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East St. Louis courthouse added to National Register August 30, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, Preservation.
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The Melvin Price Federal Building and U.S. courthouse in East St. Louis, Illinois, was added to the National Register of Historic Places effective Aug. 8, according to an email this week from the National Park Service.

The courthouse, which also was a post office, is at 750 Missouri Ave (map here). Missouri Avenue served as Route 66 in East St. Louis during the 1950s, when the highway was rerouted to the 1951 Veterans Bridge, now known as the Martin Luther King Bridge, that connects St. Louis.

The courthouse also is very close to the original 10th Street alignment of Route 66 that went to the 1917 St. Louis Municipal Bridge, now known as the MacArthur Bridge, which has been closed to vehicular traffic since 1981. And old U.S. 40, aka the National Road, runs nearby as well.

The courthouse of gray Indiana limestone reportedly was built in 1910 (other sources say 1909) in Greek Revival, Roman Revival, and Federal styles of architecture. It’s still used as a courthouse and as offices for federal law agencies.

The courthouse was renamed for U.S. Rep. Melvin Price, an East St. Louis native who served in Congress from 1945 to until his death in 1988.

The federal building is the second East St. Louis structure in the last three months to be listed on the National Register. The old Union Trust Bank Co. building was listed in June. Large swaths of East St. Louis contain architectural wonders that await saving or rejuvenation, despite that city’s decay for myriad reasons.

(Image of the courthouse by courthouselover via Flickr)

A look at Route 66 in 1985 August 28, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, Movies, Music.
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This 1-hour, 42-minute documentary film from 1985, “Route 66,” has been making the rounds on the Internet since it was uploaded it on YouTube a few days ago and Route 66 yahoogroup creator Greg Laxton posted it on Facebook.

Roadies praise it because it provides the Mother Road’s most comprehensive look just before U.S. 66 was federally decomissioned. You’ll see things that have long since disappeared, including the Will Rogers Court in Tulsa (pictured above). You also will find footage of the abandoned John’s Modern Cabins near Arlington, Missouri, before its deterioration became severe.

Route 66 was in a sorry state. Many of the small towns had long since been bypassed, and the renaissance that came with Michael Wallis’ bestselling “Route 66: The Mother Road” was years away.

I also like the film because it offers an unflinching and unsentimental look of the time. You’ll see a few things that some may find disturbing, including cattle being killed at a meat-processing factory in Amarillo and scenes of inebriated American Indians in Gallup, New Mexico, back when public drunkenness in that town was epidemic. You’ll encounter great folks, and you’ll encounter people you’d never want to see again.

A bit of Internet sleuthing reveals “Route 66″ — subtitled “A Nostalgic Ride Down America’s Mother Road from Chicago to L.A.” — was produced for the United Kingdom’s United Central Television, now known as ITV Central. The film was skillfully directed by Belfast native John T. Davis, whose credits include other documentaries and television work.

The film also proves notable for using snippets of A.M. radio of that time and a lot of original music, including Johnnie Lee Wills, Lone Justice and a very young George Strait.

Don’t look to easily buy this film on the Internet. It’s apparently long out of print, and an eBay search proved fruitless. At the risk of a product plug, I found the best way to view it is on my television using a Google Chromecast device. It beats watching it on the PC, for sure.

A closer look at Tulsa’s Route 66 Village August 27, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, Preservation, Railroad.
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Explore Tulsa recently uploaded this informative clip about the Route 66 Village in southwest Tulsa.

Mike Massey, train project manager, explains the vintage Frisco Meteor 4500 locomotive, rail cars and the Red Fork commemorative oil derrick on the site.

I do hope the volunteers can renovate the inside of that circa-1929 passenger car so visitors can tour it. The locomotive already is a popular photo op; having the car open again would make it a bigger destination.

While you’re at it, take a look at the future plans for the Route 66 Village.

(Image of the Frisco Meteor 4500 by Doug Wertman via Flickr)

St. Louis cemetery named to National Historic Register August 24, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, People.
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Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, which dates to 1849, was listed to the National Register of Historic Places effective July 3, according to an email a few days ago from the National Park Service.

Ironically, the cemetery contains several gravesites or mausoleums — including the Louis Sullivan-designed Wainwright Tomb — that already were listed on the National Register. But the cemetery itself wasn’t placed on the Register until now.

Bellefontaine, at 4947 W. Florissant Ave., is on the “City 66″ alignment that carried Route 66 from 1939 to 1974.

The 314-acre cemetery contains more than 87,000 graves, including Louisiana Purchase explorer William Clark, Anheuser-Busch brewery founder Adolphus Busch, Eads Bridge architect James Eads, U.S. senator Thomas Hart Benton, and Beat writer William S. Burroughs.

It remains an active, nonprofit and nondenominational cemetery, with about 100 burials a year, and still has about 100 acres of land available.

