Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Signs of the Times: Starlite Motel

When Mr. Tiny was young, I was quite the water baby.  Joyfully swimming at every opportunity, the deep end of any pool still seemed menacing and probably would have remained so if my mother hadn't believed in the full-immersion approach to shallow-end aversion therapy.  One sunny, summer day in my fourth year, my mom carried me down the street to our well-populated community pool and, filled with the strength that it would take to remove a wailing, flailing, crying child that is trying his darnedest to claw his way to the top of her head, she heaved me into the deep end and told me that I would have to swim to the edge.  Needless to to say, I did make it to the edge but I never swam again...  Okay, only the first part of the story is true; I actually continued to swim and became a contender in backstroke and freestyle - thanks, Mom.  Not only did I overcome my fear of water more than three-and-a-half feet deep, I also learned to love the diving opportunities that only the deep end could afford.  Who knew that the desert of Mesa, AZ would offer the most exciting diving I've ever seen?

Starlite Motel - Mesa, AZ

If there was a star attraction of our recent Arizona adventure, it would have to be the Starlite Motel.  We didn't even end up staying at this 1960 roadside landmark, but the wacky tacky impact of Starlite's beautiful sign was still paramount to us and the residents of Mesa.  The marquee, extending a welcome to visitors and the availability of a jacuzzi room, was pretty nice and definitely worthy of inclusion in our previous post about Main Street's amazing signs, but the sign for which the Starlite Motel is most praiseworthy is its famous diving girl.  

The diving girl is the story of a comeback kid; nearly obliterated by a powerful windstorm in 2010, the sign was blown down and left to the elements when the funds to restore her could not be raised.  The gods of wacky tacky were smiling on her when community leaders and Americana enthusiasts rallied to raise the $120,000 that was necessary for her rehabilitation.  This year, just a few short days before our visit, the reinforced sign's restoration (using the original plans) was complete and we were able to visit the surprisingly-fit, 53-year-old, 78-foot-tall diving phenomenon.

Awe struck by the majesty of it all.
Ostensibly, the sign was erected to advertise the motel's sparkling pool.
Ironically, the sign has been restored, but the pool is long gone.

As per usual, we found the sign in the glaring light of the noonday sun.  However beautiful she was, it was the least optimal hour to view the animated neon sign.  Although time was short and the Starlite's Mesa address was quite a distance from our hotel and any of our mandatory itinerary items, I vowed to return after dark to witness the diving lady in all of her neon glory.

Not just a dive, but a jackknife!

I have a strong bias towards animated neon; nevertheless, I give her a perfect 10!

It is a loosely-guarded secret that a dream of mine (one of many) is to own an historic motel and restore it with an awesome pool, a delicious coffee shop/diner, and a venue for hosting special events.  Having been bit by the same bug as Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn, it sounds like I would be treading in some pretty deep and treacherous water.  I guess I won't know until I dive in.  Speaking of diving, here is the Starlite Motel sign in action; I somehow managed to add sound effects and music to the video (far beyond my normal skill level) but, believe it or not, it wouldn't upload onto YouTube with them!  I guess once you're flagged, you're flogged!

Thus, in the beautiful hum and glow of neon, we end our Phoenix adventures; we always like to go out with a SPLASH!!!

Starlite Motel
2710 E Main St
Mesa, AZ


Mr. Tiny

p.s.  As a reminder, we are creeping up on 200 followers.  Lest you forget, we are marking the occasion with an unprecedented GIVEAWAY!!!  Please join in the fun!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Pulling Out All the Stops: Organ Stop Pizza

Giddiness is probably the least attractive posture a fully-grown man could take.  When faced with the world's-largest Wurlitzer theater organ, however, there really is no other posture to assume.  Southern California is a veritable hotbed of wacky tacky - thriving in spite of a culture of looking "cool" at all costs;  never having been cool, I am blissfully free of the burden of maintaing a "cool" reputation.  That, combined with the fact that we were in Arizona, left me free to be a giddy as a schoolgirl over the thundering sound of the world's largest Wurlitzer theater organ (insert world's largest organ joke).

Capital G-i-double d-y!

The only place to get this excited over the world's largest Wurlitzer theater organ is at its home, Organ Stop Pizza in Mesa, AZ.  Organ Stop Pizza began its life in Phoenix in 1972.  The brainchild of  William P. Brown, who was intent on combining his love of pizza with his love of theater organ, Organ Stop Pizza quickly outgrew its first two locations.  Proving that wacky tacky can be found in any era, OSP broke ground and opened the doors to its current location in 1995.  The facade of its permanent residence is nothing to write home about.  In fact, it is decidedly un-wacky tacky, but once inside the Mesa eatery/organ spectacular, the building itself is reduced to inconsequential background noise.

