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Possible closure endangers unique postal stamp July 31, 2011

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, Towns.
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Last week, we reported that more than a dozen towns along Route 66 may see their post offices closed as a cost-cutting move. That list included the western Arizona town of Oatman.

But here’s a unique angle from the Mohave Daily News on the possible closure of the Oatman post office:

While nearly all post offices across the United States typically machine-stamp their cancellation marks, Oatman is one of only a handful in the country that still cancels its mail by hand, using a special canceling stamp complete with an image of a miner and burro.

“It was made special for Oatman,” Whidden said. “Very few hand-stamp them anymore, and a lot of tourists know about it and come here specifically to get it.”

Glen Boyd of Roanoke, Ala., was one of those tourists who dropped by the Oatman post office Friday afternoon to mail some postcards he had picked up in town. Boyd said he had “absolutely” come into the post office to get the special cancellation stamp, adding that he was no stranger to the novelty behind the concept.

“I once worked near a town called Bethlehem, in Georgia, and it was really important for people to get their Christmas cards postmarked there,” Boyd said. “I think it’s a very important aspect of tourism. It’s an important part of Americana, and it deserves to be preserved.”

I greatly appreciate the unique stamp that Oatman uses, and hope it continues.

However, I have to strongly disagree with a resident who says that closure of the post office would be “devastating” to the town.

An estimated 500,000 people visit Oatman each year, and the huge majority of them go to see the semi-wild burros, the town’s Old West atmosphere, the historic Oatman Hotel, the nearby gold mine, etc.

The postmaster admits that she, at most, gets “several hundred” customers per week. It’s safe to say that Oatman’s post office doesn’t rank high in its tourism machine. Closure of the facility won’t cause the town to dry up and blow away.

And, according to one postal worker, it seems likely that one of the local Oatman businesses will take up much of the post office’s duties, including that unique stamp.

Oatman should know after December whether its post office will close.

Coliseum Ballroom in Benld destroyed by fire July 31, 2011

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Movies, Music.
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The historic Coliseum Ballroom, located on an older alignment of Route 66 in Benld, Ill., was destroyed by fire Saturday night, according to several media outlets in the St. Louis area.

The fire started about 9:15 a.m. According to KSDK-TV in St. Louis, 16 fire departments responded to battling the blaze. The station reports that three people were hospitalized with burns or smoke inhalation.

Here’s a video from the scene:

The Coliseum was used as an antique mall in recent years. The Coliseum was built about 1923 or 1924, making it actually predate Route 66. According to one website:

In its heyday, the Coliseum had the biggest dance floor (10,000 square feet) between Chicago and St. Louis and featured the orchestras of Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Kay Kyser, Count Basie and most of the other big-name big bands – the megastars of popular music from the 1920s into the 1940s. Situated along old Route 66 (now Illinois Route 4), the Coliseum is said to have attracted crowds that sometimes topped 2,000, from all over central Illinois and metropolitan St. Louis. The popularity of the big bands faded, but the Coliseum continued to draw crowds for nationally known acts such as the Everly Brothers, Fats Domino, Johnny Rivers and Ray Charles. In its later years, the ballroom mostly featured local rock bands before closing about a decade ago.

Here’s a promotional video about a documentary that’s being made about the Coliseum:

According to the Coliseum’s Facebook page, the filmmakers were still doing interviews and gathering material for the movie in May. Alas, they’ll need to add a new chapter to the film.

UPDATE: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch filed this story this afternoon. Fire officials suspect the fire’s cause was electrical.

Here’s a Post-Dispatch story from 2006 when the building was put up for sale.

KSDK-TV reports that the documentary about the Coliseum should be ready by October.

UPDATE 8/1/2011: Bobby Krug shot this video of the Coliseum’s remains, once you could see them better in the daylight:

The Alton Telegraph found an interesting angle — namely, the fire started during a rock band’s performance Saturday night:

“We were open last night and had a band in there; we don’t know what happened,” Swanson said. “It was up in the ceiling as far as we know. It happened so fast.”

Swanson said between 60 and 80 people were inside when a band member announced there was a fire and asked everyone to get out. Swanson said they hit the flames with a fire extinguisher but the fire still spread rapidly.

“We saw flames up there, they hollered for everyone to get out of there,” he recalled. “Basically everyone got out and then the windows blew out.”

There’s been discussion in the Route 66 community to salvage the Coliseum Ballroom’s neon sign and give it to the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum in Pontiac, but nothing firm.

