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Half-mile section of original Route 66 added to National Register September 21, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Highways, History.
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Original road - Route 66

A half-mile section of original Route 66 near Depew, Oklahoma, was added to the National Register of Historic Places, according to an email from the National Park Service.

The section of road runs east of Milfay Road for 0.46 miles. CLARIFICATION: I had the Google Street View map in the right place, but facing the wrong way. Also, Route 66 historian Jim Ross informs me that section of Route 66 has been open to travelers from Milfay Road for over a year because of a man from Tulsa who cleaned up the property and put an RV park there. The 2011 edition of Ross’ book, “Oklahoma Route 66,” indicated that stretch was inaccessible to travelers.

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This section of road served as Route 66 from 1926 to 1984, according to Ross’ book.

In fact, a lot of original Route 66 can be found between Bristow and Stroud in Oklahoma. Another section, called the Tank Farm Loop, is drivable and listed on the National Register. Here’s a video I produced about it a few years ago:

(Image of a stretch of original Route 66 between Stroud and Depew, Oklahoma, by Janice Duryea via Flickr)

Proposed Chicago park may include Route 66 museum September 16, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Highways, History, Museums.
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A small lot on the corner of Wabash Avenue and Adams Street in downtown Chicago that’s planned as a Chicago Symphony Orchestra Park may include a small Route 66 museum to recognize its location on Route 66, according to a story in DNAinfo.

The so-called pocket park would sit just west of the Chicago Symphony building. Vanessa Moss, the symphony’s vice president for orchestra and building operations, said the pocket park would be part of an overall plan to revitalize Wabash. According to the article:

Moss said Friday that the CSO could partner with Blue Plate catering to “enhance dining options there and create a really nice oasis for people in the city, and help bring more traffic to the CSO.”

She said the plaza could include a “Route 66 museum” that will explain the site’s historical significance. In 1926, Route 66 started down the street at Michigan Avenue and Adams Street.

Officials didn’t elaborate on what they had planned for the museum, but a rendering did not appear to show a new building on the site. [...]

If funds can be raised on schedule, the CSO hopes to start construction in the early spring and open the park by summer 2015, Moss said.

Based on the artist’s rendering, I suspect it’s not an enclosed “museum” per se, but a few well designed kiosks to tell the Route 66 story in that area.

Swa Frantzen at Historic66.com explains the Route 66 path in that area:

The start of Route 66 has moved a few times. Originally, Route 66 began on Jackson Blvd. at Michigan Ave. In 1933, the start (and end) was moved east onto the reclaimed land for the world fair to Jackson and Lake Shore Drive. In 1955, Jackson Blvd became one way west of Michigan Ave. and Adams St. became the westbound US-66. However the start of US-66 remained on Jackson at Lake Shore Drive.

So, even while currently Adams Street at Michigan Avenue is marked as the starting point, Route 66 never departed from there.

A short distance away in 1977, city workers took down the Route 66 signs at the highway’s eastern terminus at Grant Park at Jackson Drive. Twenty-five years later, Route 66 signs were reinstalled on that spot.

Interactive map sorts 1935-1945 photos September 9, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, Photographs, Railroad.
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Starting in 1935, photographers with the New Deal’s Farm Security Administration began documenting life in the United States during the Great Depression and, later, World War II.

More than 170,000 photos were taken, and a few of them became famous, including Dorothea Lange’s now-iconic image of a migrant mother. Although the vast majority of images were digitized and put online by the Library of Congress, it wasn’t always easy to search for them.

But a team from Yale University created Photogrammar, an interactive map using a 1937 atlas where you can see the photos sorted by county or by photographer. Don’t be surprised if you spend a few hours surfing the images, as I did.

Naturally, I followed Route 66’s path and posted some of the most striking photos here. One could spend days on the Chicago collection, which contains hundreds of images from the city’s black South Side neighborhoods and the railroad yards. Dozens of photos document a black farming family’s life in Creek County, Oklahoma. Another large batch of images show squatters’ camps in Oklahoma City during the Depression. And in Los Angeles, you see Japanese-Americans rounded up (“evacuated” is what they called it then) to be transported to internment camps and workers toiling in warplane factories.

The photographers didn’t get everywhere, and the map contains a flaw for St. Louis County in St. Louis. But odds are you’ll find some fascinating images from the past from your home region.

Seating now in all parts of the house at the Chicago Theatre. Chicago, Illinois. Photo by John Vachon. July 1941.

Sign at Union Station, Chicago. Photo by Jack Delano. January 1943.

Santa Fe R.R. freight train about to leave for the West Coast from Corwith yard, Chicago. Photo by Jack Delano. March 1943.

General view of part of the South Water Street freight depot of the Illinois Central Railroad, Chicago. Photo by Jack Delano. May 1943.

“For the union makes us strong.” UCAPAWA (United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers of America) meeting. Photo by Russell Lee. Bristow, Oklahoma. February 1940.

Downtown Tulsa filling station. Photo by John Vachon. October 1942.

Armed guard at the railroad bridge in Tulsa, Oklahoma. That’s the 11th Street Bridge in the background. Photo by John Vachon. October 1942.

Cleaning an engine at the roundhouse at the Frisco railroad in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Photo by John Vachon. October 1942.

Gas station converted into a bar in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Photo by John Vachon. October 1942.

Part of Mays Avenue camp under the bridge. Oklahoma City, Photos by Russell Lee. July 1939. The bridge’s structure is a dead ringer for the Lake Overholser Bridge that carried Route 66.

Roadside stand “The Derrick.” Oklahoma City oil field. Photo by Russell Lee. August 1939.

