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The photos on this page were moved here from my Signs section to accompany an article I wrote for the Society for Commercial Archeology's Journal magazine.

Roto-Sphere signs are perhaps the biggest and most dramatic neon signs ever mass-produced. They were created and produced by Warren Milks from 1960-1971. Milks made approximately 234 of them at his sign shop in Bossier City, LA. Only about 20 Roto-Spheres are left. Of these, only four are fully operational (Memphis, Lakeland, Whiteland, and Salt Lake City). Only 9 are still on public display.

Roto-Spheres were promoted as sign add-ons and distributed nationwide, with a few sent outside the country. This map which I created from Milks' index cards shows where all of these signs were shipped. The peak year for production was 1962 and by 1965 their popularity had faded. Shipping per year: 1960 (11), 1961 (32), 1962 (70), 1963 (42), 1964 (42), 1965 (17), 1966 (11), 1967 (3), 1968 (1), 1969 (4), and 1971 (1). Since Milks received the orders for his Roto-Spheres directly from the sign shops, his index cards indicate the name of the sign shop and their addresses. Therefore, determining which businesses each sign went to is difficult. Most of these sign shops are either gone or do not have records that go that far back. Milks passed away in 2012.

Contrary to what many people say, Roto-Spheres were not inspired by the Russian Sputnik, other satellites, or anything space age. Milks got the idea for the design from something he saw on TV. While many of us thought the inspiration might have come from Playhouse 90, Milks didn't think that was it when I showed him the video. He thought it was a commercial for a children's toy or a spinning Christmas ornament. When people began calling his signs "Sputniks", Milks began using the name himself. However, the signs were always marketed as Roto-Spheres. He also produced some similar signs including the Turn-Star. There were 23 of these shipped around the country between 1963-1965. However, none of those are known to still exist. For more, see this website.

Roto-Spheres feature sixteen aluminum spikes outlined in neon. These multi-colored spikes are each eight feet long. They are mounted on a ball that spins in three directions. Not only does the sign rotate on its pole, but the ball itself is composed of two counter-rotating hemispheres. A motor and three gears resembling an automobile's rear axle differential are used to power the ball. Sign shops have made successful repairs with auto parts. However, Milks swore he used special gears in the construction of these signs and not gears from automobiles. Restoring and maintaining Roto-Spheres can be tricky and costly due to their size, mechanics, and the amount of neon used. I believe the original sign cost about $2,000 with shipping. The shipping weight was 800 pounds for the sphere and arms. The crate was then returned to Milks' shop. To fully restore one today costs about $15,000. Here is the patent for the Roto-Sphere design.

Joe's Liquor Store
Memphis, TN
2010: 2019:
Joe's Liquor Store opened in 1962. A newspaper advertisement announcing the store's Grand Opening featured a photo of its Roto-Sphere with the caption "At the Sign of the Sputnik". By the mid-1970s, their sign had fallen into serious disrepair.

In 1999, Joe's Liquor Store's new owners decided to have this sign restored. The owner was able to raise the full $12,000 needed through a fundraising event. This "Sputnik Relaunch Party" drew about 450 people from the community and featured live bands, a silent auction, and a fireworks display. The restoration took three months. Since then, Sputnik's motor has been replaced three or four times and it is now completely electric. Although the neon is extra-strength, about two tubes break each year and require replacement. These photos are from 2010. In 2016, the Roto-Sphere was removed and completely refurbished. The plastic message board was replaced with an electronic LED board at that time. For more, see these websites: 1 and 2. [map]

El Comedor de Anayas Restaurant
Moriarty, NM
The El Comedor de Anayas Restaurant opened in 1952 and this Roto-Sphere sign was installed sometime in the 1960s. The sign had deteriorated so badly over the years that the spikes were practically paint-free. However, in 2002, the Roto-Sphere was selected as one of nine vintage Route 66 signs to be restored with grant money. This sign features a four-way flasher that illuminates the four colors of spikes independently. However, the motor has been broken for many years and the sign no longer spins. In 2013, El Comedor closed and the restaurant's new name was the Breezy Rain Cafe. However, that restaurant closed now as well. By 2018, the building was housing Country Friends Antiques. The sign is still dark and does not spin. For more, see this website. [map]

Jenkins Lincoln-Mercury
Lakeland, FL
2009: 2020:
The Jenkins Lincoln-Mercury Roto-Sphere was installed around 1960. It had fallen into disrepair over the years but was completely restored in 2007. Since then, it has been impeccably maintained. In 2018, the neon was replaced with LED tubing. [map]

