Giant Saguaro Neon To Light Up Revitalized Historic Miracle Mile Areaby Charles Spillar on Feb. 23, 2010, under arts, Tucson Art
Recently installation was completed on one of Tucson’s new public art sculptures designed by local artist Dirk Arnold. The Neon sculpture, titled “Gateway Saguaro,” is 30 feet tall and is located in the median near Oracle/Adams.
In 1937, what is now Oracle Road from today’s Miracle Mile to Drachman was the first divided highway in Arizona, with roundabouts at both ends. Because of the wide medians, it was considered to be very safe and was called the Miracle Mile of Safety by Arizona Highways. It was part of the main motor route through Tucson, US Routes 80 and 89. The public sculpture project is part of the Oracle/Main/Drachman intersection reconfiguration, which removed the final remaining roundabout that gave the area its name.
After I-10 opened, the area fell into decline and Miracle Mile became synonymous with drugs and prostitution in the minds of many. In the late 70′s the road was renamed to Oracle as a result of that stigma.
The design of the sculpture is homage to the neon signs of the motels and restaurants along the Miracle Mile, a number of which remain. After the Ye Olde Lantern sign came down the artist, Dirk Arnold, felt like the area had lost an iconic image, and wanted the public art he created to be of a similar scale to replace that loss. The Saguaro is an iconic image of Tucson because the city is bracketed by two units of a national park dedicated to the preservation of the Saguaro.
The sign-like structure located in the median was inspired by local historic sign designs. The northbound side says Miracle Mile to remind drivers of the traffic circle that was lost in the project that made the artwork possible, and also to reclaim the name “Miracle Mile” because the area is indeed recovering. The southbound side says Tucson because the Miracle Mile area continues to be the northern gateway into downtown Tucson.
This is Arnold’s first public art project and he was selected from a large number of applicants. The main reason he applied for it was because the Miracle Mile area is one of his favorite parts of town and is the home to many historic neon signs he has recreated in his “Signs of Tucson” refrigerator magnets. (www.endangeredarchitecture.com).
Cook & Company Sign Makers, a locally owned sign shop, fabricated the sculpture. Dirk first got to know Cook & Company when they helped him save and move the Ye Olde Lantern sign into his backyard a couple of years ago. Jude Cook, the owner, has a great appreciation for the vanishing historic neon sign culture of Tucson.
Whereas, the public neon sculpture is not ready as yet for lighting, it will be within the next few weeks.
The area’s Gateway Business Alliance will be hosting a historic open house and tour of the Miracle Mile area on April 24. Details at: www.celebratehistorictucson.com.
I was able to attend last year and highly recommend it to the public. By visiting the area you will see the amazing progress that has been achieved in the past few years. It will soon be the shining star it once was and artist Dirk Arnold’s giant sculpture will light the way.