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Strike up the Band-Box July 30, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, Music, Preservation, Restaurants.
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Jo Ellis, a columnist for the Joplin Globe newspaper, reported about a sometimes-overlooked but cherished part of the history of Carthage, Missouri — the rare Chicago Coin’s Band-Box, also known as “Strike Up the Band,” in the Pancake Hut restaurant along Route 66.

The Band-Box is a coin-operated miniature, robotic big band that’s been in Carthage for about 60 years. It first was installed at Red’s Diner, Ray’s Cafe, and finally Wanda Baugh’s Pancake Hut. Even though it moved around a bit, it always has been on Route 66.

The Chicago Coin’s Band-Box was manufactured only from 1950 to 1952. It is in reality a remote wall-mounted speaker for a jukebox, and it was activated when a coin was inserted into the jukebox and a selection was made. The original miniature figures were made of sponge rubber. Dressed in stylish green jackets and suave bow ties, they sported the slicked-down hair style of the big-band era.

When the sponge rubber deteriorated, Baugh replaced the original musicians with similar sized figures. She found GI Joe dolls, discarded their camo and dressed them in Ken’s spiffy (Barbie doll) clothes. She also was able to replace the background drop, an ocean scene with waving palm trees, through Brad Frank Restorations in Chatsworth, California.

Here’s a video of the Band-Box in action, with the audio swapped out because of a television show blaring nearby:

Here’s another one in British Columbia:

Gene Autry and Clark Gable both saw the Carthage Band-Box when they dined at the restaurant after a night in the nearby Boots Motel, also a Route 66 icon.

A full restoration would cost about $5,500. Frank has offered to donate labor for the restoration if Baugh can raise the money for parts. Frank is supposed to return to Carthage in November to do more work on the machine; hope springs eternal that someone can come up with the cash for the full makeover.

Video summarizes “Route 66: The Road Ahead” conference July 29, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Events, Preservation.
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A few days ago, the World Monuments Fund uploaded this eight-minute video that summarizes the “Route 66: The Road Ahead” conference that took place in November at a hotel near Disney’s Cars Land in California.

You’ll probably see a few familiar faces from Route 66, including Dawn Welch at the Rock Cafe, Kevin Mueller at the Blue Swallow Motel, Allan Affeldt at La Posada, Bill Thomas of the Palms Grill Cafe, and Kaisa Barthuli of the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program. The video also touts the Route 66 Economic Impact Study, as it should.

Alas, you’ll also see a few things that are no more, including Bill Shea, who died in December, and the Bell gas station in Tulsa, which was demolished (but the sign saved) in March 2013.

Route 66: The Road Ahead from World Monuments Fund on Vimeo.

(Image of brick Route 66 near Auburn, Ill., by Jim Grey via Flickr)

A visit to Enchanted Trails RV Park July 28, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motels, People, Preservation.
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KC Keefer with his ongoing “Genuine Route 66 Life” video series interviews Vickie Ashcraft at the Enchanted Trails RV Park west of Albuquerque.

The interview also serves as a brief tour of a couple of the vintage travel trailers that Ashcraft rents out to overnight guests. If you’d like to stay in one, go here.

Owner of El Rancho Hotel in Gallup dies July 26, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, Motels, People, Preservation.
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Armand Ortega Sr., 86, savior of the historic El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico, when it faced the wrecking ball during the 1980s, died Wednesday.

An employee at the hotel said Ortega had been in failing health for about a year. His funeral was today at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Gallup, with burial at Sunset Cemetery.

Ortega Family Enterprises, based in Santa Fe, owns several concessions in national parks, Native American-themed gift shops and restaurants in the Southwest, as well as El Rancho.

But Ortega was especially fond of El Rancho, which was opened in 1937 by R.E. “Griff” Griffith, brother of the famed movie director D.W. Griffith. The Griffiths encouraged filmmakers to shoot movies in the Gallup area, and the hotel benefited by having a bevy of stars — including John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Errol Flynn, Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck and Humphrey Bogart – stay at the hotel during productions up to the 1960s.

The hotel started to decline, especially when Interstate 40 bypassed Route 66 in 1980. But Ortega, who always dreamed of owning El Rancho, bought it in 1986 after it went into bankruptcy and was threatened with demolition. According to an Associated Press story in 1989, Ortega bought the property for $500,000 and spent another $500,000 restoring it. It was reopened in May 1988 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places that year.

Clair Gurley, a salesman who was the hotel’s first guest when it opened in 1937, was invited back to the hotel after it was renovated and charged the original $5-a-night price.

An obituary in the Gallup Independent newspaper (subscription only) said Ortega could be found almost daily in the hotel’s restaurant, drinking coffee while chatting with tourists or buying crafts from Native Americans who lived in the region.

According to an obituary supplied by Rollie Mortuary in Gallup:

Ortega got his start in business selling newspapers and leading a team of shoeshine boys at the age of 10. In his youth he worked for his father at Indian Trails Trading Post in Lupton, Arizona. He graduated from Holbrook High School in 1946, where he played basketball and the trumpet. In 1952, he opened his first store in Deming. He worked to promote Indian Jewelry throughout the U.S. and he was the first Indian Arts and Crafts dealer to market and distribute throughout the United States.

