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Longtime Route 66 museum curator Wanda Queenan dies August 25, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Art, Businesses, Museums, People.
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Wanda Queenan, 91, longtime currator of the National Route 66 Museum in Elk City, Oklahoma, and co-owner of the now-closed Queenan’s Indian Trading Post on Route 66 on the edge of town, has died, according to her daughter.

Kiesau-Lee Funeral Home in Clinton, Oklahoma, is in charge of arrangements. I’ll post more information about the funeral as soon as I get it.

Wanda and her husband, Reese, built Queenan’s Indian Trading Post on Route 66 on Elk City’s west side in 1948. According to Michael Wallis’ book about Oklahoma, “Way Down Yonder in the Indian Nation”:

For many years the Queenans offered tourists a selection of Indian pottery, beadwork, jewelry, and rugs, and also sold supplies to Indians who lived in the region. Although her husband died in 1962, Wanda stayed on and kept the trading post open. But when the interstate came and the oil patch went sour, business at the trading post suffered. Wanda stopped buying and sold out her remaining stock.

“We didn’t get rich, but this trading post was something we really loved,” says Wanda. “It was great fun out her on Route 66.”

One of the survivors of the trading post — a 14-foot-tall kachina doll made of oil drums and scrap metal from a local Indian named Johnny Grayfish in 1962 and nicknamed Myrtle — was renovated and donated to the National Route 66 Museum in 1990, where it stands sentinel today.

 

Queenan became the museum’s curator about that time and was often seen greeting customers in the gift shop.

UPDATE: Funeral information. Worth reading, but here are some excerpts:

Funeral Services for Wanda Queenan, 91, Clinton resident will be held 10:00 Tuesday, August 26,2014 in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latte-Day-Saints, officiated by Bishop Dan Turner. Burial will follow in the Elk City Cemetery under the direction of the Kiesau-Lee funeral Home. [...]

Wanda never seemed to think she accomplished that much. She is only an icon of the Mother Road, friend of historian Michael Wallis who has written many books and filmed documentaries of Rt. 66 which have included Wanda, She is the character of Lizzie in Cars. John Lasseter Pixar Director has consulted Wanda for her views and life story on the Mother Road; look at the end of the credits, you’ll see her name there! If you Google her, there’s her picture. Look at the museum grounds you will see the two giant totem poles Myrtle and Yatahey (aka Don’t Shoot Me, I’ll Marry your daughter) that once stood proudly on the grounds of the trading post. They were purchased by the city of Elk City when the Route 66 museum was coming to fruition. Myrtle is an international celebrity along with Wanda who has been interviewed by International and National organizations extensively. [...]

Quote from JACK starring Robin Williams-
I don’t have very much time these days so I’ll make it quick. Like my life. You know, as we come to the end of this phase of our life, we find ourselves trying to remember the good times and trying to forget the bad times, and we find ourselves thinking about the future. Please, don’t worry so much. Because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting. And if you’re ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky when the stars are strung across the velvety night. And when a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day… make a wish and think of me. Make your life spectacular. I know I did.

(Hat tip to Michael Wallis; photos courtesy of Guy Randall, K. Latham and 66Postcards.com)

“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!

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)

A look at downtown Los Angeles August 12, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, History, Preservation, Theaters, Towns.
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With the help of a quad-copter, filmmaker Ian Wood produced this video about the landmarks of downtown Los Angeles, which was the western end of Route 66 until the highway was extended to Santa Monica.

Downtown Los Angeles from Ian Wood on Vimeo.

Wood’s description of the video:

Above the grit and noise of the street, downtown Los Angeles quietly provides some of the most amazing visual detail in its buildings and public art works. This is a selection of those buildings and public arts filmed across some 50 different locations in the immediate downtown area and the arts district. There are many many more locations that are not included and are equally if not more impressive.

Some of the buildings are in disrepair, some have been restored to their full glory while others have been transformed into artworks. In all of them, there is character, color and detail that makes the area a never-ending source of intrigue.

Wood also provided a very helpful map of many of the buildings he filmed here.

(Hat tip to Scott Piotrowski; image of the Palace Theatre in downtown Los Angeles by David Gallagher via Flickr)

A visit with Rich Henry August 5, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Animals, Businesses, People.
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KC Keefer continues his “Genuine Route 66 Life” video series with an interview of Rich Henry, owner of Henry’s Rabbit Ranch on a stretch of old Route 66 in Staunton, Illinois.

It’s good to see Henry breaking in a new bunny to greet tourists. He has to do that every few years because their life span is so short. Montana, who gained fame for president but died before Election Day, lived to age 7 — a very old age for domesticated rabbits.

(Image of one of the many residents at Henry’s Rabbit Ranch by Brian Marsh via Flickr)

A promotional video for Kansas Route 66 August 3, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Businesses, Gas stations, Museums, Restaurants, Towns.
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Check out this well-made, three-minute video for Kansas Route 66, made for Kansas Byways.

Route 66 MASTER from Gizmo Pictures on Vimeo.

The segment was produced by Gizmo Pictures, a film and video production company in Topeka, Kansas.

(A scene from downtown Baxter Springs, Kansas, by Aaron Sumner via Flickr)

Will Oscar Mayer buy the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle? July 31, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Businesses, History.
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Several media outlets in the St. Louis area reported the Oscar Mayer brand is interested in buying the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle, which went up for sale earlier this month. However, at least one metro-east news website regarded the reports with skepticism.

The speculation was fueled by Oscar Mayer’s famous Wienermobile making an appearance at the Collinsville, Illinois, landmark this week after learning the water tower and adjoining warehouse property were for sale for $500,000.

Then the Riverfront Times, based in St. Louis, received a statement from the company Tuesday:

Oscar Mayer heard that the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle was for sale, so we just had to send out the Wienermobile to check it out. With six large hot dogs on wheels traveling across the country all year, we could use a worthy condiment.

The Consumerist website also got Oscar Mayer to confirm the company’s interest. A company rep said:

“The brand has been in touch with the bottle’s owner, and while they’re still in the early exploratory stage, both parties are very excited about the possibility.”

But the Metro Independent, one of the first outlets to report the landmark being for sale, labeled the Oscar Mayer interest as “premature”:

But Oscar Mayer is not ready to comment on their interest in the water tower and have not contacted the bottle’s owner, Bethel-Eckert Enterprises Inc. Larry Eckert, co-owner of Bethel-Eckert, said his only contact with any company representative was for permission to use an image of the Wienermobile with the catsup bottle in the background.

However, a media report surfaced Tuesday quoting a spokesperson saying both parties were excited about the possibility of a purchase. When contacted by The Metro Independent, a different Oscar Meyer spokesperson said the company would not comment further than the initial press release. The quote was later removed from the story.

It’s possible Oscar Mayer is negotiating with Bethel-Eckert, but with the somewhat-tardy instructions to keep statements on the lowdown until a deal is reached.

The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle sits near the site of a former Brooks Catsup factory. The 100,000-gallon water tower, painted to resemble a Brooks ketchup bottle, was built in 1949.

Brooks moved its operations to Indiana, but the big bottle remained. A preservation group restored it in 1995, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle sits about two miles south of the nearest alignment of Route 66 at Beltline Road in Collinsville. But it remains a popular side trip for Route 66 travelers.

UPDATE 8/4/2014: The Belleville News-Democrat reports Oscar Mayer’s interest in the property apparently has faded. However, other potential buyers have stepped forward.

“We’ve gotten some nibbles on it,” Eckert said. “I’m working with people more serious than (Oscar Mayer), but I can’t say too much right now.”

(Image of the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle by Erin and Lance Willett via Flickr)

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