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Did Springfield, Missouri, miss the boat in promoting Route 66? July 29, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Restaurants, Towns.
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A few days ago, the Springfield News-Leader published a long, soul-searching piece titled “Selling 66″ that asks the question: Has Springfield, Missouri, done a good job promoting Route 66?

If you have to ask, you know the answer.

Springfield has realized its error and is trying new things to bring tourists, including the future Birthplace of Route 66 Roadside Park. And the Birthplace of Route 66 Festival seems to be growing fast.

The article is worth reading in full, including its cool photos. But here are a few newsworthy highlights and observations:

  • The Route 66 Economic Impact Study of 2011, as I predicted, opened a lot of eyes about how financially viable the Mother Road is. The conservative number of $132 million in annual tourism spending on Route 66 surprises a lot of people. Naturally, folks want a piece of that.
  • City Manager Greg Burris said not only tourists, but locals said Springfield wasn’t tapping its Route 66 potential.
  • Jackie and Larry Horton, tourists from Newcastle, England, said Missouri doesn’t promote the route as well as Oklahoma and other western states.
  • In a few weeks, an 18-foot-tall neon sign will be installed at the Convention and Visitor Bureau’s Route 66 center on St. Louis Street.
  • History Museum on the Square’s Route 66 show last year drew an “unprecedented” 10,000 visitors in six months. The museum is planning a permanent Route 66 exhibit after it finishes a $20 million renovation.
  • The number of visitors to the Route 66 Visitors Center doubled from 2012 to 2013 because officials added Route 66 signage.
  • Best Western Rail Haven owner Gordon Elliot plans to build a replica of the long-gone Red’s Giant Hamburg restaurant.

I suspect when the Route 66 roadside park and other such projects are finished, Springfield — and a lot of businesses there — will be very happy it took the trouble to do so.

(Image from the Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven in Springfield, Mo., by the Missouri Department of Tourism via Flickr)

Video summarizes “Route 66: The Road Ahead” conference July 29, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Events, Preservation.
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A few days ago, the World Monuments Fund uploaded this eight-minute video that summarizes the “Route 66: The Road Ahead” conference that took place in November at a hotel near Disney’s Cars Land in California.

You’ll probably see a few familiar faces from Route 66, including Dawn Welch at the Rock Cafe, Kevin Mueller at the Blue Swallow Motel, Allan Affeldt at La Posada, Bill Thomas of the Palms Grill Cafe, and Kaisa Barthuli of the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program. The video also touts the Route 66 Economic Impact Study, as it should.

Alas, you’ll also see a few things that are no more, including Bill Shea, who died in December, and the Bell gas station in Tulsa, which was demolished (but the sign saved) in March 2013.

Route 66: The Road Ahead from World Monuments Fund on Vimeo.

(Image of brick Route 66 near Auburn, Ill., by Jim Grey via Flickr)

A visit to Enchanted Trails RV Park July 28, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motels, People, Preservation.
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KC Keefer with his ongoing “Genuine Route 66 Life” video series interviews Vickie Ashcraft at the Enchanted Trails RV Park west of Albuquerque.

The interview also serves as a brief tour of a couple of the vintage travel trailers that Ashcraft rents out to overnight guests. If you’d like to stay in one, go here.

Tours offered of hard-to-access Route 66 sites in Arizona July 27, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, History.
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The Petrified Forest National Park is allowing free, guided tours of hard-to-reach landmarks on a long-closed section of Route 66 on Aug. 8 and Aug. 10.

The tours coincide with the Route 66 festival taking place that weekend in nearby Holbrook, Arizona. The Arizona Journal had a listing of the sites that will be included during the tours:

  • Painted Desert Point Trading Post operated by Harry Osborne, which reportedly had illegal slot machines.
  • Rocky’s Old Stage Station, owned in the 1950s by Nyal Rockwell, which also had guest cabins.
  • LA-A Airway Beacon No. 51, a 1920s landmark that guided an air mail route from Los Angeles to Amarillo.
  • Painted Desert Tower, built by Charles Jacobs in 1953, and the Painted Desert Inn, nicknamed Stone Tree House because petrified wood was used to build it.
  • Remnants of the Petrified Forest National Monument entrance station, which opened in 1932.
  • Remnants of Painted Desert Park, also known as the Lion Farm zoo, established in the 1920s by Harry “Indian” Miller.
  • Ruins of the Painted Desert Trading Post,  established by Dotch and Alberta Windsor in 1942.

These sites were rendered almost completely inaccessible by the opening of Interstate 40 and the decertification of Route 66 in the mid-1980s. A few hardcore roadies with four-wheel drives or good hiking shoes have managed to explore these places, but I’ve never placed them on the Attractions page simply because they’re too difficult to get to.

But park’s tours will offer an easy way to see these Route 66 sites, with historical context to boot.

The tours will last about four hours. They are free, but with limited seating. It’s recommended that you make reservations by calling Kathleen Smith at 928-524-6225.

(Image of the Painted Desert Trading Post by Marcin Wichary via Flickr)

Owner of El Rancho Hotel in Gallup dies July 26, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, Motels, People, Preservation.
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Armand Ortega Sr., 86, savior of the historic El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico, when it faced the wrecking ball during the 1980s, died Wednesday.

An employee at the hotel said Ortega had been in failing health for about a year. His funeral was today at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Gallup, with burial at Sunset Cemetery.

