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How did the Kingman Route 66 festival do? August 20, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Events, Towns.
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The answer: Pretty well; thanks for asking.

The town of Kingman, Arizona, hosted the annual International Route 66 Festival for the first time last weekend. I’ve cobbled together some highlights from the event:

  • Estimated attendance, according to the Kingman Daily Miner newspaper, was 6,000, which was in line with forecasts.
  • About 60 percent of festival attendees were out-of-towners.
  • Businesses reported a sizable increase in sales over the weekend.
  • More than 1,000 went into Beale Celebrations downtown to check the work of Route 66 authors, artists, and collectors. A good roundup about it may be found here.
  • General chatter from other Route 66 and Kingman Internet groups was very positive for the festival.
  • Nearly 200 people attended the Route 66 Crossroads conference of speakers Friday and Saturday at Mohave County Administration Building. It also totaled 3,000 hits on YouTube’s live stream on Friday. The speeches are archived on YouTube here and here.
  • Hundreds were at Locomotive Park for concerts, including by the Route 66-themed Road Crew from Tennessee.
  • About 500 attended a sock hop and drive-in movie at the fairgrounds.
  • The Hilltop Motel in Kingman was honored by the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program for its preservation efforts.
  • The 2015 International Route 66 Festival will be hosted by Edwardsville, Illinois, in late October, coinciding with the city’s popular Halloween festivities. (Clarification: Route 66 Alliance co-founder Michael Wallis informs me the Edwardsville event hasn’t yet officially been named as a host, but the group soon will be negotiating with the city for that purpose.)

“Route 66: The Road Ahead” report released August 20, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, Events, Preservation.
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The World Monuments Fund this month released its report on the “Route 66: The Road Ahead” roundtable held in November at Anaheim, California, that involved many movers and shakers of the Route 66 community.

The 67-page Acrobat document can be read in its entirety here. I commend it to your attention.

Much of the report dovetails from the Route 66 Economic Impact Study (you can read the summary here). But the roundtable produced its own highlights:

  • Stakeholders see an urgency — and an opportunity — with the National Park Service’s Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program expiring in 2019 and Route 66′s centennial in 2026. The implication is the Route 66 community needs a central organization that can dole out preservation grants much as the NPS program does now.
  • Vintage motels can tap into a niche market of so-called “heritage tourists” and those who want a vintage-Route 66 experience.
  • A missed opportunity is attracting a growing number of Hispanics — especially since the proportion of such populations on the Mother Road is twice as high as the national average. Stakeholders said Route 66 also needs to attract other minorities, such as American Indians — which have a long history with the highway in the Southwest — and African-Americans.
  • Roundtable participants discussed the possible need of Route 66 getting a permanent federal designation, such as a National Historic Trail. More about that idea can be read here.
  • President Obama has set a goal of 100 million international visitors in the United States annually by 2021. The U.S. market share of spending by international travelers dropped from 17 percent to 11 percent from 2000 to 2010 — presumably from the effects of 9/11.
  • Preservation of vintage roadways and bridges often is overlooked, but must be considered for the benefit of heritage tourists.
  • Landscape protection is the third-most important aspect for Route 66 travelers. Route 66′s open spaces are under threat from wind farms, solar farms, oil and gas exploration, cell towers and urban development.
  • Route 66 will need to attract the post-baby boom generation, which has no memories of U.S. 66 and less spending money than their forebears. However, the movie “Cars” and smartphones have provided a way to tap into that market.

And the report saw fit to print the entire text of a speech by the mayor of Pontiac, Illinois, Bob Russell. He told a lot of interesting things about how Route 66 benefits his town, and they may prove applicable to your town as well:

As the mayor of a community that is located on the route, I have been heavily involved in the promotion of Route 66. It is obvious to me that the only way that our community, and all the communities along the road, will be able to continue to support the route is to look at it as an economic development opportunity. Even though the City of Pontiac has had great success in this endeavor, there is continuing resistance from taxpayers, and understandably so in this economy. It is very difficult for our residents to understand how tourism can benefit our city when they live on streets that are in need of repair. Our passion alone will not be enough to be make this a successful endeavor. Our state and federal governments are poised to continue cutting the funds that we receive from them to provide the necessary day to day services that our residents expect. In light of this, it has forced us in Pontiac to take our fate into our own hands. The only available option for us has been the promotion of tourism that Route 66 has afforded.

In an economic era when many of the communities in Illinois are boarding up their storefronts, our city has achieved almost 100% occupancy in our downtown business district. The Route 66 Hall of Fame Museum in Pontiac has created opportunities for other museums to locate to the city, which in turn has convinced restaurant and retail store owners, along with bed and breakfast operators, to move their operations here. I have had to explain to residents for several years now that you do not attract retail stores until you have the foot traffic. Now we have the foot traffic and that indeed has attracted new retail stores, restaurants, and bed and breakfasts. All of the Route 66 development must create additional sales tax and provide for more jobs. Without these two components, we will not be successful in the continued promotion and preservation of Route 66.