To tell you how historically significant Bellfontaine is, Findagrave.com lists almost 400 famous burials on its database.

Bellefontaine Cemetery often holds tours, hosts weddings at its chapel, and has a website that’s useful and contains a lot of information.

(Image of Bellefontaine Cemetery by Christina Rutz via Flickr)

Questions for Clint Eastwood and his Tucumcari time August 23, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, Television, Towns.
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David Stevens, editor of the Clovis News Journal and Portales News-Tribune in New Mexico, in a column said he had a few questions for potential interview subjects about long-ago local issues. Stevens’ wish list had some urgency because all the people “are getting old,” he said.

One of those interview subjects would be actor Clint Eastwood, who spent time in the Route 66 town of Tucumcari, New Mexico,  to film the television show “Rawhide.”

  • I want to know about Tucumcari in 1959 when he lived there six weeks filming “Rawhide.”
  • I want to have lunch with him at Del’s and ask if the food was better then or now.
  • I want to know what he thought about Route 66 in those days, if he even had a thought about that historic highway we’d all like to revisit, complete with its neon lights and hotel rooms with garages attached.
  • I’d like to know if he remembers hearing about the 13-year-old Quay County boy walking into his parents’ bedroom that summer and shooting them with a deer rifle. Gordon Ellis’ father died a few days later.
  • And I want to know how actress Kipp Hamilton ended up hospitalized for two days after accidentally stabbing herself in the foot with a knife while filming.

According to a 2010 story in Route 66 News, Tucumcari was used as a base for five episodes of the TV western. According to an excerpt from a Quay County Sun article at the time:

Actors and technicians arrived in Tucumcari on Aug. 10, 1959, for six weeks of work, the Tucumcari Daily News reported.

The show’s stars included Eastwood, Eric Fleming and Sheb Wooley. Guest stars also popped in and out of town for brief appearances.

The paper reported scenes were filmed at three Quay County ranches. The cast and crew, about 65 in all, were seen regularly around town and became regular patrons at Del’s Restaurant.

Eastwood is 84 years old and has gained considerable acclaim — and Academy Awards — as a director in recent decades. His mother lived to 97, so perhaps her son isn’t at death’s door (in fact, he directed another film this spring). But Stevens’ point is made — the urgency for having these questions answered is clear.

Perhaps Eastwood or one of his assistants will read this and be happy to oblige at least two curious journalists.

(An image from “Rawhide” by Peter Renshaw via Flickr)

New statues coming to Route 66 in Illinois August 22, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Art, Attractions, History.
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A series of new statues and wayside kiosks will be erected in nine towns along Route 66 in Illinois, according to a news release.

The Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway project was paid for by grants from National Scenic Byway Program and the Illinois Office of Tourism. The new kiosks and statues add to the 31 wayside exhibits and 14 “experience hubs” already up on the Mother Road.

Two-dimensional iron structures, called “shadow statues,” show a scene from Route 66. They are:

  • Godley: Miner and Mule – An interpretation of strip-mining coal operations in Braidwood, Coal City, Carbon Hill, Diamond, and Godley until the mid-1970s.
  • Elwood: Rosie the Riveter – A symbol of the female worker during World War II at the Elwood Arsenal factory.
  • Pontiac: Motorcycle Police – At the historic Illinois State Police headquarters building, the statue tells of the early days of the Illinois State Police motorcycle patrol (pictured above).
  • McLean: Dixie Gas Attendant – It interprets Illinois’ oldest truck stop, Dixie Truckers Home, that opened in 1928. It also features the McLean railroad depot.
  • Elkhart: Shirley Temple – It tells the story of actress Shirley Temple’s visit to the House by the Side of the Road Cafe in 1938.
  • Sherman: Wayside Park – It depicts a picnic during Route 66′s heyday at one of its surviving wayside parks.
  • Gillespie: Miner – Another coal-mining town, it proved crucial to the development of labor unions.
  • Benld: Coliseum Ballroom Dancers – The biggest dance floor between Chicago and St. Louis attracted large crowds, many of them top-name performers. The Coliseum burned down in 2011.
  • Staunton: Illinois Traction System – Electrified railways connected travelers before Route 66 became a major highway. The rail lines were phased out by the mid-1950s.

(Image of the Motorcycle Police statue that will be at the historic Illinois State Police headquarters on Route 66 in Pontiac, Illinois)

Los Angeles and Woody Guthrie August 21, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, Music, Towns.
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Folk singer Woody Guthrie‘s many links to Route 66 have been long documented.

However, this excellent clip by filmmaker Aric Allen shows that Los Angeles played a crucial role in Guthrie’s road to fame in 1937.

Amazingly, many of the places where Guthrie hung around in L.A. still exist, as this film shows.

(Image of Woody Guthrie by James Ratcliffe via Flickr)

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