Catalina Motel
Lexington, KY (now Whiteland, IN)
The Catalina Motel Roto-Sphere was installed on the roof. It had not been lit or operating for many decades. The star at the top of the motel's freestanding neon sign appears to mimic the Roto-Sphere. In 2019, this Roto-Sphere was sold to a collector. It is now in Whiteland, IN where it has been restored and is now on public display. For more, see these websites: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. [map]

Memory Lane
Rogersville, TN
Dort Mall [gone]
Flint, MI
Starlite Country Plaza [gone]
Stewartsville, MO
The Memory Lane Roto-Sphere was originally installed in Bean Station, TN at a truckstop/gas station. It was later moved to a go-kart track. The Eldridges bugged the owners for years and finally got the sign for their collection of Americana. They had it restored and the arms painted red, white, and blue. I've been told that the sign spins. I don't believe there are still car shows on the property and the sign is not visible from the road or if it is still there. For more, see this website.

The Dort Mall Roto-Sphere was originally located at Walli's Drive-In Restaurant in Flint, MI. It was fully restored and installed at the mall as part of Bob Perani's sign collection around 2004. Most or all of the collection inside the mall is gone now. In 2019, this Roto-Sphere was sold to a sign collector.

The Starlite Country Plaza sign was adapted from the Starlite Motel which previously stood on the property. This Roto-Sphere is now missing the neon and one of the arms is missing. In 2019, the Roto-Sphere was removed. It was supposedly being restored for a museum. However, that didn't happen and no one knows where this Roto-Sphere is now. For more, see this website.

Granite Furniture
Salt Lake City, UT
2007 and 2008: 2014:
The Granite Furniture store opened here in 1910. The Roto-Sphere sign was installed in 1961 as part of a building remodeling. The Roto-Sphere was originally painted gold and was outlined with orange neon. The lower part of the sign with the text spins in an opposite direction from the revolving Roto-Sphere above. The panels that spell out "Granite" were red in the 1970s and were possibly that color originally.

At some point, this Roto-Sphere was painted turquoise and the plastic panels were replaced with new ones. The Roto-Sphere counter-rotated originally and revolved on the pole. However, it has not counter-rotated for several decades.

Granite Furniture closed in 2004. In 2013, the building was redeveloped and the sign was adapted. The sign's panels and lettering were changed to Sugarhouse and the names of the new tenants. The orange neon was restored but was rarely working by 2014. The Roto-Sphere still spins and the text panels below it still spin in the opposite direction. In 2016, the Roto-Sphere was removed and restored. It is fully lit and spinning again. For more, see these websites: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. [first day photo from 2008 thanks samwibatt; night photo thanks Ellie] [map]

Factory Tile [gone]
South Bend, IN
The Factory Tile Roto-Sphere did not spin but the multi-colored neon still worked. When it stopped rotating around 1979, the company decided it was too costly to repair. However, the neon was maintained and the diamonds around "Tile" flashed on and off. These photos are from 2009. Sometime between 2011 and 2015, the panel sign was repainted from pink to purple. In 2023, the sign and Roto-Sphere were removed. I don't know where they went. For more, see this website.

Roto-Sphere [gone]
Brighton, UK
Action Pawn
Killeen, TX
The Brighton Roto-Sphere was installed in 1964 opposite the Grand Hotel. Sometime after 1990, the neon was removed and the arms were dressed up with "festoon lights". It was nearly destroyed in 1995 during a "clean-up" of the seafront. A private collector has had it since then and is trying to raise funds to restore the sign with hopes of reinstalling it in Brighton. For more, see this website. [photo thanks Jonathan Swain]

The Action Pawn Roto-Sphere no longer has neon and no longer spins. This one might have come from the 1st National Bank of Killeen that was located in town. [scan thanks Robby Delius] [map]

Long Holiday Motel
Gunnison, CO
2006: 2012:
The Long Holiday Motel has a Roto-Sphere with a working motor but the sign is non-operating. The owner found it to be too expensive and impractical to repair the neon given the area's severe weather. She believes that this Roto-Sphere was brought here by truck from Las Vegas. "Long" was the original owner's last name. The motel opened in 1957 as Long's Holiday Motel. The sign may date from that time with the Roto-Sphere being added in the early 1960s. I believe that there was another channel letter "S" where the painted diamonds were in the 2006 photo above. In 2011, the sign's remaining neon was removed and it was repainted. [first photo thanks Glenda Campbell] [map]