The one benefit that we had not anticipated is the investment of wealthy entrepreneurs who visit our city from other countries. The majority of the Route 66 visitors from European and Asian countries are fairly well off financially, and they still view the U.S. as one of the best opportunities for investing their money. As such, we are promoting the availability of land the city owns along our interstate and state highways as good locations for them to invest their money to start new businesses. We have been promoting this idea for the last 25 years with some success, but now have a renewed interest from our Route 66 visitors. The goal of this endeavor is the same as our retail development, and that is to create jobs and tax revenue.

The only promise I made to our residents when they asked me to serve as their mayor was that while I am in office, there will be no increase in our real estate taxes. The development of Route 66 tourism will enable me to keep that promise through the end of my term. The other somewhat hidden components that the Route 66 redevelopment has provided for the City of Pontiac is quality of life and community pride. The opening of new restaurants and shops in our downtown has provided our residents with wonderful places for them to get together with old friends to have a great meal and to just sit and chat with one another and then take a leisurely stroll around from shop to shop. It is always fun for me to see our local residents showing their friends or family around our city and seeing the pride that they have in doing so. Without the development of the Route 66 tourism, I have no doubt that our city would look tired and worn, as so many other communities do.

To make tourism work is not an easy task. The first obstacle for many communities is to get the elected officials to buy into the idea. The majority of them want to be able to see tangible results in a very short period of time. This is nearly impossible to provide, first, because it takes many years to develop, and second, because it is very difficult to quantify. For the City of Pontiac to make this work, the elected officials, our volunteers, our City Administrator, our Department Head, and all of our employees have all had to go that “extra mile.” All of our museum buildings are owned or leased by the city and we are in partnership with all the museum operators. We get a percentage of their income to offset our expenses. There have been thousands of volunteer hours provided by all of the above groups to get the museums ready and to keep them staffed. Some of the elected officials volunteer one to two days a week at the museums and some of our residents volunteer at least two to three days a week in helping to curate the museums. I have personally worn out a couple pairs of shoes over the last few years by spending so much time greeting all of our visitors and giving personal tours to various groups. If a municipality wants to be successful in developing tourism, they must put together a very dedicated team that is willing to work tirelessly to get it off the ground. Is it all worth it?

The answer is yes. The results for our city have been more than I, or anyone involved, could have ever imagined. The word that I keep hearing used in describing our community is “energy.” Many of our visitors tell me that there seems to be a lot of energy here, and there is. The people who love their community will put in as much energy as it takes to make their community a better place to live. I believe that we have just seen the beginning of the development of Route 66 tourism as an economic development tool. So many people from so many countries are just learning about it, and I am continually being told by our visitors that everyone from their country wants to make the trip.

We now have the opportunity as communities to grasp it by working together to promote it. I believe the strategic roundtable that World Monuments Fund sponsored was the best opportunity we have had to make this happen. Let’s do it!

BLM wants man to remove veterans memorial August 20, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, People.
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A man who finished a small memorial to U.S. veterans three years ago just off Oatman Road (aka Route 66) near Oatman, Arizona, has been ordered to remove it by an official with the Bureau of Land Management, reported the Mohave Valley Daily News.

The veterans’ memorial is reached by a series of stone stairs leading up to two stone pedestals, one of which houses two flags — a solar-powered light illuminates the flags at night — and the other which holds the remains of a destroyed donation box Hicks cemented in place.

Over the past four years, the memorial has attracted traffic by word of mouth and on Internet sites such as the Arizona Office of Tourism and gokingman.com. Visitors post photos of their trip to the memorial on Flickr, Pinterest and their own blogs. Motorcycle clubs, veterans groups and individual travelers of Route 66 share directions to get to the structure, and businesses in Oatman sport photos of its construction.

But now the BLM has ordered the memorial off the site and onto private property, even though the agency knew about it when Hicks was still building it four years ago.

Hicks refused, and he’s probably got a good case on why he can — a recent battle over a war memorial in the Mojave National Preserve ended with the U.S. Supreme Court allowing it. Also, the newspaper explained:

Agencies like the BLM are required by law to balance the use of public lands — whether for activities like mining, maintaining roads and trails for recreation or providing opportunities for hunting and fishing — along with conserving land and water for wildlife and for the enjoyment of future generations.

The question of whether the agencies always find the right balance is an open one. They are, however, bound by laws in place to protect both the present and future needs of public interest and the natural resources the agencies manage.