This is it!  The glowing void in the middle of the picture is the place where the organ console and organist are hydraulically lifted from the ground to perform everything from cinematic masterpieces to polkas to national anthems.  I had to pause a moment when I recognized one of the tunes as "Oh, Canada," the Canadian national
anthem.  I quickly remembered that much of Arizona's seasonal populace is made up of Canadian "snowbirds."

The afternoon's feature organist
OSP has multiple organists on a rotating schedule;
I kind of wanted to stay and hear them all.

I tried to upload my videos so I could share them with you, but apparently, YouTube has incredibly sensitive filters and muted all of my videos, citing copyright infringement.  Really?!?!?!  How does everyone else on YouTube upload EVERY SINGLE SONG in the entire world with no problem?  I am really bad at computers, so after a few tries, I gave up in frustration.  Let me tell you, the descent from overwhelming giddiness to bitter frustration is not nearly as long a fall as one might imagine.  Nevertheless, there exist some videos of the OSP organ in action (although how they managed to get by the YouTube censor bureau, I will never know).

"Chattanooga Choo Choo"
Maybe "Chattanooga Choo Choo" is in the public domain???
The sound quality isn't spectacular but you can definitely
 get a sense of the organ's instrumental capabilities.

Petty, internet-related frustrations aside, I can't quite fully explain the level of elation one is capable of achieving when two of the world's most perfect offerings come together - organ music and pizza (plus a fully-loaded salad bar)!  It is wacky tacky nirvana.  Much credit is due the sensational musicians that lend their talents to the Organ Stop Pizza.  But how can we overlook the real star of the show here - the organ!

Look at that beautiful console!
Designed and built in the 1920's for the world-famous
Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, OSP's organ
is a total show-stopper before the first stop is even pulled out! 

Compartments loaded with thousands of pipes and clear,
 hinged dampers are controlled entirely by the organist.

Castanets, horns, tambourine, and the wacky tackiest of all instruments - the accordion!

A player piano, bongos, a conga drum, and just about
everything else for which one could wish.

A fanfare is imminent when a fan of horns is always poised at the ready.

"Stars and Stripes Forever"
Take that "Oh, Canada"....only joking, Canadians...
Oh yeah, did I mention that the organ console rotates
during the performance - IT ROTATES!!!

As is evidenced by the above video, dramatic points or particularly-
patriotic moments in a song change the room from relative darkness
 to a glittering spectacle of electric light.
Could an organ concert get any more incredible?  Well, maybe it can...

Once every set, the organist played a rousing, little ditty entitled "The Alleycat."

"The Alleycat" - Bent Fabric
Imagine this being played by the world's largest Wurlitzer theater organ.

Then imagine the thrill of the curtain rising to
reveal a chorus line of feline marionettes!!!

Organ Stop Pizza is more than theater in its most rarefied form; it is an interactive experience.  At the base of the organ platform, there are cards on which the audience members can fill in requests for tunes and notate special occasions that they are celebrating at the restaurant.  While the organist did not play our request (how awesome would it have been to hear The Munsters theme song played on the world's largest Wurlitzer organ), he did honor Mary's request to wish me a happy birthday.

"Happy Birthday Mr. Tiny"
Can you see how crestfallen he is when he realizes 
he's wishing the fat guy in the front row a happy birthday? 
Well, the joke's on you OSP, it wasn't really my birthday!!!

Citing the "If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all" rule, I can't say anything about Organ Stop Pizza's pizza.  Well, I guess I could...but I won't.  It really wouldn't matter what they served there - Organ Stop Hot Dogs, Organ Stop Sushi, Organ Stop Hamster - a rose by any other name would certainly sound as sweet.  We've been to the Spreckel's Organ in San Diego, CA.  We've heard the Avalon Theater's beautiful Page Organ accompany some of the finest films of the silent era.  Now we've been to Organ Stop pizza's mighty Wurlitzer.  The hunt is on for the world's best organs...just don't be surprised if you wake up tomorrow in a bathtub full of ice!

We loved it so much that we couldn't leave without a souvenir.
Organ Stop Pizza rigorously maintains the organ and often
 has to swap out spent pipes; we got a "D."

I truly can't recommend a visit to Organ Stop Pizza enough.  If you have even an ounce of wacky tacky spirit in the recesses of your doubtful mind and cold, cold heart, you will definitely get a thrill out of the mighty Wurlitzer and those crazy, dancing cats!

