously. I know signs are frequently lost, it’s the reason I wanted to make this trip. But why the Holiday Motel? And where could that googie fantastic sign possibly be? Was it sold to a collector? Please don’t tell me it was scrapped.

I wanted to go into the lobby and ask what had happened to the sign that was at the top of my priority list but wasn’t sure how my question would be received. Eventually I had to simply accept the sign was gone.

I snapped a photograph of the new sign to notify the sign geek community but sounding the alarm after a sign is missing rarely brings results. You can’t save what isn’t there. All you can do is remember, and hope that the photographs you do have somehow do justice to the beauty that was.

And so I leave you with my farewell to the Holiday Motel, a photographic tribute made possible with the help of a few sign geek friends.

The Holiday Motel sign on July 7, 2012.

The Holiday Motel sign on my first trip to Portland, July 7, 2012.

Image credits from left to right: Corey Miller, toomuchfire; Lindsey Rhodes-Purdy; and, Matthew Ehrmann, http://www.mpeart.com.

Images courtesy of fellow sign geeks from left to right: Corey Miller, toomuchfire; Lindsey Rhodes-Purdy; and Matthew Ehrmann, http://www.mpeart.com.

A fellow photographer once said always, always, always… make the picture. He was right. To that I would add, save the signs.

– Stefanie

The Wonderful World of Washington

After coming down from my Circle Inn high, I woke up with the rest of the Chasing Neon crew on the border of Idaho and Washington. We quickly doubled back into Coeur d’Alene, stopped in Post Falls, and then ventured into the wonderful world of Washington neon. In total we spent three days in the Evergreen State, but I could have easily spent two weeks there just shooting signs. My google map is so full with sign markers it overflows onto a second page. More on my trip planning maps coming soon…

Our first major stop was Spokane which has the only bulb lit knight with lance I’ve ever seen. Aside from getting turned around a few times trying to make it to the Ming Wah restaurant, Spokane was pretty friendly. There were two signs I’d been unable to pinpoint on a map that we stumbled upon in our travels, and three more I didn’t even know existed that I was able to photograph. Downtown Spokane is also a place I’d describe as super cute. The Garland Theatre is about two blocks from Mary Lou’s Milk Bottle restaurant, so you can eat dinner inside a historic landmark and catch a movie at a theatre that first opened in 1945. If mimicry architecture isn’t your thing, the historic Ferguson’s Cafe is right next door. Talk about vintage date night heaven. In fact, Spokane inspired me so much you might notice the images below are a bit Spokane heavy.

From Spokane we went West. Quincy, Ellensburg, Wenatchee, Selah, Yakima, Union Gap and Cle Elum each held amazing gems. Next was Seattle, Auburn, Fife and Tacoma. The weather through western Washington wasn’t the nicest for photography but we did our best to make it work and it was pitch black when we left Tacoma on day three. Thank heavens Washington is close to California… it’s safe to say I’ll be visiting very soon.

Without further ado I give you Washington!

An accidental find as the result of my copilot needing her Dutch Bros fix. Extra points to the barista Mr. Combs for being awesome.

Spokane! An accidental find as the result of my copilot needing her Dutch Bros fix. Extra points to our barista Mr. Combs for being awesome.

The historic Ferguson's Cafe in Spokane'S Garland district. According to one article I found online the cafe first opened in the 1930s.

The aforementioned historic Ferguson’s Cafe in Spokane’s Garland district. According to one article I found online the cafe first opened in the 1930s.

This one was a bit difficult to get to in the midst of several swirling one way streets and confusing on ramps, over passes and whatever else we encountered. But we finally made it and it was worth it.

This one was a bit difficult to get to in the midst of several swirling one way streets and confusing on ramps, over passes and whatever else we encountered. But we finally made it and it was worth it.

The animated neon of the Italian Kitchen in downtown Spokane was too good to pass up!

The animated neon of the Italian Kitchen in downtown Spokane was too good to pass up!

A plastic panda bear, neon rooster and a hamburger.

A plastic panda bear, neon rooster and a hamburger.

Another Spokane surprise, this car dealership sits right next to the Peking Garden.

Another Spokane surprise, this car dealership sits right next to the Peking Garden.

According to their website the Peking Garden has been open since 1973. I wonder if the sign predates the restaurant.

According to their website the Peking Garden has been open since 1973. I wonder if the sign predates the restaurant.

The only thing cooler than this sign is the diner's history. The diner is built inside an old train car and has been serving breakfast since 1949.

The only thing cooler than the Knight’s Diner sign is its history. The diner is built inside an old railcar and has been serving breakfast in Spokane since 1949. Kudos to the restaurant for sharing its history on its website.

Two words: Top Hat.

