The city of St. Clair gave its blessing to the local Veterans of Foreign Wars organization to pursue grant funding for a restoration project at its lodge.
Mayor Ron Blum read a proclamation as well as a letter during the board of aldermen’s meeting last week supporting VFW Post 2482’s pursuit of funding to help restore the former Skylark Motel tower and “neon scene” now owned by the local service organization.
“The city of St. Clair mayor and board of aldermen is in full support and fully endorses the Skylark Motel neon project through the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Project,” reads the letter that will be sent to the National Park Service. “The administration urges this project be placed on your list of funding as it would further enhance the roadside ambiance and nostalgia of Route 66.
“The community would benefit greatly from the additional improvements the VFW is making to its property.”
The letter is signed by Blum and Aldermen Nathan Tate, Zach Fuchs, Barb McGlenn and Glenn Richards, who was sworn in as former Ward 2 Alderman Travis Dierker’s replacement earlier during the same meeting.
Richards’ first official “duty” as a St. Clair alderman was to present the mayor’s proclamation to VFW representative Rick Weirich, who attended the meeting.
The St. Clair VFW, 1087 North Service Road West, is located on the former historic Route 66 that stretches from Illinois to California. The VFW purchased the restaurant portion of the Skylark Motel property in 1993, and paid off the mortgage last year.
The other portion of the motel is now the St. Clair Agape House.
According to an information sheet on the motel, the St. Clair VFW needs to “direct its attention” to some badly needed repairs on the tower portion of the facility. And, in keeping with the Route 66 preservation movement, the organization would also like to restore the “neon scene” with the help of a NPS preservation grant.
The total cost of the project is estimated to be about $44,000. The grant would fund half of that.
“Not only would this project be an outstanding restoration of one of the most unusual icons along the ‘Mother Road,’ it would also be an appropriate recompense for the veterans of our previous military conflicts who now operate this facility as a home for some of their members,” the VFW said in its information sheet.
If the grant is approved, the restoration project would include tuckpointing of the tower, replacement of all the glass blocks in the tower, restoration of the neon inside the glass portion of the tower, restoration of the neon striping around the roofline and neon installation of the works “Skylark” on the west side of the tower and “VFW” on the east side where the word “motel” formerly was.
Blum’s proclamation reads that, “Whereas Skylark Motel served the St. Clair community for 25 years, starting in 1951; and whereas the main structure of the Skylark Motel was later renovated into a restaurant, later purchased by the VFW Post 2482 for its local membership; and whereas the VFW and previous Skylark Motel both continue to provide services to our community; and whereas the city of St. Clair recognizes the value and good work provided to our citizens by the VFW and Skylark Motel, and recognizing that restoration to the ‘neon scene’ would enhance the location and community;
“Therefore, I, Ron Blum, mayor of St. Clair, Missouri, do hereby proclaim support for the Route 66 preservation movement through the Skylark Motel and VFW and urge our citizens to support this important resource of our community.”
Documentation provided at the board meeting stated that Robert Johnson and his father, Charley, built the Skylark Motel in 1951. The unusual, two-story, white stucco building housed the office and several guest rooms on the first floor and Robert Johnson’s personal residence on the second floor.
Eight additional rooms were available in the ranch-style structure located behind and west of the main building.
“The most exceptional aspect of the motel architecture was the art deco style, glass block tower on the front of the main building,” the information states. “This tower was spectacularly illuminated at night with multicolored neon lights located within the tower. The tower’s light would spill onto the white stucco of the main building, creating a beautiful abstract splash of color.”
The motel was perched on the top of a hill so that at night when the tower was lit, the light could be seen for miles around.
Adding to the neon scene was striping around the perimeter of the roofline, the word “motel” on each side of the tower and a big neon sign at the front of the property, which is now gone.
The Johnsons operated the motel for about 25 years.
In the early 1980s, information states the main structure was expanded with a large frame addition to the east. It became a restaurant for about 10 years.