Valentine: The White Haven Motel Sign Controversy

thesignIt’s odd…

We make choices to throw some things away. And we make choices to save other things.

Check the shelves in your basement, attic or garage. Even if you’re “normal,” you’ll probably find a few treasures, but mostly the things you’ll discover are without value. Most of the things have some connection to our kids or parents. And it would feel wrong to throw those things away, so we wait. In reality, we’ve decided to let somebody else dispose of them later.

Now make an ever so slight shift to the people who want to raise $20,000 to save the White Haven Motel sign that was on old Metcalf near downtown Overland Park. Right now it’s in four pieces in the Johnson County Museum. That came as something of a surprise to many of us. Not the sign, but the fact that there is a Johnson County Museum.

So why is the White Haven sign worth saving?

4257257987_4aef7427c2_zIt’s not art. Nor is it very old. Does it really have any real historical significance?
Did somebody famous die at White Haven or even stay there?

Maybe we should just take a narrow view and look at this fund raising quest strictly in the sign category. Somebody saved the Glenwood Theater sign – the sputnik on it is a nice touch – almost iconic. But far as I know, nobody saved the Katz Drug sign.

Come on JOCO museum, of all the signs on Metcalf, that was the Mona Lisa.

white_haven2So if it’s not really art, not really old and not really historically significant, it must be a business decision. I am glad I was not at the meeting where someone stood up and said, “If we only had the White Haven Motel sign people would line up to pay admission to The Johnson County Museum. All in favor say, ‘Aye.’ ”



My reaction to the White Haven sign campaign is like the person who finds a box of old photographs in the attic. I can’t identify a single face. I have no attachment to any of the captured moments. And there is definitely not enough “wow factor” to make the effort to save each picture to a digital format and back them up on The Cloud.

I need the attic space for my kid’s Skylanders.
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21 Responses to Valentine: The White Haven Motel Sign Controversy

  1. chuck says:

    I didn’t know there was a Johnson County Museum until I read that county officials ponied up over 2 Million to renovate the King Louie Bowling Alley on Metcalf and relocate this popular attraction due to popular demand (?) Originally it was supposed to cost 1.6 Million, but the project went over budget (That very rarely happens.). At some point, some one’s dad must have come home from work and said, “What the f*ck are you kids doing!!!!!!!!!” Because in short order, the entire idea was scrapped and now the place is up for sale again.

    Being from Missouri, one of our only pleasures is schadenfreude, so it is nice to see, that across state line, city and county officials can face plant with the pros we have running Kansas City.

    Fu*kin brutal.

    • the dude says:

      I have a totally insane idea, how about they renovate it and make it into a bowling alley with ice skating rink. I would buy that for a dollar.

      • mike t. says:

        I grew up going there. First, it just the bowling alley and pool tables, then ice rink and massive game room.

        I don’t know… being from JOCO, moving there from WYCO in 1957 when I was 4… I can’t say that having a museum dedicated to suburbia in that location is all that exciting to me. I remember the Katz signs (more notable to me was the one on Main at Westport Rd.), Smaks, the first McDonalds on Metcalf, the white haven and Glenwood Motor Hotel complete with a (then) luxurious movie theater, the building of the (then) French Market and Metcalf South, Joe’s Barn on 95th… all that.

        So, in a way, I’m kinda with Valentine… old photos in a box except I do share a connection. But they’re still just old photos of a time long ago.

        • admin says:

          Not to wildly disagree or anything but practically any museum could be described as such…

          Except for the fact that depending upon the artifacts on display and the history being preserved, not just for somebody’s great grandkids, but for the city and the world, it’s a far higher concept.

          Because in decades to come, people well may look back on those times (these times even) with wonder.

          And that’s a far different beast that a single given individual’s family album and baseball card collection, etc.

      • chuck says:

        Here was the original idea from JoCo.

        A blurb–

        “The Johnson County Museum collects, preserves and interprets materials related to Johnson County’s history. Since 1998, the Museum has focused on the unique story of Johnson County’s transformation into one of the nation’s most successful and recognized suburban places. As part of its work, the Museum challenges its visitors to explore their understanding of the American Dream as it relates to suburban lifestyle that has come to dominate American society. ”

        Since 1998. Your kid in highschool could get a job as a tour guide and tell people he remembered way, way back at the turn of the century, people used to have wall to wall carpet in Johnson County and he was there!! Wafting through the air as the tour commences, a song from that long forgotten group Destiny’s Child would educate younger patrons to the music so many, now gone, used to enjoy.

        Ok, actually I went on the website and liked it.

  2. Libertarian says:

    As a wee lad, I had the good fortune of growing up as the gopher at Acme Sign when they were located at 2124 Jefferson on the West side. Summer vaction, Christmas break, any day that school was out, I was working. All starting around the age of 13.

    Appreciation for old school signage came to me the moment I walked in that place. There were crates and crates of cool stuff that had been in the storage loft untouched for 50 years. When they moved a block up the street to the corner of Jefferson and West Pennway into the new building, all of that had to be moved.