Jerry Dutler's Bowl [gone]
Mankato, MN
Jarrell Company
Dallas, TX
The Jerry Dutler's Bowl Roto-Sphere was installed in 1965 when the bowling alley opened. In 1980, the motor gave out and it was not replaced. Soon thereafter, the inside of the sphere was gutted. Dutler's restored the sign in 2007 with multi-colored neon. In 2013, the owner was strongly considering getting the sign spinning again. It's not known whether the sign actually counter-rotated originally. There doesn't seem to be the same sort of band in the middle of the sphere like the other signs. However, I find nothing unusual about this sign from Warren Milks' index card. These photos are from 2012. The bowling alley closed in 2015. In 2017, the panels beneath the Roto-Sphere were changed to read Vintage Mall. In 2019, the Roto-Sphere was sold to a private collector. For more, see this website.

The Jarrell Company sign has been here since 1964. The sphere was originally painted reddish orange and the arms were yellow. This Roto-Sphere hasn't rotated for many years and the neon has been removed. In 2013, there were plans for the sign's full restoration. However, that never happened. [map]

Shreveport Neon
Shreveport, LA
Warren Milks
the inventor and producer of the Roto-Sphere
The Shreveport Neon Roto-Sphere was restored in 2007. These photos were taken right after that. The sign was removed by 2013 for repairs and has not been reinstalled. It is now gathering dust inside the shop. Despite the name, no one at the shop works on neon anymore. This Roto-Sphere came from the long-gone Holiday Manor Motel in Bossier City, LA (later the Colonial Inn: 1, 2). This was the second Roto-Sphere that Warren Milks created. The first was installed in front of NESCO, his sign shop, in Bossier City, LA. It is not known where that one went or if it was destroyed. Shreveport Neon also has another disassembled, unrestored Roto-Sphere in storage inside the shop. For more, see this website. [map]

In 2007, Warren Milks posed for me with the Shreveport sign which was just a few miles from his home. I had the pleasure of meeting him a few times and presenting him with a set of vintage Christmas ornaments which resemble the Roto-Sphere design. In the photo above taken at his house, he explained how he was captivated by star-like designs that spun on a TV show. He could not remember what show or commercial but that was the inspiration for these signs.

Mel's Diner
Broussard, LA
Apex Sign Group
San Antonio, TX
Mel's Diner has a simulated Roto-Sphere. The sign shop created it from scratch based on memory of the Roto-Sphere that was once installed at Hopper's Drive-in in Lafayette, LA. The whereabouts of that sign is unknown. This sign uses propane tank tops screwed together to make the central sphere just like Milks original design. There are only ten arms while real Roto-Spheres had 16. The arms themselves are flat. The neon flashes but the sign does not spin in any way. For more, see this website. [first two photos thanks Glenda Campbell] [map]

Southwest Signs (now Apex Sign Group) built this sign themselves around 1995. The ball came from a former Roto-Sphere that the sign shop had in storage for many years. The Roto-Sphere was originally installed at a local hamburger chain stand. There was nothing left but the sphere itself. The arms were completely recreated based on memory. They are outlined with red, white, and blue LED tubing rather than neon. The sign does not spin in any way. [map]

Downtown Plaza
Albuquerque, NM
Lakeside Motel
Jefferson City, MO
The Downtown Plaza Roto-Sphere was located in Gallup, NM. It had been in storage at Southwest Outdoor Electric in Albuquerque since 2006. This photo is from 2012. The sign's arms were stashed in a corner. The sign shop planned to restore the Roto-Sphere if the owner ever came forward with the money. In 2016, the sign was still in storage. The sign shop closed and the owner sold the sign to a private collector. The Roto-Sphere will eventually be restored. For more, see these websites: 1 and 2.

The Lakeside Motel sign must have been inspired by the Roto-Sphere. With its faceted sphere and its flat arms, there's no way that it could have been built as one. For more, see this website. [map]

Scans of Milks' promotional brochure can be found here.

Milks' films with Roto-Spheres and other signs transferred to YouTube videos are here: 1 and 2.

