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Owner of troubled Bel-Aire Motel dies September 16, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motels, People.
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bel-aire manor

Gopal Motwani, owner of the historic but troubled Bel-Aire Motel on Sixth Street (aka Route 66) in Springfield, Illinois, died Saturday near his home in Naples, Florida, reported the Springfield State Journal-Register.

After putting the motel up for sale for $750,000 — plus $114,000 in fines for 700 code violations — this summer, Motwani told the newspaper he was doing it because of health problems. The code violations included unsanitary bathrooms, dirty carpet, potholes and lack of smoke detectors.

His wife still co-owns the property.

The newspaper reported:

Bel-Aire employee Dominic Marando said repair work underway at the property in response to a host of fines and citations from the city will continue as planned.

“I’ve known him for a long time,” Marando said Sunday evening. “He had a lot of pressure lately on him.” [...]

Motwani was in Springfield last month for a city administrative court hearing on the alleged code violations. At the two-day hearing, he disputed many of the problems city inspectors identified at the property and said that, in some cases, the city hadn’t given him adequate direction for making repairs. The hearing officer later toured the motel to see it firsthand.

According to a story in the newspaper earlier in the year, Motwani bought the motel in 1986. The property went into decline almost immediately after the transaction, according to relatives of the previous longtime owner, Charles Ciesler.

If anything comes of good from Motwani’s death, it’s his family likely will be more amenable to a discounted price for the property. The current asking amount is far too high, especially when it will take hundreds of thousands of dollars to rehab the building.

The city of Springfield a few years ago proposed buying the circa-1950 property and converting it into a Route 66 tourism center or museum. The motel’s retro neon sign, including a Sputnik structure, would have made it a beacon for Route 66 travelers.

But the city lacked the money, and the idea was quietly dropped. Mayor Timothy Davlin, who brought up the idea, committed suicide in 2010.

(Image of the Bel Aire Motel by Jackie via Flickr)

Johnny Rockets to open four types of Route 66-themed restaurants September 16, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Restaurants, Theaters.
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The Johnny Rockets restaurant chain plans to open four types of Route 66-themed prototype restaurants — including drive-ins, food trucks and drive-in theaters —  as soon as this year, according to a news release Monday from the company.

The restaurant stated:

Established in 1926 as one of America’s original highways, Route 66 became the major path for those who migrated west, and it supported the economies of the communities through which the road passed. No company is better suited to resurrect the nostalgic brand than Johnny Rockets, which was founded on Classic Americana and opened its first location down the road from the culminating point of Route 66 in Santa Monica.

“Johnny Rockets launched exactly one year after Route 66 was officially removed from the highway system in 1985,” explains James Walker, chief development officer of Johnny Rockets.  “We feel privileged to have the opportunity to re-introduce the Route 66 brand to the new car culture generation through our already cravable food in what we are sure will be a cravable environment.”

The Johnny Rockets Route 66 concept will take the form of four distinct prototypes: drive-thru, drive-in, food truck and pop-up.  Through enhanced operational efficiencies and technology, the Route 66 concept allows guests to enjoy Johnny Rockets’ made-to-order burgers and hand-spun shakes while they are on the road or being entertained at the classic American drive-in.  Johnny Rockets anticipates some of the first prototypes to debut as early as Q4 2014. [...]

Drive-Ins LLC, a company that collectively has 135 years of experience in the motion picture exhibition, production and distribution industry, is spurring a resurgence in the American drive-in theatre.  At one time, there were an estimated 6,000 active drive-in theatres across the country, with the number now dwindled to 350. USA Drive-Ins LLC, however, announces plans to open 200 new drive-in locations including Johnny Rockets Route 66 as the food and beverage option for attending guests. These locations will present family-friendly films and embody a nostalgic, all-American experience.

Also in cooperation with Drive-Ins LLC, Johnny Rockets will configure a pop-up theatre prototype with a combined mobile restaurant that allows owners to create a dinner and movie combination in a myriad of venues, throughout the country. As with existing Johnny Rockets restaurants, this combination of food, families and fun was created for franchise partners interested in providing an entertaining and satisfying dining experience. For current Johnny Rockets restaurant owners, Route 66 food trucks now provide the capability to increase visibility and sales. The Route 66 food truck can be utilized for catering and community events or added to a market’s existing food truck line up.

Nation’s Restaurant News also has a few more details about this four-pronged initiative. Franchise info — including discounts for entrepreneurs who are veterans — is here.

This entire plan sounds incredibly ambitious. Then again, the number of drive-in theaters has declined to a point to where perhaps Johnny Rockets sees an opportunity in select areas — especially in suburbs that never had a drive-in.

And I suspect the drive-in and drive-through restaurant ideas take aim at Sonic, which built its business on largely the same model.

As for the food trucks, Johnny Rockets probably is betting that people — especially children — will more often order food from a truck with a familiar name.

In case you’re wondering, Johnny Rockets has locations in only the Route 66 towns of Chicago, St. Louis and Los Angeles.

