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Part of downtown East St. Louis added to National Register September 27, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Preservation, Towns.
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The Downtown East St. Louis Historic District in East St. Louis, Illinois, was added to the National Register of Historic Places effective Sept. 17, according to an email a few days ago from the National Park Service.

The district comprises of two blocks of Collinsville Avenue, a block and a half of Missouri Avenue and the south side of one block of St. Louis Avenue. Missouri Avenue served as Route 66 in the city 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. And Collinsville Avenue was part of old U.S. 40, aka the National Road.

According to the nomination papers, the district has 35 buildings, and 25 are “contributing resources,” or historic. Two properties — the Spivey Building and Majestic Theatre — already were on the National Register. Many buildings in particular on Collinsville Avenue date from 1900 to the mid-1930s.

St. Louis Public Radio earlier in the month posted a story about the district’s imminent inclusion to the National Register. It talked to Michael Allen, director of the Preservation Research Office, which the city hired to map out the historic district:

City leaders became interested in preserving the buildings when the Illinois legislature created a special historic tax credit for river edge cities of up to 25 percent of redevelopment costs, Allen said. That state tax credit could also be paired with a federal historic tax credit.

Allen said city leaders hoped the tax credits could be used to revitalize East St. Louis. Once the region’s second major downtown area, the city was eclipsed by development in other areas, including Clayton.

“Almost all of downtown has been torn down. … It’s surrounded sadly by nothing,” Allen said. “But this little area is cohesive, coherent and full of a great sense of history… It has all the bones needed for economic revitalization. It’s really remarkably intact.”

Because the tax credits expire in 2016, Allen and the city already are pitching the district to developers.

Allen hopes that effort comes in the form of a “building-by-building, slow and careful redevelopment” in the same vein as done in certain St. Louis neighborhoods, such as the Central West End and Grand Center.

“Neighborhoods started out with vacant buildings and one or two key developers taking on key projects, attracting another developer next door,” he said. “This approach while incremental is really what’s been missing in East St. Louis.”

East St. Louis has seen a flurry of activity in recent months with the National Register. The Melvin Price Federal Building and courthouse was added in August, and the Union Trust Bank Co. building in May.

(Image of downtown East St. Louis by Sean Marshall via Flickr)

A look back at the Birthplace of Route 66 Festival September 25, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Events, Music, Towns.
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The folks in Springfield, Missouri, already are publicizing next year’s Birthplace of Route 66 Festival — scheduled for Aug. 7-8 — by showing a few of the highlights of the festival last month.

That includes a performance of “Chicken Train” by some local legends, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils.

Birthplace of Route 66 Festival from SGF CityView on Vimeo.

Joplin to install new directional signs September 22, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Signs, Towns.
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The city of Joplin, Missouri, will install more than 40 new wayfinder signs, including those that identify the original path of Route 66, reported the Joplin Globe.

The newspaper said:

Patrick Tuttle, director of the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the council that the 43 new signs, predominantly blue in color, will replace the current multi-colored signs and are compliant with state and federal sign standards. They will have reflective material to make them more visible in the dark.

The signs point motorists to such points of interest as Joe Becker Stadium, the Joplin Athletic Complex, the Joplin Museum Complex, the downtown historic district, the Range Line shopping hub and hotel district and some parks.

A special set of new Route 66 Byway signs will identify Joplin’s share of that historic highway’s original 1926 course. Some of the Route 66 signs will include an information box to tell the significance of Joe Becker Stadium near the original route that runs down Langston Hughes-Broadway and the Route 66 Mural Park near Seventh and Main streets.

The new signs, which will cost the city $83,000, were recommended by a tourism committee several years ago.

Continuing to have those signs is good news for Route 66 travelers in that area. Joplin is home to three alignments of Route 66, and it wouldn’t be easy to follow them without directional guidance.

(Hat tip to Ron Hart; image of a Route 66 Byway sign in Joplin by Leo Reynolds via Flickr)

The rebirth of Tulsa’s 11th Street September 15, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, Restaurants, Towns.
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KTUL-TV in Tulsa recently did this story about the “rebirth” of 11th Street in town, known as Tulsa’s Route 66.

KTUL.com – Tulsa, Oklahoma – News, Weather

We’ve dutifully reported about many of these businesses — including Ike’s Chili — moving to the more-prominent alignment of Route 66 in Tulsa. I was a bit saddened Ike’s moved from the older Route 66 alignment of Admiral Place, which has a few of its own charms. But if such a move provides greater assurance for the century-old Oklahoma landmark restaurant, I’m all for it.

And I suspect more businesses will follow to the 11th Street corridor. Lots of space is available, and the more tourists talk favorably of 11th Street, the more tourists eventually will follow.

(Image of decorative brick inlays along 11th Street in Tulsa by Don Thornhill via Flickr)

Plainfield considers new Route 66 signs September 14, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Signs, Towns.
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The village of Plainfield, Illinois, is considering new signage — including ones marking Route 66 (seen above) — as a rebranding effort for the town, reported The Herald-News.

The new designs would encourage commemoration of the “legacy” of the historic Route 66, which runs along Route 59 through the village. The Route 66 signs could be partially or fully funded by Illinois Department of Transportation grants. [...]