Ortega was born in Holbrook. He eventually opened a slew of businesses in New Mexico and Arizona, including the Indian Ruins Trading Post in Sanders, Arizona, and the Hopi House near Flagstaff.

(Images of El Rancho Hotel by el-toro and Larry Lamsa via Flickr)

Outdoor concert will benefit Sprague’s station July 26, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Gas stations, Preservation.
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An outdoor benefit concert by a local country-music band for the Sprague’s Super Service station in Normal, Illinois, will be coupled with free tours of the historic facility Sunday by owner Terri Ryburn, reported WJBC radio.

Sprague’s Super Service 305 E. Pine St. in Normal is hosting an outdoor concert from 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday. The local classic country group Wagon Load A Trouble will perform and an authentic Route 66 road marker will be raffled. [...]

The event is free but donations are encouraged to help with restoration. Ryburn said the goal is to restore the building to its original 1930s form while adding a visitors center, coffee shop, entertainment space and a bed and breakfast.

“The short term goal now is to finish the downstairs and rent that out as event space, so I can get some income to finish my plans,” Ryburn said. “I can’t afford the equipment for a restaurant now.”

Ryburn told the radio station that renovations on the station are about halfway done, and several thousands of dollars are needed to finish it.

You can hear Ryburn’s 13-minute interview on the station below.

The Sprague station was built in 1931 on Route 66 by William Sprague. It was a unique in it was designed as a gas station and residence. It sold City Service gas, but morphed into other businesses by the 1940s, and the pumps were removed by 1979. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

Terri Ryburn purchased the station in 2006.

(Image of Sprague Super Service station by Larry Myhre via Flickr)

Front Street Garage in Galena will be renovated July 24, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Gas stations, Museums, Preservation.
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The long-closed Front Street Garage in Galena, Kansas, has a new roadie owner, and his long-term plans are renovating it into a Ford Model A museum, according to KODE-TV.

The garage, also known as the Bradshaw Garage, is directly across the street, aka Route 66, from Cars on the Route — known as the home of the original inspiration to Mater in the Disney-Pixar “Cars” movie — and Galena’s Haunted Bordello. Here’s what the garage looks like today.

The new owner is Ed Klein, best-known as proprietor of the Route 66 World website. He said the building was constructed in 1896. He said a roadtrip stop at Cars on the Route with friend Bill Conron ultimately led to his purchase of the building:

“Bill and I sat at Cars on the Route, eating a hamburger and having a beer outside on the patio and noticed something strange happening. Tourist would pull up and literally jump out of their cars, take a picture of the (Tow Tater) tow truck at Cars on the Route, turn around 180 degrees and snap a few pictures of the old Front Street Garage building, jump back into their cars and drive off. Bill turned to me and said ‘if they were taking these many photos of an old boarded up building, how do you think they would react to it all restored?’”

After seeing all this activity with the tourist, Klein contacted Mike Hughes, the owner of the building and set up a meeting. After almost a year later of the initial contact, Klein had to wait for a few code compliance issues to be resolved and after negotiations were settled, a deal was finally drawn up. [...]

Plans are to restore the building to the way it looked back in 1941 using a photo from the Galena Mining and Historical Museum for reference. The front façade will be closely reproduced to exactly the way the photograph shows of the building and he has other plans for the north and south facing walls.

Klein said the restoration would be a “10 to 15 year project.”

He also has helped with several Route 66 preservation projects over the years, including restoration of the 66 Motel sign in Needles, California.

(Vintage image of the Front Street Garage courtesy of 66Postcards.com)

World’s Largest Catsup Bottle up for sale July 21, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Businesses, Preservation.
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The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle, a landmark for decades in Collinsville, Illinois, has been put up for sale and faces a cloudy future, according to several St. Louis-area media outlets.

KPLR-TV posted this story today (the video isn’t embeddable). The Metro Independent, based in Collinsville, also had this report today:

Bethel-Eckert Enterprises Inc., owners of the warehouse below the 170-foot water tower, and the tower itself, are attempting to sale the icon voted as one of Time Magazine’s top 50 American roadside attractions in 2010.

Some lucky investor can buy the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle for $200,000, Larry Eckert, co-owner of Bethel-Eckert, said. He will throw in the warehouse and land for an additional $300,000, although he would prefer to sale it all together.

The newspaper said the owners quietly had the site for sale for some time and thought it had a buyer. However, that potential sale fell through.

The city of Collinsville was offered the site as a gift in 1995, and it turned it down. Bethel-Eckert isn’t willing to give it away again.

For obvious tourism reasons, the city wants to keep the landmark where it is. However, it doesn’t have much flexibility in making such a purchase. Instead, the city may look to helping sell it to a buyer who wants to preserve it.

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 eventually moved its operations to Indiana, but the big bottle remained. A local 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 favorite side trip for Route 66 travelers.

(Hat tip: David Backlin; image of the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle by Chuck Coker via Flickr)

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