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Tours offered of hard-to-access Route 66 sites in Arizona July 27, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, History.
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The Petrified Forest National Park is allowing free, guided tours of hard-to-reach landmarks on a long-closed section of Route 66 on Aug. 8 and Aug. 10.

The tours coincide with the Route 66 festival taking place that weekend in nearby Holbrook, Arizona. The Arizona Journal had a listing of the sites that will be included during the tours:

  • Painted Desert Point Trading Post operated by Harry Osborne, which reportedly had illegal slot machines.
  • Rocky’s Old Stage Station, owned in the 1950s by Nyal Rockwell, which also had guest cabins.
  • LA-A Airway Beacon No. 51, a 1920s landmark that guided an air mail route from Los Angeles to Amarillo.
  • Painted Desert Tower, built by Charles Jacobs in 1953, and the Painted Desert Inn, nicknamed Stone Tree House because petrified wood was used to build it.
  • Remnants of the Petrified Forest National Monument entrance station, which opened in 1932.
  • Remnants of Painted Desert Park, also known as the Lion Farm zoo, established in the 1920s by Harry “Indian” Miller.
  • Ruins of the Painted Desert Trading Post,  established by Dotch and Alberta Windsor in 1942.

These sites were rendered almost completely inaccessible by the opening of Interstate 40 and the decertification of Route 66 in the mid-1980s. A few hardcore roadies with four-wheel drives or good hiking shoes have managed to explore these places, but I’ve never placed them on the Attractions page simply because they’re too difficult to get to.

But park’s tours will offer an easy way to see these Route 66 sites, with historical context to boot.

The tours will last about four hours. They are free, but with limited seating. It’s recommended that you make reservations by calling Kathleen Smith at 928-524-6225.

(Image of the Painted Desert Trading Post by Marcin Wichary via Flickr)

Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program announces 2014 grants July 25, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Bridges, History, Motels, Signs.
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The Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program on Thursday announced five cost-share grants totaling $77,000 for 2014, including one for an endangered bridge in Oklahoma.

Here are the recipients:

Rock Creek Bridge, Sapulpa, Oklahoma ($5,013 National Park Service grant, $5,013 match by recipient)– The bridge carried traffic on Route 66 from 1926 until 1952. The bridge, on the National Register of Historic Places, has been closed to traffic in recent years. Ongoing repairs and interventions by the City of Sapulpa will help it meet recommendations by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation so the bridge can be reopened to vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

Skylark Motel neon tower rehabilitation, St. Clair, Missouri  ($22,300 NPS, $22,300 match) –The motel, which opened in 1952, is marked by a two-story, Art Deco tower that sported multicolored neon lights behind glass blocks. The VFW that now owns the property is working with the Route 66 Association of Missouri’s Neon Heritage Preservation Committee to restore the tower.

L Motel rehabilitation, Flagstaff, Arizona ($9,800 NPS, $46,063 match) – The grant will aid with the new owners’ ongoing rehabilitation of the motel, including heating and air conditioning systems. The L Motel has operated continuously along Route 66 since 1949.

American Indians and Route 66 materials, New Mexico ($24,900 NPS, $29,651 match) – The American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association will develop educational and travel materials for the public that will include information about the tribes along Route 66 and their cultural heritage; significant tribal sites along the route; historical impacts of Route 66 on tribes; and the impact of tribal culture on Route 66.

Route 66 oral history project, Springfield, Missouri ($15,000 NPS, $33,880 match) – The Missouri State University Libraries will undertake a project to save for posterity many under-told stories of the Ozarks, including African-American experiences of Route 66. It will collect at least 20 oral-history interviews, which will be digitized and made available online.

The cost-share grant program provides assistance for historic preservation, research, oral history, interpretative, and educational projects. Since 2001, 119 projects have awarded a total of $1.7 million, with $2.9 million in cost-share match, totaling $4.6 million in public and private investment for Route 66.

(Image of the Rock Creek Bridge by carterse via Flickr)

Road to Our Lady of the Highways Shrine will close for repairs this fall July 19, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Highways, History, Religion.
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A badly deteriorated section of Interstate 55 west frontage road between Farmersville and Raymond in Illinois — best known as a section of Route 66 that passes in front of the historic Our Lady of the Highways Shrine — will be closed for repairs for several weeks starting in late September, according a story in The Journal-News in Hillsboro.