Ortega Family Enterprises, based in Santa Fe, owns several concessions in national parks, Native American-themed gift shops and restaurants in the Southwest, as well as El Rancho.

But Ortega was especially fond of El Rancho, which was opened in 1937 by R.E. “Griff” Griffith, brother of the famed movie director D.W. Griffith. The Griffiths encouraged filmmakers to shoot movies in the Gallup area, and the hotel benefited by having a bevy of stars — including John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Errol Flynn, Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck and Humphrey Bogart – stay at the hotel during productions up to the 1960s.

The hotel started to decline, especially when Interstate 40 bypassed Route 66 in 1980. But Ortega, who always dreamed of owning El Rancho, bought it in 1986 after it went into bankruptcy and was threatened with demolition. According to an Associated Press story in 1989, Ortega bought the property for $500,000 and spent another $500,000 restoring it. It was reopened in May 1988 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places that year.

Clair Gurley, a salesman who was the hotel’s first guest when it opened in 1937, was invited back to the hotel after it was renovated and charged the original $5-a-night price.

An obituary in the Gallup Independent newspaper (subscription only) said Ortega could be found almost daily in the hotel’s restaurant, drinking coffee while chatting with tourists or buying crafts from Native Americans who lived in the region.

According to an obituary supplied by Rollie Mortuary in Gallup:

Ortega got his start in business selling newspapers and leading a team of shoeshine boys at the age of 10. In his youth he worked for his father at Indian Trails Trading Post in Lupton, Arizona. He graduated from Holbrook High School in 1946, where he played basketball and the trumpet. In 1952, he opened his first store in Deming. He worked to promote Indian Jewelry throughout the U.S. and he was the first Indian Arts and Crafts dealer to market and distribute throughout the United States.

Ortega was born in Holbrook. He eventually opened a slew of businesses in New Mexico and Arizona, including the Indian Ruins Trading Post in Sanders, Arizona, and the Hopi House near Flagstaff.

(Images of El Rancho Hotel by el-toro and Larry Lamsa via Flickr)

Outdoor concert will benefit Sprague’s station July 26, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Gas stations, Preservation.
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An outdoor benefit concert by a local country-music band for the Sprague’s Super Service station in Normal, Illinois, will be coupled with free tours of the historic facility Sunday by owner Terri Ryburn, reported WJBC radio.

Sprague’s Super Service 305 E. Pine St. in Normal is hosting an outdoor concert from 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday. The local classic country group Wagon Load A Trouble will perform and an authentic Route 66 road marker will be raffled. [...]

The event is free but donations are encouraged to help with restoration. Ryburn said the goal is to restore the building to its original 1930s form while adding a visitors center, coffee shop, entertainment space and a bed and breakfast.

“The short term goal now is to finish the downstairs and rent that out as event space, so I can get some income to finish my plans,” Ryburn said. “I can’t afford the equipment for a restaurant now.”

Ryburn told the radio station that renovations on the station are about halfway done, and several thousands of dollars are needed to finish it.

You can hear Ryburn’s 13-minute interview on the station below.

The Sprague station was built in 1931 on Route 66 by William Sprague. It was a unique in it was designed as a gas station and residence. It sold City Service gas, but morphed into other businesses by the 1940s, and the pumps were removed by 1979. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

Terri Ryburn purchased the station in 2006.

(Image of Sprague Super Service station by Larry Myhre via Flickr)

Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program announces 2014 grants July 25, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Bridges, History, Motels, Signs.
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The Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program on Thursday announced five cost-share grants totaling $77,000 for 2014, including one for an endangered bridge in Oklahoma.

Here are the recipients:

Rock Creek Bridge, Sapulpa, Oklahoma ($5,013 National Park Service grant, $5,013 match by recipient)– The bridge carried traffic on Route 66 from 1926 until 1952. The bridge, on the National Register of Historic Places, has been closed to traffic in recent years. Ongoing repairs and interventions by the City of Sapulpa will help it meet recommendations by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation so the bridge can be reopened to vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

Skylark Motel neon tower rehabilitation, St. Clair, Missouri  ($22,300 NPS, $22,300 match) –The motel, which opened in 1952, is marked by a two-story, Art Deco tower that sported multicolored neon lights behind glass blocks. The VFW that now owns the property is working with the Route 66 Association of Missouri’s Neon Heritage Preservation Committee to restore the tower.

L Motel rehabilitation, Flagstaff, Arizona ($9,800 NPS, $46,063 match) – The grant will aid with the new owners’ ongoing rehabilitation of the motel, including heating and air conditioning systems. The L Motel has operated continuously along Route 66 since 1949.

American Indians and Route 66 materials, New Mexico ($24,900 NPS, $29,651 match) – The American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association will develop educational and travel materials for the public that will include information about the tribes along Route 66 and their cultural heritage; significant tribal sites along the route; historical impacts of Route 66 on tribes; and the impact of tribal culture on Route 66.

Route 66 oral history project, Springfield, Missouri ($15,000 NPS, $33,880 match) – The Missouri State University Libraries will undertake a project to save for posterity many under-told stories of the Ozarks, including African-American experiences of Route 66. It will collect at least 20 oral-history interviews, which will be digitized and made available online.

The cost-share grant program provides assistance for historic preservation, research, oral history, interpretative, and educational projects. Since 2001, 119 projects have awarded a total of $1.7 million, with $2.9 million in cost-share match, totaling $4.6 million in public and private investment for Route 66.

(Image of the Rock Creek Bridge by carterse via Flickr)

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