Two words: Top Hat. I’d love to find a photo of this sign in full working condition with all of the neon and bulbs in tact.

Martha's Inn and Cafe in Quincy. We passed George, WA on the way which might have made me chuckle just a little.

Martha’s Inn and Cafe in Quincy. We passed George, WA on the way which might have made me chuckle just a little.

Meet your friends at the Igloo in Wenatchee, WA!

Meet your friends at the Igloo in Wenatchee, WA! I don’t know how old this sign is, but the dive bar has been around since 1944.

My must shoot sign in Washington. Still in love with Stan's Merry Mart in Wenatche.

My must shoot sign in Washington. Still in love with Stan’s Merry Mart in Wenatchee.

The Rainbow Motel in Ellensburg. I love the simple Yes/No for the vacancy indicator.

The Rainbow Motel in Ellensburg. I love the simple Yes/No for the vacancy indicator.

Bali-Hai Motel

Tiki torch, palm tree and bamboo lettering… so much tiki wonderfulness at the Bali-Hai Motel in Yakima!

Hello arrow! Selah, WA.

Hello arrow! Selah, WA.

Last but not least, the original Pick-Quick Diner in Fife.

Last but not least, the original Pick-Quick Diner in Fife.

Next up, the City of Roses. See you soon!

– Stefanie

 

Sign Spotlight: The Circle Inn

In my previous posts I’ve mentioned I have one sign per state that I absolutely must photograph before leaving. In Wyoming it was the Tumble Inn, an abandoned restaurant turned strip club that had been closed for several years. Montana’s must photograph sign for me was the Circle Inn Motel, in the small town of Havre.

I remember when I first discovered the Circle Inn. I don’t remember how it happened, I know that I stumbled across it on Flickr somehow, but I do remember how I felt upon seeing this photograph of the sign. My jaw dropped and for a few moments I simply stared. The color, the shape, that font and that TV sign. After a brief pause the excitement took over.

How had I not seen this sign before?

When was the photograph taken?

Was the motel still in business?

Was the sign still standing? And if it was,

Where the heck was it and how fast could I get there?

My fingers flew across the keyboard. The Circle Inn was still operating in Havre, Montana, just south of the Canadian border. The sign was visible in google street view and pictured on the motel’s website. This gave me confidence that the sign was still standing, but alas I had to accept that I could not drive from San Diego to Havre in a weekend just to shoot the sign. So instead of hoping in my car that instant, the Circle Inn went on my map and I waited until the day I would see it in person.

The day it finally happened the Chasing Neon crew woke up at a rest stop about an hour outside of Great Falls. Construction along our route that morning meant off roading single file on dirt paths next to where the highway used to be. This was definitely a first.

We reached Great Falls and I photographed the neon in town before Michele took over for the drive to Havre. As we switched drivers I had to confess that we were about to embark on a four hour detour, but I couldn’t leave Montana without seeing the Circle Inn. Michele doesn’t even bother to call me crazy anymore, she just drives.

Our route north on 87 is mostly a two lane highway, and we drive through small towns like Big Sandy and Box Elder. The latter has us so curious I research the name as Michele continues to drive. We make a right onto Highway 2 and reach Havre almost exactly at solar noon…the worst time to photograph anything ever… so I decide we’re eating lunch first. As much as I want to rush to the property, I refuse to take terrible pictures of such a beautiful sign.

We find a restaurant, finish our meals and I photograph the four other signs in town I’d found before heading further east to the Circle Inn. As we get closer we discover Highway 2 is under construction and the road is being widened. The sign that once stood opposite the property isn’t there. All I see is construction equipment and wooden markers and brightly colored paint. I start to panic. So many signs are gone, I didn’t want to lose this one too. The motel grows closer on our left and finally I spot it, standing in the courtyard grass. The color is a little different than I remember, the paint shows more chips, the neon tubes for the arrow are missing, but the sign is standing. I breath a sigh of relief.

The owners are speaking with a couple outside and I don’t want to interrupt or intrude. I admire the sign from afar and work as quickly and quietly as I can. The construction is loud as hell but I don’t hear a thing. It’s me, my camera, and the Circle Inn.

The Circle Inn

A little worse for the wear, but I still love it.

The Circle Inn

T.V no dot?

I finish shooting the sign long before I want to leave. The little kid in me whines. We just got here, it’s so far away, just five more minutes? But I know we need to go. For the benefit of the project and the other signs waiting to be documented, we drive south to Helena. I photograph a few signs in Montana’s capital and we head west to where we’re sleeping for the night.

It’s late when we get in and I’m awake for all of about 30 seconds after laying down on my cot for the night. I’d like to think I dreamt of the Circle Inn.

I don’t know if I did, but I do know it’s been two months and 10 days since I left Havre, and I already want to go back.