The newspaper said residents collected more than 1,000 signatures in petitions that urged the Illinois Department of Transportation to fix the road. I have little doubt the Route 66 tourism angle proved crucial in persuading the agency.

The Facebook page for the shrine this spring posted a photo of a tire damaged by the road. It also posted this message on April 7:

Due to poor maintenance by IDOT, it is not recommended that tourists take Historic 66 from Farmersville through Litchfield which includes the location of the Shrine. Many tires have been destroyed as well as rims. The deterioration is a hardship for those of us who live in the area but we’d hate to see your trip ruined.

We ask that you complain to IDOT as well as sign a petition which is available at the bars and gas stations in Farmersville. We hope that a thorough and complete resurfacing will be done but until then the West Frontage Road/US 66 is dangerous.

The Journal-News reported that resurfacing of the road will begin in late September, closing it for about three weeks. 

A few purists might mourn the covering up of old pavement in the area, but a road so decayed that Route 66 travelers can’t reliably use isn’t any good, either.

The Litchfield Deanery’s Catholic Youth Council raised money for the shrine in 1958, and the statue was dedicated Oct. 25, 1959, at the edge of Francis Marten’s farm. The marble statue of the Virgin Mary was imported from Italy; area youths built the wooden alcove, a brick base, a cobblestone walkway and lights around the statue. Total cost at the time was $900.

Francis Marten died in 2002, but family members continue to keep up the site.

(Hat tip to Peter Stork; image of Our Lady of the Highways Shrine by alan berning via Flickr)

2014 inductees to Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame announced July 9, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, History, Route 66 Associations, Signs.
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Three inductees — including a previously announced historic bar in Edwardsville — were announced to the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame during the Illinois Route 66 Association’s Motor Tour last month.

Detail on the inductees may be read here. Here’s a brief overview of each:

Hi-Way Cafe and Tavern, Edwardsville — Sicilian immigrants Frank and Dora Catalano opened the combination liquor store, cafe and tavern along Vandalia Street (aka Route 66) in 1934. Their advertising slogan was “Good Cheer with Good Beer.” The business eventually expanded and engulfed the house next door. It was known for friendly service, spaghetti and biscuits-and-gravy. The Catalanos died many years ago, but the tavern recently reopened as the Hi-Way after being closed for two years.

Postville Courthouse, Lincoln — The building, originally erected in 1840 in the village of Postville, was one of the many places in Illinois where a young Abraham Lincoln practiced law. Eventually the county seat was moved, and the building was used a store, post office and residence. In 1929, Henry Ford bought, dismantled and re-erected the courthouse at his Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. However, a replica of the building was built in 1953 on what turned out to be alignment of Route 66.

Nelch and Son Concrete, Springfield — The longtime business is located at 900 S. Ninth St., on a 1930-1940 alignment of Route 66. Not only did the business play a role in constructing roads in the region, but also with many buildings, sidewalks and parking lots. The company was founded by Henry Nelch, the son of German immigrants, in 1896. The company is considered to be the oldest family-owned company in Illinois. The company also has a historic neon sign, which is hopes to restore in the coming years.

(Image of Hi-Way Tavern courtesy of 66Postcards.com; image of Postville Courthouse by OZinOH; image of Nelch and Son sign by the_mel)

Film footage of two Route 66 landmarks during the 1980s July 7, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, History, Motels.
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The Facebook page of the Dutch Route 66 Association recently uncovered some footage from the 1980s of two Route 66 landmarks.

One is John’s Modern Cabins, which had been abandoned for about 15 years and was already declining when the footage was shot. It was located east of Arlington, Missouri.

We’d managed to uncover quite a bit of history — including a homicide — about John’s Modern Cabins, which was published in a story in the summer 2001 issue of Route 66 Magazine (back issues may be ordered here). A more concise history may be found here.

The second piece of 1980s footage is from Ella’s Frontier in Joseph City, Arizona, not long after it closed. According to the person who posted the video, Ella Blackwell owned the place until she died in 1984. More about Ella’s Frontier can be found in this history piece here.

Both videos came from the recordpickers account on YouTube. He or she has some other vintage footage you might find of interest.

(Image of John’s Modern Cabins sign by Larry Myhre via Flickr)

A history of Cadillac Ranch July 1, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Art, Attractions, History, People, Vehicles.
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On Sunday, the Amarillo Globe-News published a well-researched story about the history of the Cadillac Ranch art installation just off Route 66.

Cadillac Ranch marked its 40th anniversary June 21 — four days after owner Stanley Marsh 3 died at age 76.