Organ Stop Pizza
1149 E Southern Ave
Mesa, AZ


Mr. Tiny

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Chow Time: MacAlpine's Soda Fountain

What do you call a happy picketer?  Is there a title for the exact opposite for protestor?  A contestor, maybe?  Whatever his job description, this guy refused to be ignored as he took the concept of a sandwich board to new heights.  It was a good thing that we were already on the side of this proud ensign bearer; in fact, the very first thing we did when we pulled into the city limits, was visit one of Phoenix's most-beloved watering holes (and the reason for his masterfully hand-painted sign), MacAlpine's Restaurant & Soda Fountain.

A tad premature (and immature), Mr. Tiny arrived before the neon "Open" sign was illuminated.  PHOTO OP!

Opened in 1929, MacAlpine's isn't just a static relic of its more-than-eighty-year history.  Instead of being a period-perfect museum, it is the genuine article - a living document of depressions, recessions, wars, and advancements of society and technology.  The restaurant is filled with memorabilia reflecting every one of the ten decades through which it has operated.  Heck, they even have a Facebook page

Pardon me, do you have Prince Albert in a can?*

It was still early in the day, but after having driven
for five hours, we were ready to get our grub on.

It being a soda fountain, we opted for counter service right where the mix magic happens. 

But the booth seating offered some pretty stiff competition.  Beautiful!!!

The mirrored bar back was the resting place for the myriad flavors of MacAlpine's
famous fountain specialties, not the least of which is the old-fashioned ice cream soda.

Not content with the extensive menu, Mary invented
 a new one - pistachio ice cream and rum-flavored soda.
She said that it was delicious...

The cheeseburger and homemade coleslaw.
The secret to MacAlpine's signature slaw is pineapple!

As seasoned road trippers and inveterate junk-food junkies, we can say that we have definitely enjoyed a tastier burger (it looked much better than it tasted).  However, we've never done so with such superior service in a facility that has been operating since the dawn of the Great Depression that also happens to be a VINTAGE STORE!!!

That's right, combining two of my most abiding passions, MacAlpine's is both a hash house and a rich repository of vintage clothing, accessories, housewares, and furniture.  A combination of road trip weariness and an overexcitement at the prospect of stuffing my face AND shopping for used goods all under the same roof left me too frazzled to take many pictures!

I wish I could've afforded to bring
this guy and his sister lamp home!

I am always swept away by the romance of vintage kitchen tools but can
never get past the idea that they're old and rusty and probably not
particularly sanitary...or maybe I'm just Howard Hughes-ing.

If you're ever in Phoenix, then hop in the old jalop' and head to the malted shop!  Make sure that you stop at MacAlpine's to get yourself a treat - of the frosty or fabric variety - or both!

"All the Cats Join In" - Benny Goodman

MacAlpine's Restaurant & Soda Fountain
2303 N 7th St
Phoenix, AZ


Mr. Tiny

*Then you'd better let him out.  I couldn't let the joke go unfinished.  

Remember, we are dangerously close to 200 official followers.  When we reach that pinnacle of success, we will be hosting a major giveaway!  Spread the wacky tacky word, won't you please?  THANKS!!!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Signs of the Times: Main Street, Mesa, AZ

We can't escape them; signs are everywhere.  If you think Boyce Luther Gulley saw a sign when he was inspired to build his Mystery Castle, then get a load of the way some people took the idea of a "desert sign" quite literally.  All along Main Street in Mesa, AZ, we were treated to bevy of beautiful neon markers for motels, hotels, and businesses of all kinds.  Here are some of the best signs that we saw.

Sunland Motel
This one reminds me of the original Del Taco logo (it might be a regional thing).
It's a shame that too few motels offer the practicality of the kitchenette.

Kiva Lodge Motel
I want this sign in the worst way.  How awesome would my western room
be with a giant Chief's head illuminated by neon?  Really awesome.

It's all about the details.
The vacancy sign masquerading as Native American pottery

Deserama Mobile Ranch
The name is pure poetry; someone needs to write a book called
 "Deserama" based on the desert's never ending awesomeness!
By the way, don't you already get the feeling that some lonely Deserama
resident really does have 55+ pets in her mobile home?

Trava-Leers Motel
This is one of my favorites because it evokes the nostalgia of 50's Disneyland.

El Capitan Lodge Motel
They've got vacancy and TV; what more could you ask for?

The Plainsman Motel

Highway Host Motel
The signs all have such a feeling of optimism and hope.
Or maybe I read too much into a white starburst...

Dairy Queen
This might not be that exciting to you, but in our neck of the woods, the
oldest Dairy Queen is in a tan, stucco building circa 1989, neon not included.