    Talk about treasure….you cant imagine the antique collection I had to move. And yes, I was allowed a few souveniers. You wet yourself if you knew what they are worth in the collector market, especially since mine are in “fresh from the crate mint condition”.

    I can understand someone without the same upbringing not caring, and I think its safe to assume Valentine didnt spend the extra days of his youth growing up in a union sign shop.

    I think preserving history is a good thing, and I will say the White Haven sign is a damn fine example of proud craftsmanship. I’m all for keeping it around, and I’d feel the same way if were actually a resident of JoCo.

    Does anyone know if the museum plans on reassembling it anytime soon? I would love to volunteer to help with that project.

    • mike t. says:

      I actually couldn’t say Lib, but I’m sure they’d appreciate your help.

      Even without the local historical context, the White Haven sign does stand on it’s own merits as a classic example of a motor hotel sign from that era, as well as the neon.

  3. PB says:

    Don’t they have a place near Vegas where old signs like this go to die? I thought I saw it in a movie once.

  4. hot harley says:

    WHITE HAVEN: party place in the 80’s…had duplexes in the back that were
    outstanding place to party!
    never allowed blacks in. They would turn on the no vacancy light to keep
    them out…old trick.
    Eventually hookers moved in and starting using the back rooms…
    Metcalf then…
    smaks/shakys pizza/smaks/pauls boots/milgrams at 75th street/skaggs on
    Metcalf./martys bar b q on 76th ….Hudson gas station at 76th….
    griffs burgers….you could go into jacks bar….or head to pogos..or instant
    replay…..kfc/mr gyros right on east side of Metcalf…villa capri…johns
    space age donuts….car wash…Metcalf bank….camera store at 76th..later
    western auto/beneficial finance/bob sight Lincoln/andy klein/stained glass
    company/john francis restaurant/Metcalf Nissan/
    but white haven was a real cool place….only -lace til glenwood opened…
    French market….Metcalf south later….mcdonalds/hamburger place where
    24 hr. fitness is now….locksmith in replay building/aut repair/
    dixons chili/and many many more in that area.

  5. Hot Carl says:

    $20,000 to renovate the sign? I’m sure you could find a dude to fix it in his garage for a tenth of that. Hell, you could probably make a brand new one for less than $20k.

  6. paulwilsonkc says:

    Interesting old place. My grandfather was an exec at Coke, lived on the plaza from the late 60’s-80’s in the Longfellow. My grandmother worked at Swansons, really as part of her social life more than a job.
    They both loved White Haven and it was their “romantic weekend getaway.” That’s right, they made the long trip from the Plaza to Metcalf, time after time, even when he had his lake home, prior to retiring down there full time.
    We stayed there a couple times the year before it closed, just to relive summers when I’d come up from Carthage and hang out at the pool as a kid with him.
    I started telling the story to the family when we checked in, I got about five lines into it and the stately old matriarch of the family placed her hands on either side of her face and said, “….you’re talking about Gene and Euella! We loved them so!”
    It was just a grand old place. Bought a room key from the auction just to have a momento.
    Another great story, Mr. V….that’s for the memories.

    • chuck says:

      Ya know, that doesn’t sound anything at all like the place Harley describes. I never so much as pulled into the parking lot, but if Paul hadn’t posted, I would forever have thought of hookers, blow and Bull Conner every time I drove by the location.

      I’m gonna think about Gene and Euella now and more temperate times. I knew there was no way, the OP PoPo could overlook a House of the Rising Sun right in the middle of dowtown Overland Park.

      • We played a lotta gigs there chuck, right by the pool. I and my family live with the shame every day. I just wish I would have tied that big Fender to my ankle and jumped into the deep end.

      • hot harley says:

        chuck…that was our running ground.
        white haven was famousfor its vacancy sign. Might
        notbe a single car in the lot…but no vacancy lite was on.
        As far as the parties there…they were famous. they had
        thosesmall houses in the back…and no one knew about them.
        wild wild parties….favorite for bachelor parties.
        remember that Metcalf was a party street….In the 70’s/80’s
        the streets were packed on fridayand Saturday night because
        beer could be served to 18 year olds.
        It was one huge party on Metcalf…up into overland park…
        with late nigte clubs like clariette and chapmans.
        jacks…big jack was packed…heck there were more
        drugs coming out of the cleaners downtown than all of kc.
        lots went on in op that few people knew about….but it
        was just starting to boom…Metcalf was a major
        thoroughfare in the county going north and south and
        development was moving south fast.

  7. Derny Pure says:

    Ahhhh okay I get it. Hot Harley is just saying that beneath the veneer of an upstanding suburban community with standards and values was really a rotten and lurid reality of gluttony, racism, and prostitution. Got it.

    • hot harley says:

      there’s ho’s allover joco. Not just Whitehaven. Theyre busting all of them
      as wespeak.
      JUst that joco had some pretty swinging joints…like that inn on Shawnee mission parkway. by the hour.
      joco has its partys!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. hot harley says:

    how about the white rock in one of joco’s upscale subdivisions?
    joco has its parties!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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