The story provides behind-the-scenes details about how Cadillac Ranch came about. I urge you to read the story in its entirety. A few highlights:

— The Ant Farm art collective, which came up with the idea, didn’t strictly have Amarillo on its radar. It compiled a list of millionaires who might be receptive to having the art installation on their land, and Marsh was on the list.

— Ant Farm member Hudson Marquez drew up Cadillac Ranch after seeing the book “The Look of Cars” in a bar near San Francisco. One section of the book dealt with the rise and fall of tail fins as a part of car design.

— Marquez and fellow Ant Farm members Chip Lord and Doug Michaels were paid $2,000 for the artwork and given a $3,000 budget to procure materials, including Cadillacs bought mostly from junkyards in the Texas Panhandle.

— The hard earth allowed the cars to keep the correct angle once they were lowered into the ground. A British artist working for Marsh on another project, whose name apparently is lost to history, proved vital in installing Cadillac Ranch.

— The newspaper estimated if Cadillac Ranch was visited by only 70 people a day, it would have totaled more than 1 million visitors. It’s safe to say the number is probably two to three times that.

— The Globe News published a letter from Marsh to the Ant Farm that posed questions about the project. One excerpt:

If we put the Cadillac Ranch on Highway 66, near my airport, would the bodies of the Cadillacs lean toward the highway? (south) or would they lean toward the prairie? (north). That’s an important consideration. Also, I’m worried about putting it overlooking the highway because I’m afraid some Ladybird-Johnson kind of ecology freak would claim that it was junk and not art and make me fence it off, so perhaps we would have to read the regulations concerning junk car lots in Amarillo, in Potter County, in Texas and on U.S. Interstates, and place it far enough back so that it would conform. Of course, it might be better fenced off from view.

After Marsh’s death last month, it was learned Cadillac Ranch was placed in a trust and that the installation would remain unchanged. That was doubtlessly done to protect Cadillac Ranch from a slew of lawsuits that allege Marsh committed sex acts with teenage boys in his Amarillo office.

Ordinarily, Cadillac Ranch would become eligible for the National Register of Historic Places by 2024 — its 50th anniversary. But in 1997 Marsh moved Cadillac Ranch one mile from its original spot to escape Amarillo’s sprawl. That move damages its chances for National Register status, and likely would delay it to 2047.

(Sunrise image of Cadillac Ranch by Lotus Carroll via Flickr)

Replica of historic hotel lobby re-created in Oklahoma Route 66 Museum June 30, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Events, History, Motels, Museums.
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As if you don’t have enough good reasons to visit the marvelous Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Celina Hawkins of the Odessa American in Texas explains why there’s another:

On Thursday, relatives and many others gathered inside the Route 66 Museum as the newest exhibit – an exact replica of the lobby of the Calmez (Cowl-mez) Hotel – was unveiled. About 15 years ago, I was fortunate to see the lobby, albeit dilapidated, but I imagined that in 1929, when my great grandfather Claude Calmes (Cowl-mees) opened the hotel, that it was quite grand. With marble floors and ornate accoutrements – it must have been beautiful indeed. [...]

He and his partner Elmer Crabbe pushed to get approval from the city and the chamber to build a 6-story hotel and eventually got their blessing in 1928. The hotel, which cost $500,000 opened in 1929 only weeks after the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression. Claude’s vision was to open a hotel that could be a rest stop without too much extravagance to the booming community and to Route 66.

I don’t think I’d say the place was without extravagance. It had a palatial entrance with marble floors. There was a café and a bar downstairs and one on the main floor. There was also a mezzanine where folks could gather for coffee. Then upstairs, there was a lounge, where I could almost hear the echo of big band music playing as I squinted in the darkness to make out the room. There was apparently a stage and bar stools attached to the floor surrounded the bar, upholstered in red. The hotel, was lovingly called the Grande Old Lady by Clinton’s historic preservation crowd.

According to the Clinton Daily News, the exhibit contains an original Calmez Hotel neon sign and other memorabilia. The sign required about two years and $1,500 in restoration work.

The Calmez Hotel exhibit will be at the museum through December.

The Calmez was closed during the 1980s. It was condemned in 2000 and torn down — but not without much debate from Clinton residents who wanted it saved. And Hawkins’ mother managed to save a few bricks from the building before the wrecking ball came.

(Image of the Calmez Motel courtesy of 66Postcards.com)

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