1950s

Corleone’s Italian Restaurant 195?  Tucson, AZ  map

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The owners of the Mona Lisa bakery and restaurant at Broadway and Kolb Road shut down their Mona Lisa bakery in April 2006 and created a restaurant/bakery combo on the southwest corner Tanque Verde Road and Grant, opened in 2007, and named it the Mona Lisa Corleone Sicilian restaurant. 

It was said that the restaurant resembled a Mafia front, but of course this was only a rumor. The dining room was lined with red leather booths maroon walls with mirrors all over, red carpets, and a stage with a disco ball overhead. There used to be a Sinatra impersonator singing on that stage on the weekend. It was like a 1950s time capsule. But it somehow managed to look classy, the wait staff wore traditional Sicilian dress, and the food was good.

Cross Roads Drive In  1951 Tucson, AZ  map

cross-roads-drive-inThis sign includes three distinct elements: the “Cross Roads” name, the yellow arrow listing restaurant specialties, and a foaming beer mug topping the sign. This restaurant is still in operation today, but without drive-in service.

 

Gallopin’ Goose 1950’s Coolidge, AZ map

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The Gallopin’ Goose is a popular local bar that has had many musicians come through its doors over the years, including Waylon Jennings in the early days of his career. His early career as a Disc Jockey (DJ) and honky-tonk musician in Coolidge is legend in town. /   /Jennings was born in Littlefield, Texas in 1937. He had a natural musical presence. As a child he picked up the guitar and had his own band at 12. At age 14, Jennings began a career as a disc jockey in Littlefield,TX, and it was during this time of spinning records and playing in his band that he met Buddy Holly. He also met Gary and Ramona Tollett who recorded “That’ll Be the Day” with Holly. In 1958 his DJ work took him to nearby Lubbock. He played electric base and recorded and toured with Holly during 1958 and 1959 and Holly in turn produced Jennings’ first record. /   /On February 3, 1959, while touring with Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens, the bus in which they were traveling developed heating problems. Holly, weary of the cold and the bus, chartered a plane out of Clear Lake, Iowa. Jennings gave up his seat on the plane to Big Bopper. The banter between Jennings and Holly was always quick and friendly. So, when Holly heard that Jennings had given up a seat on the plane he told him, “Well, hope your old bus freezes up.” Jennings then replied, “Well, I hope your plane crashes.” Shortly after takeoff the plane knifed into the snow. The crash killed all on board. Crushed and shaken up, Jennings went back to Lubbock. /   /Despite this setback and the lingering regret of his comment in jest, Jennings was itching to get out of town. His wife, Maxine, had family in Coolidge, Arizona. Jennings landed a job at the local radio station KCKY, where he also occasionally sang on the air. His air name was “Sky High Jennings” and his talent helped land him jobs at several area clubs while working at KCKY. In the beginning he, Maxine and their two children lived in a little one-room cabin-style home on south Main in Coolidge. He was often at his sister-in-laws home for dinner or borrowing blankets. /   /During this time he encountered many of music’s biggest names and rising stars while at the station. He was one of the first to appreciate Loretta Lynn’s talent as she traveled the country circuit promoting her music with her husband Doolittle. She played “I’m a Honky-Tonk Girl” live at the station in Coolidge at his insistence. A local band, whose members consisted of Bill Stephens, Virgil McQuen and Claude Henry, were regulars at the Gallopin’ Goose on the south side of “Cool town.” Jennings soon began sitting in with the band. /   /It was not too long afterward that Jennings was drawn to the brighter lights of Phoenix. He was soon headlining at JD’s a club at the Salt River bottom between Scottsdale and Tempe. He recorded the album “LIVE at JD’s” at a recording company in Phoenix. His big break came when he was picked up by RCA Records where he hit the big time with “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line,” “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” and “The Taker.” He won a Grammy for his rendition of “MacArthur Park.” /   /According to current Galloping Goose owner, several years ago Virginia Padgett, former owner of the bar, told her grandson Clay who was heading to National Rodeo Finals in Las Vegas, “If you see Waylon, tell him hello.” Not ever believing he would see the singer, he told his grandmother he would give him the greeting. One day while he was riding in the elevator the door slid open and Waylon Jennings walked in. Clay told him that his grandmother said “hello.” Waylon responded by asking, “Hey, is that sign still working at the Galloping Goose?” /   /On February 13, 2002 Waylon Jennings died in his Phoenix home at the age of 64 of a diabetes-related illness. /   /(Adapted from: http://juliesfreshair.com/general/waylon-rocked-here/)

Hirsh’s Shoes  1954 Tucson, AZ  map

Located at 2934 E. Broadway Blvd. Tucson, AZ.   Sidne20161123_175939y Hirsh’s mother, Rose Hirsh, opened the store in April, 1954. After selling shoes for nearly 60 years, he is now 85 and ready to retire. The store closed in April of 2016, on its 62nd anniversary.   Originally the store sold children’s shoes. Over the years Hirsh created a niche in order to keep the business alive by specializing in dance shoes and custom made shoes. Sidney started selling shoes at the store when he got out of the Army and had to make a living for his wife and child. At one time there were five Hirsh’s shoes in Tucson, but they closed one by one until in 1996 only the store on Broadway remained. (adapted from: At 62 years, Hirsh’s shoes to close,  Johanna Willett, Arizona Daily Star, Feb 18, 2016.)

