Back in the days when there was no dark sky movement, bright neon lights beckoned with promises of fun, excitement, and happy times. Route 66 (Central Avenue) enticed locals and tourists with an avenue of flashing neon signs for restaurants, motor courts, and other businesses.
The rise of the automobile had a significant impact on Central Avenue and Nob Hill. In 1937, when Central Avenue was designated as a part of U.S. Route 66, the presence of both travelers and residents in the neighborhood resulted in a mix of businesses catering to both markets.
Some of the historic Route 66 business signs still exist in Nob Hill. In addition, the gateways to Nob Hill have been enhanced with neon archways; new businesses and renovated business have added modern neon signs. The Nob Hill Gateways were installed in 1993 spanning Central Avenue, Girard Boulevard, and Monte Vista Avenue NE.
Some of the historic signs in the Nob Hill neighborhood still exist — though the businesses from the times do not continue.
Highland Theater, built in 1950, was the farthest east suburban theater for years. Its vertical neon sign continues to contribute to the “bright lights” image of Route 66. The theater closed in 1995. The sign’s Art Deco details enhance a simple, large box.
De Anza Motor Lodge
At 4301 Central Avenue NE, De Anza Motor Lodge was built in 1939 by Charles G. Wallace, a local trader of Zuni art and pottery, who remained the owner until 1983. Wallace decorated the motel with a variety of Native American art, including a series of murals by Zuni artist Tony Edaakie in a basement room.
The motel was purchased by the city of Albuquerque in 2003. Ultimately, all but two smaller buildings were demolished and replaced by a new apartment complex preserving some historic elements including the two surviving buildings, the neon sign, and the Zuni murals.
The building was added to the New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties in 2003 and the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. In 2012, it was designated a Historic Landmark by the city of Albuquerque.
Morningside Shopping Center
Found on the corner of Morningside and Central Avenue NE, this historic shopping center dates back to the 1940s. It once featured shops and restaurants, such as the defunct El Cortez Restaurant. The building still stands and is marked by a 1960s neon sign of two green rectangles with white text on metal supports.
Premier Motel opened in 1941, located at 3820 Central Avenue SE with an annex located at 119 S. Aliso Ave. The motel evolved into a U-shaped complex in the early 1970s, which now is an apartment complex. Its neon sign remains, though it was painted over with brown paint. By the 1960s, a modern vertical neon sign with red and white circles appeared on the corner.
Modern Auto Court
Modern Auto Court, at 3712 Central Ave. SE, opened in 1937 just when US 66 was realigned along Central Avenue. It originally was known as the Modern Auto Court operating under that name into the 1950s when it switched to being the Nob Hill Court. Its architecture is Southwest Vernacular.
It was listed as a Historic Place in 1993. It is one of the few pre-World War II tourist courts remaining along Route 66 in New Mexico. It consists of four one-story buildings. The building, now a development of shops, offices, and restaurants, is still there with its original vintage 1950s neon sign.
Hiway House Motel
Hiway House Motel was built in 1958 by Delbert Eugene “Del” Webb, a real-estate developer and a co-owner of the New York Yankees. In 1946, he was the general contractor for mob boss Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and built the Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Del Webb sold the chain in 1960.
The building and its neon sign have been restored by the current owners. The jagged edges of this red sign make the cartoon car and passengers stand out. A Western font is outlined with neon.
Opened in 1938. Its name is a reference to the University of New Mexico’s sports team, the Lobos (“Lobo” is Spanish for wolf). It closed in 2000 and now is a lounge and event center.
Sam’s 66 Service
Sam’s 66 Service was built in 1946 as a Phillip’s gas station. It was converted to a diner in 1987. Much of the original building is still intact, including the hydraulic lift beneath the floor. It is New Mexico’s most visited historic Route 66 destination.
The neon is shaped like the Route 66 road sign lettered with 66 Diner. Red and blue stripes of neon outline the roof of the building.