Local councilman in pursuit of keeping local history illuminated

The Scottsdale Area Association of Realtors sign restored to its original neon illumination. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder — but in the city of Scottsdale it appears the preservation of history is also subjective.

Scottsdale Councilman Guy Phillips is a man on a mission. And, that mission is to find a new home for a neon sign he believes has historical significance for the community.

“I have always been focused on the history of Scottsdale and this sign — although only 12 years old — was made in the traditional neon with a western look that defined Scottsdale,” Councilman Phillips said in a May 3 statement.

“Tourists and travelers used the sign for wayfaring on Scottsdale Road and it came to be a point of interest in itself — the thought of leaving it behind or trashing it in my mind was unconscionable!”

Turns out that’s exactly what the Scottsdale Area Association of Realtors had planned for the “iconic” neon sign.
Recently, the Scottsdale Area Association of Realtors, 8600 E. Anderson Drive, relocated its headquarters to north Scottsdale, leaving it’s old digs along Scottsdale Road, which has been purchased by David Slattery of DESCO Capital Partners.

A view of the neon sign being transported to restoration at Graham’s Neon in Mesa. (Submitted photo)

Councilman Phillips says future plans for the building are to develop a boutique hotel at the former Realtor site.
“When the Scottsdale Area Association of Realtors moved to their new building north of Loop 101 and abandoned the old building on Scottsdale Road, the first thing I thought of was what will they do with the old sign?” Councilman Phillips recalled.

“I contacted some Realtor buddies of mine and they had no idea, but agreed it was a shame to leave it there on the side of the building for the sun to finish it off.

Councilman Phillips says once he tracked down the Slattery family, he struck a deal to preserve the neon sign.

“I arranged a meeting with them and asked what they would do with the sign. He told me they were going to remove the sign and replace it with their own,” he said.

“I suggested I could remove it for free and they took my offer. So the following Saturday morning I got a crane and removed the sign and took it home where it sat for about a year before I was able to take it to Graham’s Neon in Mesa for restoration.”

Larry Graham of Graham’s Neon, 456 N. Country Club Drive in Mesa, says he believes neon signs are a piece of Americana.

“When he came in, I saw what he was doing I thought it was really cool,” he said in a May 9 phone interview. “The piece is really neat. We have done a lot of restoration work most notably the Diving Lady here in Mesa. We are a full service shop but neon is our emphasis.”

While Mr. Graham admits neon signs may be a personal interest, it does show how businesses would illuminate themselves in the night hours in year’s past.

“It is just neat to see how they did this back then,” he pointed. “Not many people are doing this anymore and they are really special — most people will just put LED lights and be done with it.”

Not Councilman Phillips, he contends.

“Like an old Model T found in a clay pit, a lantern from Greasewood Flats or a billboard from Rawhide, we need to save and preserve whatever we can of Scottsdale’s heritage and what made us what we are today,” he said. “I just couldn’t bear to see that sign go down the same path. Even the sign company in Mesa recognized the sign immediately and although they initially wanted $8,000 to restore it, because of the love of the sign for both of us, we worked together and got it down to $3,500. This is less than half the original price the Realtors paid in 2004.”

Councilman Phillips says he hopes he can find a new home for the iconic SAAR neon sign that once illuminated a portion of Scottsdale Road.

“My hope is to go before the SAAR board and see if they would like to purchase the sign at cost to display at their new building,” he explained. “Perhaps even have a small Realtor museum with past landmarks, stories and pictures.”

Councilman Phillips says the real estate industry has been a major player in what Scottsdale has become over the last several years and that history is worth keeping at the forefront.

“Scottsdale Realtors has grown to become the major marketer in the building of Scottsdale from the early 1960s until present,” he said. “Although this was not the first logo they used, it was the iconic one that put SAAR on the Realtor map as a driving force for Scottsdale. Everyone in Scottsdale knew and recognized that sign as a familiar part of Scottsdale.”

Councilman Phillips says memories only last a generation and after that all that once was is gone with the wind.

“If Scottsdale doesn’t embrace its past and preserve its heritage we will become the lost city, a city without meaning or character, destined to dry up and blow away like so many tumbleweeds,” he said.

“History begets character and without character Scottsdale will liken to a ship nay a flag, floundering in the ocean with no country to port. We will fade into time without a remorseful thought for what was once a city called Scottsdale.”

Scottsdale Councilman Guy Phillips is a man on a mission to preserve the above neon sign from extinction. (Submitted photo)

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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