More Roto-Spheres:
Eastwood Mall Bowling Center (Birmingham, AL) [in storage]
Thunderbird Inn (Mobile, AL) [vintage; gone]
Paulin Motors (Tucson, AZ) [gone]
Sun Star Motel: 1, 2, 3 (Los Banos, CA) [vintage; sign gone]
Legg's Ice Skating Center (San Francisco, CA) [vintage; gone]
Consumer City (Santa Ana, CA) [vintage; sign gone]
Center State Bank (Denver, CO) [vintage; sign gone]
Star Bread Co. (Denver, CO) [vintage; sign gone]
Sunshine Beach Motel (Daytona Beach, FL) [gone; scan thanks Tim Hollis]
Municipal Auto Sales (Miami, FL) [gone]
Jitney Jungle Shopping Center (Panama City, FL) [gone]
Golden Point Drive-in: 1, 2 (St. Petersburg, FL) [gone]
American Savings & Loan: 1, 2 (Honolulu, HI) [gone]
Wholesale Motors: 1, 2 (Honolulu, HI) [gone]
Cars, Inc. (Des Moines, IA) [gone]
A&W Drive-in: 1, 2 (Dubuque, IA) [gone]
Stardust Motor Lodge (Idaho Falls, ID) [gone]
Circle Chevrolet (Chicago, IL) [photo John P. Keating, Jr.] [gone]
Jennie's Restaurant: 1, 2 (Chicago, IL) [gone]
Jocke Buick (Chicago, IL) [photo John P. Keating, Jr.] [gone]
Nickey Chevrolet (Chicago, IL) [two signs; gone]
Celozzi-Ettleson Chevrolet (Elmhurst, IL) [gone]
Italian Village Restaurant (Moline, IL) [gone; scan thanks Rich}
Sam's Highland Park Bowl (Moline, IL) [gone]
Dinnie's Restaurant (Richmond, IN) [gone; photos anyone?]
Albert Pick Motel (Louisville, KY) [vintage; gone]
Krispy Kreme (Baton Rouge, LA; gone)
Capri Motel: 1, 2, 3 (Bossier City, LA) [vintage; gone]
Orbit Bowling Lanes (New Orleans, LA) [gone; private collection]
Colstone Pancake Restaurant (North Attleboro, MA) [gone]
Satellite Drive-Inn (Albion, MI) [gone]
Jerry McCarthy Chevrolet (Detroit, MI) [gone]
Yorba Linda Bowl: 1, 2 (Royal Oak, MI) [gone]
Lou Fusz Auto Group (St. Louis, MO) [map]
Pearlman's Furniture Store (Charlotte, NC) [vintage; gone]
Monterey Motel (Roswell, NM) [vintage; gone]
Showboat Hotel Casino (Las Vegas, NV) [gone]
Burger Boy Food-O-Rama: 1, 2, 3 (Columbus, OH) [gone; scans thanks Robby Delius]
Flint's Hamburgers (Dayton, OH) [vintage; gone]
Flint's Hamburgers (Greenville, OH) [vintage; gone]
Pioneer Restaurant (Lewisburg, OH) [photos anyone?; private collection in Indianapolis, IN]
East Hills Shopping Center (Pittsburgh, PA) [gone]
Bazaar of All Nations (Upper Darby, PA) [gone]
Nelson Motors (Columbia, SC) [gone; photos anyone?]
South of the Border: 1, 2, 3, 4 (Dillon, SC) [gone]
Mammy's Kitchen (Myrtle Beach, SC) [gone]
Clover Inn (Santee, SC) [gone]
Greenfield's (Nashville, TN) [vintage; gone]
Austin National Bank: 1, 2, 3, 4 (Austin, TX) [gone]
Vick's Steak House (Dallas, TX) [gone]
Old Corral Drive-in (Fort Worth, TX) [gone]
Country Inn (Lubbock, TX) [gone]
Gemini Drive-in (Victoria, TX) [gone]
Paice Motel (Beaver, UT) [most likely a Roto-Sphere; gone]
Columbian Motel (Provo, UT) [possibly a Roto-Sphere; gone]
Ivar's Acres of Clams (Seattle, WA) [vintage; gone]
Burger Boy Food-O-Rama (Parkersburg, WV) [vintage; gone]
Flame Motel (Jackson, WY) [gone]
Continental Motel (Calgary, AB) [gone]
Av. Santiago Marino (Nueva Esparta, Venezuela) [vintage; gone]

If you know of any other Roto-Spheres out there, I'd be thrilled to hear about them.

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