Lucky Wishbone   1953 Tucson, AZ  map

20141123_175258This sign is quite impressive at night. The restaurant still uses paper to take and place orders, and has a nice old fashioned feel. Lucky Wishbone opened as Tucson’s first fast food restaurant on July 10, 1953, at 4872 S. 6th Avenue and added five other locations between 1953 and 1973. French fries sold for 20 cents, a steak sandwich for 45 cents, and a banana split cost 40 cents. At the time, the city building area stopped at Country Club, and there were only four or five businesses between there and six miles away on Wilmot St. The Swan Road location was constructed in 1957, and on opening night some 4,000 Tucsonans visited between 4 pm and midnight. The restaurant was redesigned in 1969. The neon sign, built by Arizona neon, has become synonymous with the chain and is a Broadway Blvd. landmark.

Mama Louisa’s  1956  Tucson, AZ  map

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Mama Louisa has been serving her homemade pasta and other Italian cuisine since 1956, using her family’s recipes brought to the USA by her grandmother, as they still do today. Mama Louisa, seen here in 1963 in what was known as the La Padella room, used her family’s recipes in the family restaurant — and we still use them today.

The restaurant was built on a dirt road leading to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in 1956. Since 1973, it has been owned and operated by the Elefante family. Mama Louisa’s neon sign has been around since the 1950s.   It is maintained by Fluoresco Lighting and Signs, which must be why it has such a newly restored appearance.

All pasta is made fresh daily. Don’t miss: Joe’s Special. Hands down. Whatever you end up with at Mama Louisa’s, make sure it includes Joe’s Special – linguine with hot pepper seeds, garlic and sauce. The restaurant still gets visits by some of its original customers, some of whom are turning 90.

One of the new owners, Micheal Elefante, says they’re gently tweaking the restaurant’s interior decor. But Elefante knows he can’t change things up too much. “I call her a fisherman,” he says of the restaurant he grew up in, washing dishes at the age of eight. “She reels us in. You start going too far out and she reels us back in and reminds us of where we are.”

Thanks to geocacher  Raven Art Studio for alerting us to this magnificent sign. Source: http://tucson.com/entertainment/neon-in-tucson/article_d3e53c76-0de8-59f9-bd07-3db542cb98bd.html

Old Benson Ice Cream Stop  1953 map Benson, AZ

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This place opened in 1953, originally as a Dairy Queen. In 2008 the owners gave up the franchise and renamed the business Old Benson Ice Cream Stop.  Don’t be surprised if there is a line of eight people waiting in the tiny vestibule to order. They have an extensive and creative ice cream menu, and they also serve espresso.

Quarter Horse Motel 1950s map Benson, AZ

The Quarter Horse Motel was built in 1946. The neon sign was installed in the early 1950s,  and is still lit up at night. Originally the motel had 16 rooms, but to save overhead costs 12 rooms were torn down and only four remain for overnight lodging. The current owners, Dan and Par Berrera, took over in 1989 and added 50 spots for RV and mobile home rental.

Saguaro Corners    1950s Tucson, AZ  map

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Saguaro Corners is cozied right up next to Tanque Verde Peak—literally as close as you can get to the protected park area without being in the park itself. It is zoned suburban ranch, even though it is under commercial use, and this certainly would not fly today, but the Saguaro Corners has been standing since the mid-’50s and has been grandfathered in.

Recently, this historic restaurant space was taken over by Kade Mislinski, former owner of downtown favorites the HUB and Playground. He made some changes to the menu, notably adding a “donut program,” and some new and interesting tap beers for those bikers out all day and wanting a fresh brew.

Not much has been written about the history of this place, but I got kind of an “oral history.” After lunch I asked the waiter if he knew anything about the neon sign out front. He got excited and said he was working one day and an old guy came in to eat and started telling him about the history of the place from his own memories. He sat down and listened.

Apparently this space was a gas station before it was a restaurant. In 1956 it was converted to a restaurant, and presumably the sign was placed about then too. The owner of the place at the time (it has changed hands several times since then) happened to have a backhoe on the property. Some developers were trying to develop the land behind the restaurant, and needed a backhoe, so they asked if they could rent the owner’s machine. They did, and did some excavating, but then the deal for the homes fell through. With no profits from development they couldn’t pay for the rental of he backhoe, so they offered to give the owner some property instead.

At this time there wasn’t much out here, no state park or anything, so land was cheap. The builders gave him a large parcel, spanning from Old Spanish Trail and Escalante, up to Speedway and Houghton. The land included wells with water, which made the land more valuable.    Where the Saguaro State Park entrance is now, there used to be bunkhouses for the employees of the restaurant.

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