BETHANY — From Chicago to the Pacific Ocean, billboards and neon signs have lined historic Route 66 for decades.
Signs of the past are disappearing though, said Kathy Anderson, a Route 66 enthusiast and member of the Oklahoma Route 66 Association.
When Anderson travels old parts of “The Mother Road,” she tries to imagine what the buildings and cars looked like in past years along the highway built in 1936.
“When I am on less-traveled roads, I realize what is missing are the billboards,” Anderson said.
The idea of saving billboards percolated in her mind until “a lightbulb went off,” she said.
“There should be a billboard museum,” Anderson said.
Anderson, who lives in Oklahoma City and works in advertising, has a group of city leaders in Bethany interested in the billboard project that also would include neon signs in a museum.
The idea will need space, she said.
“There is nothing shy, demure or petite about signs, and they need a space to be showcased,” Anderson said.
There are museums with signs and billboards along State Highway 66 in Oklahoma, but nowhere is there a museum exclusively for billboards or signs, she said.
A sign collector, a muralist, community advocate and others also are backing Anderson’s idea.
Arlita Harris, secretary of the Bethany Improvement Foundation, said it is an original idea and a timely one.
Bethany has a “good stretch of the original Route 66 with century-old buildings and land along the highway for such a project,” she said.
‘Now is the time’
Her group has worked on painting murals on buildings across Bethany and has promoted tourism among other projects.
“When Kathy sent me the idea for this billboard museum, it was electric,” Harris said.
“We started sharing it with people, and it just grabbed hold.
“There are no other Route 66 billboard museums out there, and these signs need to be saved. Now is the time to do it.”
Mike Loyd, a Bethany attorney, has collected vintage neon car signs for years.
He has a garage at his office with a large collection of signs and is interested in contributing to the museum.
John Martin, Bethany Improvement Foundation president, said people nationwide have said there is a need for such a museum.
“We need to get it launched,” Martin said,
“Even if it begins modestly. If we don’t capitalize on this, a billboard museum will be in St. Louis or Arizona.”
Bob Palmer, a muralist who lives in Bethany, has painted murals on the sides of buildings along SH 66 from Bethany to Davenport.
He painted a wall mural near the Boomerang Restaurant in downtown Bethany.
Palmer said interest in Route 66 continues from tourists who come from all over the world to see the American highway.
“I do know how popular Route 66 is with people,” Palmer said.
“It is a well-traveled route. Anything that would stimulate business and draw tourism to the area is a good thing.”