“While the memorial is for veterans, it is important for all concerned to know that the Bureau of Land Management Kingman Field Office means no disrespect to veterans and fully understand that at times the public would like to construct a memorial or shrine to offer homage to those that have given their lives for the freedoms we all enjoy,” said Sanchez. “This is precisely why Congress approves memorials that represent the sentiments of this country for all our men and women in uniform.”

Individuals considering building a structure on BLM land would need to go to the BLM office with a proposal and apply for an authorization, said Sanchez. Such structures are guided by a federal land use permit under 43 Code of Federal Regulations 2920.

A bartender at the Oatman Hotel in Oatman has started a petition to stop the memorial’s destruction or movement. About 120 people had signed when the article was published, and more undoubtedly have been added to the list.

If I were the BLM, I never would have filed the objection. It’s a sincere, small and tasteful monument, and it’s earned respect from locals and tourism agencies. Hicks owns a sizable advantage of legal precedent. Even if he wanted to move it the stone and concrete structure, Hicks says his health now is too poor to do so.

And the BLM didn’t bother to check into the memorial when Hicks was building it four years ago. At the least, this seems like a “snooze, you lose” for the feds.

For the sake of good public relations and common sense, the BLM ought to quietly and promptly issue a press release allowing Hicks to keep his veterans monument and be done with it. Petty stuff like the current situation enlarges the already-large pile of stuff that gives the federal government a bad name.

(Image of the veterans memorial by Philip Lo Photography)

Milk Bottle Building will be restored August 19, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Businesses, Preservation, Signs.
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The historic Milk Bottle Building in Oklahoma City will be restored to close to its original appearance, reported The Oklahoman newspaper.

Catherine Montgomery, a preservation architect at Preservation & Design Studio who is helping with the project, told the newspaper the interior will be renovated for a new tenant.

After removing a sheet of plywood covering one of the building’s windows, owner Elise Kilpatrick discovered it had covered an original transom window dating to the 1930s with one pane of glass still intact.

“I said ‘we need to uncover this,’” Kilpatrick said. “We are trying to take the building back as close as we can to when it was first built.”

New windows, lights, awnings and a mahogany door are part of the makeover. Historic preservation tax credits will help pay for renovations.

Kilpatrick didn’t reveal the tenant, but said it would be “something really special and unique to Oklahoma City.”

The 11-foot-tall milk bottle on top of the building, made of sheet metal, was erected in 1948. The bottle advertised Townley’s Dairy from the 1950s until the 1980s, then Braum’s ice cream.

The National Park Service had this information about the Milk Bottle Building:

Constructed in 1930, the tiny, 350-square foot triangular commercial building of red brick is located on a speck of real estate smack in the right-of-way of a busy urban thoroughfare. It sits at an old streetcar stop along a line that ran diagonally across Classen Boulevard, which served as a segment of Route 66’s original Oklahoma City alignment. Subsequent realignments of the highway, first along Western Avenue and then on 23rd Street, remained only a stone’s throw from the site.

The NPS also said the building also became a cleaning service, a real-estate office, the Classen Fruit Market, a barbecue restaurant, a Vietnamese sandwich shop and the Triangle Grocery. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.

(Image from 2012 of the Milk Bottle Building by Travel Aficionado via Flickr)

Albuquerque asks for proposals for De Anza Motel August 19, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Art, Motels, Preservation.
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The City of Albuquerque recently requested proposals to redevelop the historic De Anza Motor Lodge after two plans fell flat in recent years. However, one prominent business group is recommending a partial teardown of the motel.

A group of Albuquerque business owners put together a list of recommendations of what it would like to see on the site, reported Albuquerque Business First. The newspaper quoted O’Niell’s Irish Pub owner Robert Munro, president of Nob Hill Main Street.

“We’ve spent time studying the site and looking at the figures for what would be the best and highest use,” Munro told Business First. “What happens at this site is a bellwether for the future of East Nob Hill.”

Main Street’s recommendations are for a mixed-use development that includes restaurants, 48 hotel rooms, 41 apartments and a Route 66 museum.

Munro said the city’s RFP aligns well with his group’s recommendations. “We’re sensitive to its historic significance as was the city. We both felt like retaining the Central [Avenue] frontage was important and both felt it was important to save the murals,” Munro said. The RFP provides a potential $400,000 financial incentive for keeping historic murals accessible.

The Albuquerque Journal also elaborated on the $9.9 million proposal:

[T]he property’s three buildings fronting on Central and a basement with murals by a Zuni artist would be preserved and renovated.

While the city’s RFP doesn’t get into details on what happens to the rest of the property, the hypothetical plan calls for tearing the rest down and replacing it with a 45-room hotel and 41 apartments, both in three-story buildings. The hotel and apartment would share a clubhouse, fitness center and swimming pool.