Negroes waiting for streetcar at terminal in Oklahoma City. Photo by Russell Lee. July 1939.

Negro drinking at “Colored” water cooler in streetcar terminal, Oklahoma City. Photo by Russell Lee. July 1939.

Dust storm in Amarillo, Texas. Note heavy metal signs blown out by wind. Amarillo, Texas. Photo by Arthur Rothstein, April 1936.

Deaf Smith County, Texas. “It is reliably estimated that not less than 40,000 families have moved away from the Great Plains drought area since 1930.” From the report of the Great Plains Committee, 1936. Photo by Dorothea Lange. June 1938.

Downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo by John Collier. February 1943.

Marker of accident on highway in Bernalillo County, New Mexico. Photo by Russell Lee. July 1940.

Hanging up chili peppers for drying, Isletta (sic), New Mexico. Photo by Russell Lee. September 1940.

The Hotel Franciscan, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Photo by John Collier. February 1943.

Kimo Theatre, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Photo by John Collier. February 1943.

Santa Fe R.R. streamliner, the “Super Chief,” being serviced at the depot in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Servicing these diesel streamliners takes five minutes. Photo by Jack Delano. March 1943.

A street scene in Flagstaff, Arizona, on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad line. Photo by Jack Delano. March 1943.

Railroad men lounging in the lobby of the Harvey House in Seligman, Arizona, near the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad yard. Photo by Jack Delano. March 1943.

A street scene in Kingman, Arizona, along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. Photo by Jack Delano. March 1943.

A general view showing the Harvey House and depot in the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad yards in Needles, California. Photo by Jack Delano. March 1943.

The evacuation of Japanese-Americans from West Coast areas under U.S. Army war emergency order. Waiting for train in Los Angeles to take them to Owens Valley. Photo by Russell Lee. April 1942.

A neon sign. Hollywood, California. Photo by Russell Lee. April 1942.

(Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan and Gizmodo)

Book review: “The 66 Kid” September 8, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Books, History, Magazines, People.
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“The 66 Kid” is not your typical memoir. Then again, Bob Boze Bell isn’t a typical fellow.

Nearly all memoirs consist of a few hundred typewritten pages with a few dozen black-and-white photos crammed into the center.

But Boze, best-known as owner of True West magazine and as a western-themed artist, treats his early life story as a series of colorfully illustrated vignettes that don’t last more than a page or two.

As a result, “The 66 Kid” (192 pages, hardback, Voyageur Press) becomes a breezy, vivid and entertaining set of reminisces of growing up during an earlier era, mostly in the desert Southwest town of Kingman, Arizona.

Bell said he became motivated to tell his life story after suffering a near-fatal heart attack during a 2006 reunion of his high school rock ‘n’ roll band, The Exits. After his brush with death, one would expect Bell would get his early memories down on paper as quickly and have the memoir in bookstores within a year or two.

But Bell took his time, mostly because he apparently had a lot of painting to do. “The 66 Kid” is filled with dozens of Bell’s vivid artwork. If the pages don’t contain a painting, he uses old photographs or memorabilia from his collection. Voyageur Press books tend to be heavily illustrated (such as Jim Hinckley’s Route 66 books), so Bell’s more-artistic approach probably wasn’t a big stretch for the publisher. Still, “The 66 Kid” is unique for a memoir.

Bell also sprinkles helpful “History Detours” and “Legends of the Road” side stories throughout the volume, including “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66″ songwriter Bobby Troup, “On the Road” author Jack Kerouac and Life magazine photographer Andreas Feininger and his now-famous image of Route 66 in Seligman, Arizona.

Bell was the only child of an Arizona rancher’s daughter and a farm boy from Iowa. As a result, Bell and his family “ping-ponged” between the Midwest and Southwest to visit relatives or when his dad took on a new venture, mostly in gas stations. But Kingman exerts an inexorable pull at the Bell family — it was where the couple first met when his dad was stationed during World War II at Kingman Air Field, and they settled there for good when his dad became a mechanic and bought his first home.

“The 66 Kid” provides a snapshot of what Kingman was like from 1955 to 1965 — basically during the pre-Interstate 40 era. A detailed map lists the dozens of businesses along Route 66 then, many which now are gone. He also provides many stories from that time, including drag racer Billy Logas, “King of the Kingman Quartermile” and when a Hollywood film, “Edge of Eternity,” was shot there and at nearby Oatman Road, aka Route 66.

And Bell offers memories about the family’s regular road trips on the Mother Road to Iowa and back — including breakfast at the Copper Cart in Seligman, stops at the Longhorn Ranch Saloon and Museum, and an indelible memory of a ranch house in twilight in Del Norte, Colorado. Some of Bell’s recollections are candid, including his mother’s bigotry to blacks or Hispanics.

Bell probably gained his fascination of the Old West through osmosis. In addition to growing up in the middle of cowboy country, he discovered he was related to outlaws Blackjack Ketchum, John Wesley Hardin and Tap Duncan. He found out from his grandmother that Wyatt Earp, as she put it, “was the biggest jerk who ever walked the West.”

A seemingly minor but key moment in Bell’s life was when he bought a purported photo of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett at the Longhorn Ranch. Not long after that, Bell found out through a True West magazine report that the image was a fake. That became the spark eventually leading to Bell’s ownership of the magazine in 1999.

Very little of “The 66 Kid” delves into Bell’s adult career as an art director, cartoonist, radio broadcaster and True West owner. But it proves how the first 18 or so years of a person’s life can leave an indelible impact on the remaining 50 or 60.

“The 66 Kid” is highly recommended. In particular, baby boomers and natives of the Southwest likely will find it enjoyable.

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)

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