Northern Arizona sees a surge in tourism July 30, 2011

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Towns.
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We’re starting to see a pattern here …

Northern Arizona — namely the city of Flagstaff and surround Coconino County — saw record levels of tourism in 2010, while the rest of the state declined, reported Arizona Public Media. And Route 66 takes part of the credit.

Travelers spent $948 million in Coconino County in 2010, 6.2 percent more than in 2009 and 3 percent more than the previous record year of 2007.

In the same year, statewide travel spending was $17.7 billion, which was 7.3 percent lower than the 2007 record total. [...]

Northern Arizona has terrific tourism draws — the Grand Canyon, Route 66, Native American cultures, the cool ponderosa forests and the mountains. So it stands to reason that in the center of it all, Flagstaff draws a lot of tourism activity. But it isn’t just happenstance. The city’s political and business leaders work at it, Mayor Sara Presler said. [...]

Flagstaff takes its tourism strategy seriously, and it should. Half of the city’s sales tax revenues come from tourism spending, Presler said. She said she partners with businesses and stays in regular touch with other entities in the northern part of the state, so they can leverage their advantages together.

This isn’t the only place on the Mother Road that’s seeing outsized tourism traffic compared to other nearby areas. Pontiac, Ill., is reporting a 30 percent increase in tourists in 2011, and the Joliet Area Historical Museum in Joliet, Ill., saw a 50 percent increase in 2010-2011. And in 2009, Logan County, Ill., saw a 30 percent increase in tourism revenue. In all of these cases, Route 66 played a prominent role.

It’s demolition, not salvation July 28, 2011

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motels, Preservation.
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This report from KOB-TV about the demolition of the abandoned State Fair Mercado Motel on Central Avenue (aka Route 66) in Albuquerque irked me a bit.

Listen, I understand that Route 66 tourism remains a cottage industry, and that only so many vintage motels can operate in the Duke City.

I also realize that a few of those old Central Avenue motels have to come down. If these structures deteriorate to a certain, inexorable point, you raze them and hope a vibrant business replaces it. I want vintage motels to be preserved, but I also have to be pragmatic about the issue.

But the mayor and local media should realize that tearing down one of those old motels also is a loss. The Mercado wasn’t just an “eyesore.” It served as a window of Albuquerque’s past, and to the city’s Route 66 culture.

The city should forge an equal, two-tiered strategy of new development and preservation of historic structures. Revitalization doesn’t always have to come in the wake of a bulldozer. In fact, you could make a strong argument that using historic structures would lead to stronger and more-distinctive revitalization.

A video review of “The Art of Cars” July 28, 2011

Posted by Ron Warnick in Art, Books, Movies.
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The book, “The Art of Cars,” was published about the same time the first Disney-Pixar “Cars” movie was released in 2006.

This is a new review of the book, and the video format shows the book’s illustrations and exceptional design as well as anything I’ve seen.

The fellow who reviews this book runs a blog called Blu Collector, specializing in Disney memorabilia. Here’s what he wrote about “The Art of Cars”:

I think this is one of the best illustrated books I’ve seen. Its amazing to see how the movie came about. The illustrations in the book are of such quality that it is comparable to any coffee table book I might own. The drawings are exceptional quality. I was impressed to see how many years went into making the movie and the book told the complete process of consultants, writers, etc. that were consulted to make sure of the movie’s authenticity as well as appeal to both children and adults. Michael and Suzanne Fitzgerald Wallis certainly nailed Route 66 in the book and therefore was presented in the movie with much detail. This book is filled with plenty of concept art drawings. Pixar artists draw hundreds of drawings each day but only selected ones were included into the book due to the limited number of pages. Every page is packed with art. Also included are storyboards, architectural drawings, landscape drawings, lighting studies, car decor sketches, photos from their road trips.

Again, anyone wanting to own a beautiful book of illustrations, as well as reading how a movie is made, needs to get the book, The Art of Cars. It’ll make you want to see the movie and motor West getting your Kicks on Route 66.

If you’re interested, “The Art of Cars” can be ordered here.

A visit to Bill Shea’s station July 28, 2011

Posted by Ron Warnick in Gas stations, People.
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Here’s a feature from KHQA-TV in Quincy, Ill., about Bill Shea’s gas station and petroliana collection (some of which is quite valuable) along Route 66 in Springfield, Ill.

I’m glad to see this. I believe this is the first YouTube video that’s been posted about Shea and his station.

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