The colorful, campy neon signs that were once common along Colfax Avenue may not have been anyone's idea of art when they were made — and even less so now that most of the remaining examples are just flickering reminders of the once-great street's decades-long descent into destitution. But nostalgia, a sense of history and a love for Googie-style architecture has inspired photojournalist Corky Scholl to create an organization called Save the Signs on Colfax, in order to try to preserve some of these mid-century relics.
His first target is the Sid King's Crazy Horse Bar sign that made a cameo in the 1978 Clint Eastwood cult classic Every Which Way but Loose. The Crazy Horse, a rollicking strip bar that came to symbolize the street, closed in 1983; the building, at 1201 East Colfax, is currently home to the Irish Snug. King, who had a larger-than-life Denver persona himself (and went on to open a drive-up shoe repair store after he closed the Crazy Horse), died in 2000.
The sign was saved, though, and eventually wound up at Queen City Architectural Salvage — which is where its current owners, Mike Brown and Melissa Kostic, found it in 2005, when they were looking for a neon sign to hang in a huge space in their home, which had vaulted ceilings. "My wife is sort of a hipster, so old neon signs are cool," Brown says with a laugh, adding that the sign had to be pieced back together with a $2,000 repair job (about 90 percent of the neon still worked). Brown and Kostic have since moved, however, and no longer have room to display the sign, which is why they put it up for sale on Craigslist.
That's where Scholl found it. And he's started a Kickstarter campaign to come up with the cash to buy the sign, then display it in an art gallery on East Colfax.
"These signs are representative of a different time, especially these 1950s liquor-store signs and motel signs. They were bright and obnoxious and in-your-face, with lots of light and neon and big arrows. It was a different art style that just isn't reproduced anymore," says Scholl, who first got the idea to preserve some of the signs in 2007, as he watched development take place around the former Fitzsimons Army base in Aurora.
"My initial reaction was that this was a blighted area and development would be good for it. Then I started to wonder what would happen to all of the classic neon signs on the numerous motels that were slated for demolition," he writes on the Save the Signs Facebook page. "As far as I know, they were lost to history. That has been nagging at me ever since. As redevelopment on Colfax continues, my hope is that future signs will be preserved and eventually placed in a permanent home for everyone to enjoy once again."
Eventually, Scholl wants to start a nonprofit organization to do just that. "That is the direction we are going," he explains. "Hopefully, if we become a nonprofit, that will give developers an incentive to donate to us and give us some legitimacy." Scholl's "ultimate goal," he says, "is to start a Neon Sign Museum featuring signs from Colfax and greater Denver."
In the meantime, though, he's focusing on the Sid King sign, which will be displayed in the Collection Art Gallery in the Aurora Arts District in May — if the Kickstarter campaign is successful. Want to help? That campaign ends on Monday, February 4, and so far Scholl has only raised a small portion of the $3,800 he is seeking. Find the campaign at www.kickstarter.com/projects/corkyscholl/saving-sid.
Brown, a Denver native who remembers the Crazy Horse and its notorious reputation, says he's more than willing to give Scholl the time he needs to raise the money. "It has a lot of historical significance, so I would much rather it ended up in a gallery somewhere than in a private collection," he says. "That's where it belongs."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.