Best Kept Secret

Neon Heritage Preservation Committee

The Neon Heritage Preservation Committee of the Route 66 Association of Missouri consists of four windbreaker-wearing guys who look as sporty and ready to drive off into the sunset as Martin Milner did in that old 1960s TV show Route 66. There's Jim Thole, banker and photographer; Esley Hamilton, renowned St. Louis County Parks preservationist and historian; David Hutson, expert glass-bender and restorationist at Neon Time in St. Charles; and Bob Gehl, publicist and über-enthusiast. This unbeatable "Team Neon" has obtained cost-share grants to relight the night from the U.S. National Park Service's Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program each year they have applied, beginning in 2008 with the Donut Drive-In on Chippewa Street in south St. Louis. Two other old neons in the metro area now shine again thanks to their efforts: the Luna Café in Mitchell, Illinois, and the Crestwood Bowl in Crestwood. What's the next gleam in the quartet's eyes? This fall, they've again partnered with the Illinois Route 66 Association on the restoration of the "Vic" Suhling Gas For Less beacon at the new Route 66 Welcome Center in Litchfield. Who can predict what they'll fix after that — Spencer's Grill in Kirkwood or Auto Seat Covers on Gravois Avenue? Look for a sign.

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