(Images courtesy of Johnny Rockets)

Route 66 coloring book published September 15, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Books.
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“Route 66 Coloring Book” cover

The “Route 66 Coloring Book,” in conjunction with American Road magazine, was published a few weeks ago by creator Rich Newman, writers Dave and Laura Newman, and illustrator Abby Smith on the Coloring Books USA imprint.

Here’s a description of the book:

Route 66 is one of the country’s most traveled routes stretching from Illinois to California. Hundreds upon hundreds of wonderful and exciting things to see along the way. Teepees, museums, modernized old fashion motels and gas stations, and natural beauty unmatched anywhere in the world.

Our two characters take you on a personal tour from round barns to robot dinosaurs and so much more.

The 44-page book costs $4.95 and can be ordered directly from the website. If you fret over the lack of a gateway to get youngsters interested in Route 66, this book might serve as one solution.

Here are a couple of sample pages depicting Henry’s Rabbit Ranch in Staunton, Illinois, and the Blue Whale of Catoosa, Oklahoma:

A preview of more pages is here.

Another “Route 66 Coloring Book” was published in 2009 by Carole Marsh. That one is 24 pages, and, at last check, Amazon has just two left in stock.

(Page samples courtesy of Rich Newman)

The rebirth of Tulsa’s 11th Street September 15, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, Restaurants, Towns.
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KTUL-TV in Tulsa recently did this story about the “rebirth” of 11th Street in town, known as Tulsa’s Route 66.

KTUL.com – Tulsa, Oklahoma – News, Weather

We’ve dutifully reported about many of these businesses — including Ike’s Chili — moving to the more-prominent alignment of Route 66 in Tulsa. I was a bit saddened Ike’s moved from the older Route 66 alignment of Admiral Place, which has a few of its own charms. But if such a move provides greater assurance for the century-old Oklahoma landmark restaurant, I’m all for it.

And I suspect more businesses will follow to the 11th Street corridor. Lots of space is available, and the more tourists talk favorably of 11th Street, the more tourists eventually will follow.

(Image of decorative brick inlays along 11th Street in Tulsa by Don Thornhill via Flickr)

Plainfield considers new Route 66 signs September 14, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Signs, Towns.
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The village of Plainfield, Illinois, is considering new signage — including ones marking Route 66 (seen above) — as a rebranding effort for the town, reported The Herald-News.

The new designs would encourage commemoration of the “legacy” of the historic Route 66, which runs along Route 59 through the village. The Route 66 signs could be partially or fully funded by Illinois Department of Transportation grants. [...]

Bowan said the village’s goal is to find a way to reflect the village’s character.

“It’s just an old-fashioned community,” he said. “We’re trying to make the village look good.”

Plainfield’s downtown historic district was placed on the National Register of Historic Places about a year ago.

Plainfield had a 1940s and ’50s alignment of Route 66 on Main and Division streets through downtown. Plainfield also hosts a segment of the Lincoln Highway, which predates Route 66, in the downtown area.

Plainfield’s origins date to 1830 and is Will County’s oldest community. It is nicknamed “The Birthplace of Chicago” because the  early version of the Windy City depended on Plainfield for mail and supplies.

“Route 66″ performed on Indonesia TV September 14, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Music, Television.
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Bobby Troup’s estate got another dose of cha-ching Friday. On a show called “Rising Star Indonesia,” contestant Reyna Qotrunnada performed his best-known song.

Yes, her English during the song is a clumsy, but do remember it’s not her mother tongue.

But it seemed a lot of people in the audience recognized it. It’s amazing how “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66″ has rocketed all over the world.

And lest you scoff at Indonesia, it is a nation of 250 million people. That’s a lot of potential Route 66 fans.

Class of 2014 for Oklahoma Route 66 Hall of Fame announced September 13, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Books, Events, Museums, People, Route 66 Associations.
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Author Marian Clark of Tulsa and the late J.M. Davis of Claremore will be inducted Oct. 18 into the Oklahoma Route 66 Hall of Fame at the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton, according to a release from the Oklahoma Route 66 Association.

The ceremony is slated for 2 p.m. and will be free to the public. A plaque for each winner will be placed on the Wall of Honor at the museum. An association panel selects two winners — one living and one dead — from a list of nominations every two years.

Marian Clark

Clark is most famous for writing cookbooks, using recipes from Route 66 restaurants or facsimiles of dishes from long-gone eateries, including “The Route 66 Cookbook” and “Hogs on 66.”

Clark is a native of the Texas Panhandle but has lived in Tulsa for more than 30 years. She resides a few blocks from the Mother Road, which kindled her interest in the highway.

Davis managed the Mason Hotel in Claremore, but became famous internationally for his enormous gun and arms collection and the museum that eventually was built to house it, the J.M. Davis Arms and Historical Museum that opened on Route 66 in Claremore in 1969. Davis died in 1973 and was buried on the museum grounds.

The ceremony next month also will mark the 25th anniversary of the nonprofit Oklahoma Route 66 Association, which aims to “promote, enhance, perpetuate, encourage the development of tourism, economic opportunities, and historic resources and landmarks along Oklahoma’s section of Route 66.”

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