The Hambone Sports Bar & Grill
Save for the fact that I DO wear glasses and I DON'T drink beer, it looks like they knew I was coming.

El Rancho Motel
From what direction would one be approaching the old El Rancho?
Based on the arrow they were projecting a Jetsonian future where we would come in on hover cars.
How much do we love the "MOTEL" font?  But we still can't figure out what they mean by "Itscat."

Frontier Motel
Remember, at one time Phoenix was the wild frontier of America...but not for very long.
Look at the vacancy sign; with the push of a single button, a little flap goes up and visitors are UNwelcome. 

We drove up and down Main Street, Mesa at least three times trying to make sure that we didn't miss any of that amazing signage (we probably did).  The residents of Mesa sure are lucky to have such a concentration of neat signs to color the skyline of their hometown.  Do you have any amazing neon signs in your town that deserve more appreciation?

"Signs" - Five Man Electrical Band


Mr. Tiny

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Chow Time: Sugar Bowl

For all of the eating that we did during our Arizona sojourn, few places provided as much satisfying satiation as Scottsdale's sticky-sweet Sugar Bowl (est. 1958).  Sticking out of Old Town's western facade like a sore, pink thumb, Sugar Bowl is the revisionist masterpiece of a late-Victorian/Edwardian ice cream parlor.

Look out Sugar Bowl, here comes Mr. Tiny!

Living in the very shadow of the Magic Kingdom (seriously, we can hear Disneyland's nightly firework spectacular), we smugly thought that we had the market cornered on 1950's-does-1900's Main Street charm.  In one fell, Pepto-Bismol-colored swoop, Sugar Bowl proved us decidedly wrong.  I try not to get too snobby about these things, but I have had more than my fill of 80's/90's does 50's diners.  In fact, if I never see one more sun faded, life-size cut out of James Dean or Marilyn Monroe, it would all be too soon.  Offering its own spin on sugar-coated history, Sugar Bowl's romantic landscape of neapolitan linoleum and tufted pink booths is like spending an afternoon inside a fluffy meringue....or Sugar Town.

"Sugar Town" - Nancy Sinatra
Change "town" to "bowl" and 
they've got a solid new theme song!

"Welcome to the Sugar Bowl!"
I don't think it's lazy poetry...find me another word that
 rhymes more perfectly with Sunday other than Sunday.
"Sundae" would just be too on the nose.

Interior stained-glass windows featuring the Sugar Bowl's sugar bowl logo
reminded me of equal parts Disneyland, the Candy Kitchen in The Music Man
and Pollyanna - a winning combination!!!

The heart-shaped porthole windows on the swinging, kitchen
 doors remind servers and staff to treat each patron with love.

The stunning wall mural...honestly we were stunned.
This little piece of artistry in acrylics is like a
Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Frappe.

The pink, black, and white linoleum floor
How many banana split splats has this thing seen?

The menu!!!
The menu is filled with delightful illustrations that speak to the frivolity of a novelty
 ice cream parlor in the sun-baked Arizona desert.   Speaking of illustrations, the
Sugar Bowl plays a supporting role in many of the famed Family Circus comic strips

"You'll love our luncheons."
 The tenderly-wrought window painting wasn't lying; offering more refreshment than just their perfect
 pairing of Turn-of-the-Century charm and icy-cold air conditioning, we had every reason to be hopeful
 about our forthcoming luncheon.  "Luncheon," the way I will henceforth refer to my noontime meal.

Decisions, decisions...

Homemade meatloaf sandwich with a healthy scoop of the house potato salad.

A BLT with kettle chips and the obligatory pickle spear.

Even the printed napkins are amazing.
We managed to steal a few extras as thrift-conscious souvenirs.

These were our desserts - a fresh, sparkling limeade and the "Top Hat," a giant, ice 
cream-filled profiterole drenched in hot fudge.  Can you guess who ordered which dessert?


I kept asking Mary to pose with her gargantuan treat, but
she couldn't stop from attacking that thing like it was the
fudge-covered enemy! 

It's that kind of place...you can't help yourself but just dive right in!

If I lived in Scottsdale, I have the terrible feeling that I would spend an inordinate amount of time getting a sugar-high at the Sugar Bowl.  It is practically perfect in every way, at least in our wacky tacky eyes.  I've been accused of looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, but at Sugar Bowl, it simply cannot be helped.  It's the pink of perfection!

"The Pink of Perfection" from Walt Disney's Summer Magic

Sugar Bowl
4005 N Scottsdale Rd
Scottsdale, AZ


Mr. Tiny