Day 24: Leaving Louisiana

Another steamy day today.  Must’ve been in the 80s at least.  Grey for most of it making for dull flat photos.  Which didn’t matter as much to me today since I had a “date” in the middle of the day.  It made the shooting time sacrifice easier to take.

I got together with Warren Milks — the genius that invented and produced Roto-Spheres:

Warren is 87 now and I don’t know how much longer he’ll be around.  I took him to lunch and as it turned out, not only was today Easter (and he had no plans) but it was also his birthday.  After lunch, I took him to Starbucks (where he’d never been before) and went on-line to show him a bunch of things.  He’s old school and has never used a computer.  So I showed him a bunch of photos that people have taken of his signs and how they gush and marvel over them.  I hope I convinced him that he’s a celebrity — a household name among sign-lovers.  I showed him a video of how the one in Salt Lake City works, the fake Roto-Sphere in Broussard that I shot a couple days ago, and Neo-Lectras which he’d never seen.  I also played the Playhouse 90 video which we had all concluded must have been the inspiration for his signs.  Nope – he said it was more like a toy commercial.  So I guess we will just never solve this mystery.

Anyhow, I got some shots of Warren at his place.  In one corner, he has some neon potted plants which he created.  Not sure when because he has no sense of time (Alzheimer’s is setting in).  At first he said 3 months ago, then he said 3 years ago.  And it was probably more like 15 years ago.  He also created the neon portrait of his grand-daughters on the upper right.  And he made the other piece above left (though I didn’t get an explanation of what it represented).

He also had another one of these potted-neons (my term, not his) of a bunny for Easter in the front window:

In the garage, he had a piece that he never finished – a lower torso of a woman:

And this sign he created as well – no idea when but probably at least 15 years ago:

It was great to see him and I’m sure this was big, fun event for him — the crazy woman from New York with the four nutso dogs.  I respectfully tied my guys up in the back of the van (which really pissed them off) for transporting Warren to/from lunch.  Warren’s wife of many, many years passed away about six months ago.  So that’s gotta be really, really tough.  When I met them a couple years ago, she seemed to be the real driving force of the duo.  A little tough of Warren I’d say.  But it makes me very, very sad to think that this guy had no plans for his birthday and no longer goes to church.  It doesn’t sound like he has much, if any, social life.  From the sounds of it, he spends most of his time sleeping.  Doesn’t like TV, doesn’t have any hobbies.  I think I’ll start calling him more often just because.  He has two sons but I don’t know how well or often they are looking after this guy.

OK then – here’s some of the stuff I shot today.  This sign was in Many, LA.  I am totally mystified as to how a heavy steel sign, this high up, can get damaged like this.  I don’t think hurricanes can do this — unless maybe a car got picked up and thrown at the sign:

This wild looking building, also from Many:

A bunch of photos from Shreveport — which has loads of interesting stuff.  I’d love to know what this sign advertised for.  There’s a seafood place on the lot now:

A big honker downtown:

A couple cool Streamline Moderne beauties, down on their luck.  No idea of original use for either of them:

This one at least is in use:

After my get-together with Warren, I headed into AR.  Didn’t get much done but I’ll be digging in for about three more days.  I’ll close with this sign in Texarkana on the outskirts which I hadn’t seen before:

16 thoughts on “Day 24: Leaving Louisiana

  1. So glad you had another chance to visit with him. And so great of you to let him know how much he is admired and respected.

  2. Excellent info on Warren Milks!

    I didn’t realize we had a Rotosphere here in Lexington at the Catalina Motel. I’ve passed it hundreds of times and never noticed it.

    I did get a nagging feeling that I had seen Rotospheres before and I finally figured it out:

    These were common in the Ashland KY – Huntington WV area in the 1960’s. I thought their food was much better than McDonalds, but Borden bought them and they eventually failed.

    —> Bill

    • Hmm. I didn’t know they had BBFs — especially with these signs — as far south as KY & WV. It would be easy to miss the Catalina Motel sign since the building is set back from the road and and sign is back on the roof and kind of rusting away.

      • After thinking about it, I’m not sure BBF made it out of the Ashland-Huntington area for KY and WV. I don’t recall any in Lexington, although I didn’t live in Lexington at the time but we did visit fairly often. I can think of four locations – Ironton OH (last occupied by a pizza joint), Ashland (demolished), east end of Huntington (possibly extant) and downtown Huntington (demolished). Next time I’m in the area I’ll check on the two possibilities.

  3. I’ve seen roto-spheres in pictures before but never thought much about them, I really enjoyed your writings and pictures about them and reading about your visit with Mr Milks.

  4. THANK YOU for doing this! OMG this is first that I’ve seen your blog. LOVE the rotospheres and the whole story–glad you were there to acknowledge their creator….

    • Another week to go — not to late to get on the bus. I also upload about a dozen photos to Flickr each night — which is about 3% of what I shoot per day. The real work begins when I get home and add everything to the website. Takes several months working non-stop. I’m glad that I managed to find Milks and let him know how everyone loves those signs. If you haven’t seen them already, at the very bottom of my Roto-Sphere page, there’s a couple videos that I uploaded to YouTube that were taken of Milks’ other signs in Bossier City in the 1960s — vintage footage & just incredible.

  5. That is so sweet of you to take him out for Easter and his birthday. I’ll be honest I’ve never really thought of Rotospheres before but after this post I will definitely bring myself up to speed! And yes, I’ll concur- you’re a good egg!

    • Thanks. Roto-Spheres are the most dramatic and amazing signs every mass-produced. If you consider one man in Louisiana a “mass producer”. Their size, color, and motion make each one of them a mini Las Vegas. I’m glad we still have a smattering of them across the country.

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