Bowan said the village’s goal is to find a way to reflect the village’s character.

“It’s just an old-fashioned community,” he said. “We’re trying to make the village look good.”

Plainfield’s downtown historic district was placed on the National Register of Historic Places about a year ago.

Plainfield had a 1940s and ’50s alignment of Route 66 on Main and Division streets through downtown. Plainfield also hosts a segment of the Lincoln Highway, which predates Route 66, in the downtown area.

Plainfield’s origins date to 1830 and is Will County’s oldest community. It is nicknamed “The Birthplace of Chicago” because the  early version of the Windy City depended on Plainfield for mail and supplies.

Albuquerque sign irks tourists, businesses September 5, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Signs, Towns.
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I missed this the last few times I was in downtown Albuquerque. But a sign on private property that says “Please, no puking, no pissing, no panhandling or perversion, thank you” continues to draw the ire of Route 66 tourists, businesses and city officials.

KOAT-TV in Albuquerque posted a story about the sign, which has been around since 2008:

That year, local Robert Martinez called it the opposite of a welcome sign for visitors to the Duke City.

“I meet a lot of out-of-staters and I get a lot of good comments about the downtown area, and how Albuquerque has really changed over the years. Then to have a sign like that up; I don’t know, it might change their attitude,” Martinez said.

Six years later, tourists passing through are still put off by the language.

“It’s tasteless, rude, crude and not in keeping with the spirit of Albuquerque!” said A. Kaye, who was taking pictures of Route 66 before heading off toward the Grand Canyon.

The KOAT link takes you to the video that shows the sign. If you can’t view the footage, I put a screen shot above.

The property owner erected the sign because he claimed he was having problems with the things it mentions. The city apparently can do little about the sign because it’s on private property and is protected by the First Amendment as free speech.

The television station wouldn’t reveal who the property owner is, except to say it was a parking company.

Those who have ever dealt with parking companies wouldn’t be surprised they’re tone-deaf on hospitality and tourism. If the perversions or puking or whatever is truly that bad, I suspect a “No Loitering” sign would accomplish the same thing with little offense.

Gallup’s anti-panhandling campaign comes under fire August 31, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in People, Towns.
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The Navajo community is criticizing a campaign in Gallup, New Mexico, that discourages tourists — including those on Route 66 — from giving money to panhandlers, reported Indian Country Today.

In April, a coalition of city officials, church, business, and community groups rolled out the 90-day “Change In My Heart, Not In My Pocket”campaign to encourage people to “have compassion to say ‘No’ to panhandlers.” Giving money, the group’s press release states, enables substance abuse and harms the tourist economy. The group plans to step-up policing, educate businesses on trespassing and loitering laws, and increase donations to substance abuse treatment and homeless services.

That message sparked controversy. Many saw “panhandlers” as a misnomer for “Natives” and “Navajos” that didn’t address the city’s liquor economy, high rates of poverty, and economic dependence on Native business. [...]

At the first public meeting, Jeremy Yazzie, a Navajo student at UNM-Gallup, described the make-up of the campaign’s proponents: “It was an all white male group who wanted to push the [Native] panhandlers away from Gallup and make it more tourist-friendly and put a big red bow on Gallup.”

You can read more about the Gallup campaign here. Some excerpts from the news release:

Group member Bill Lee says, “Rather than giving a dollar randomly to people who will likely use it to worsen their condition, we are asking people to instead make a thoughtful contribution to something like the community food pantry. And when a panhandler asks me for money, I will simply tell them  ‘no’ and direct them to the charity I contribute to.” [...]

Group member Kevin Menapace says, “We need the whole community to be together on this. If we can collectively turn off the flow of money to panhandlers, everyone will benefit.” [...]

The campaign has other components as well, which include increased police enforcement, help from local veterans that have agreed to assist shoppers by being a “safe” presence, education to local businesses on loitering and trespass laws, as well as an initiative of extra hospitality and courtesy for tourists.

I understand what Gallup is trying to do, and I can attest to the panhandlers in the city — Indian and non-Indian, I should add — can get pushy.

But something about the campaign rubs me the wrong way. From my background, discouraging folks from giving a few coins or a dollar to a poor person seems profoundly un-Christian, or inhumane. And the notion that all panhandlers are going to use the money for booze or drugs is highly presumptive and simplistic.

And Yazzie’s criticism that the group apparently didn’t enlist Navajos before launching the campaign seems spot-on. If you seem to be targeting a specific group in an anti-panhandling effort, you’d better have a few members from that group to oversee it, at least.

Ultimately, the campaign smacks of coming from those who, to quote one of my favorite writers, “can not bear the agony of looking their country in the eye.” For centuries, the country called Native Americans savages, subhuman and slurs too vile to recount here. Its government embarked on a campaign of forced removals, forced assimilation and genocide against them. After the country came to its senses 300 years later and ended the abuse, it wonders why Native Americans suffer from poverty, suicide and substance abuse. And, yes, the parallels to African-Americans are not lost on me.

If people want to reject or help panhandlers, that’s fine — let it be an individual or case-by-case choice. But don’t roll out a campaign that targets a specific group without acknowledging and addressing the roots of the problems.

(Image of Gallup, New Mexico, by Wolfgang Staudt via Flickr)

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