The hotel and apartments would be built atop “subterranean” or partially underground parking structures.

And, according to KOAT in Albuquerque, the city is offering $400,000 in incentives to anyone who redevelops the property.

The motel is on the National Register of Historic Places and the State Register of Cultural Properties, so demolishing even a part of it would carry significant hurdles. However, at least one report says even a full redevelopment of De Anza would carry only a “marginal” profit margin. So a partial demolition may be a best-case scenario for the property. De Anza has seen two developers in recent years walk away from renovating the historic property.

The deadline for proposal submissions is January.

De Anza is at 4301 Central Ave. S.D. Hambaugh, a tourist court operator from Tucson, Arizona; and C.G. Wallace, a trader for the Zuni Indian tribe, built De Anza Motor Lodge in 1939. It closed during the 1990s. De Anza received some recent notoriety when it was included in a scene in the acclaimed “Breaking Bad” television drama.

(Image of De Anza sign by Boortz47 via Flickr)

Severe storm damages Burger Hut in Needles August 19, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Restaurants, Weather.
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A severe storm that caused up to $5 million in damage to the Needles, California, included the historic Burger Hut restaurant along Route 66.

The Needles Daily Star had a roundup about the Aug. 12 storm, including the Burger Hut:

Ana Johnson, owner of The Burger Hut, said she was glad no one was hurt. She had finished with a customer when the storm struck about 4 p.m.

Repairs will take time, she said. The restaurant is insured but to evaluate the damage and possibly make repairs will take time.

There was significant damage to the plumbing and to the electrical system, she said. There is a piece of the roof missing and water damage inside.

Reopening will be a wait and see proposition, she said. It’s unknown what the cost is and she’s unsure of what will happen.

The Los Angeles Times also reported the closed Overland Inn motel also lost its roof during the storm. At least two cars were swept off the road by floodwaters and into the Colorado River. Fortunately, the motorists were rescued.

The Star reported 2.2 inches of rain fell during the storm, which is Noah-like proportions for such a desert town. Straight-line winds, estimated at 60 mph, also knocked over more than 50 power poles and damaged other businesses.

I was in Needles days after the storm. Most of the damage had been cleaned up, but a railroad underpass near downtown still contained several feet of water and remained closed to traffic.

The Burger Hut was built in 1957 by Lee McCary. It was renamed Irene’s Burger Hut, then Irene’s Drive-In, before reverting to its original name.

Traveling Route 66 exhibit planned for Europe August 18, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Art, Highways, History.
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Three men are planning an unprecedented traveling Route 66 exhibit that will be taken around Europe — which is a hotbed of enthusiasm for the Mother Road.

The men planning the exhibit are Jim Farber, who helped shepherd the current “Route 66: The Road and the Romance” exhibit at the Autry National Museum at Los Angeles; Stephen White, who has curated several international photo exhibitions; and Jonathan Spaulding, who recently oversaw the design and collection for the Brisco Museum in San Antonio.

Farber said in an email the exhibit is in its “very preliminary” stages of planning, but he remained confident it will happen. No timetable was given.

Here is the news release for the planned exhibit:

Every year thousands of Europeans, and visitors from nations around the globe, visit the United States in order to experience a journey along America’s most famous highway, Route 66 — the historic Mother Road, the Main Street of America. Yet there has never been a major international museum exhibition devoted to the rich cultural history of this iconic highway and the role it has played in inspiring some of the world’s greatest literature, painting, photography and popular culture, as well as the pioneering architecture of the gasoline station, the motor court and the neon sign. “Route 66: Song of the Open Road” is a proposal designed to bring that experience to a global audience for the first time in all its unique dimensions.

Among the expected contributors to an international touring exhibition are the famous artist, Ed Ruscha, Pixar, producers of the animated feature, “Cars,” Google, and the Route 66 Alliance, as well as a number of important collectors and institutions with holdings of Route 66 material. A checklist is in preparation. While much of the emphasis will be on the art inspired by the highway, there will also be a selection of artifacts that will create a balance between culture and aesthetics.

Design strategies may create sensory environments that bring the experience of the road to life. Paintings, photographs, music, film, literary manuscripts, clothing, and ephemera will mingle with large-scale elements such as neon signs, classic cars, and gas pumps, all important elements of the life of the road. A central concept of the exhibition is to combine the high and the low, the common and the rare, in a democratic journey through one of the world’s most important cultural touchstones.

Support is strong among potential lenders. Sponsors are actively being sought, as is a major European or international institution to host what should be one of the most iconic American exhibitions to tour overseas in recent years.

For additional information contact Stephen White at fotodazela(at)gmail(dot)com.

If the exhibit comes together and proves popular across the pond, it could prove to have a huge impact on Route 66 tourism by bringing a new batch of travelers on the road.

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