IN THE SHADOWS

In regards to the research for a project such as the Route 66 encyclopedia, one of the challenges is to stay focused on the topic, which requires being able to differentiate between a rabbit trail and the path to discovery. My recent excursion into the world of the “Negro” motorist has uncovered a labyrinth of trails, many of which have opened new chapters in my understanding of this legendary highway, its culture, and its importance to the evolution of our society during the 20th century.

Green Spot Motel

Victorville and Apple Valley in California, along Route 66, was at the center of Hollywood’s endeavor to chronicle the romanticism of the American west with the filming of cinematic epics during the period between 1920 and 1960. The development of resorts that catered to the rich and famous went hand in glove with this business.
One of these was the Green Spot Motel and bar in Victorville. For years this motel served as an oasis, a quiet refuge for the movers and shakers in Hollywood. It was here the script for Citizen Kane was hammered out.
However, it was the establishment of celebrity ranches, like the one owned by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and development of the quintessential western resort, the dude ranch, that almost transformed the Apple Valley area into a suburb of Hollywood during this period. The history of this period is one of glitz, glamor, and, in the case of Murray’s Dude Ranch, obscurity.
From its inception in 1926, the year Route 66 was certified as a U.S. highway, Murray’s was unique. The initial forty acre site was purchased by Nollie B. Murray, a prominent and prosperous African-American businessman from Los Angeles.
Under his guidance the property was developed as a simple but modern dude ranch, a resort where guests could play cowboy, play tennis, or while away a hot afternoon in the shaded swimming pool. Here the similarities to similar area properties ended.
http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=B00003CX9E&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrThe resort was open to any and all who had money – regardless of skin color. As a result, even though it was frequented by leading men such as Clark Gable, the management of Murray’s targeted a specific clientele and as a result it was soon known as a resort for “blacks.” In the early 1950s it was even billed as “The Worlds Largest Negro Dude Ranch.”
The boxer Joe Louis loved this oasis and was a regular. His attendance at a Victorville rodeo netted the attention of Life magazine and subsequently, his stay at Murray’s.
In my initial research about Murray’s, I discovered another interesting chapter in overlooked history, movies filmed with “all negro casts.” Where were these movies shown? What other films were these actors associated with?
Four of these, westerns in theme, starring Herbert Jeffries as a singing cowboy, were filmed at Murray’s: The Bronze Buckaroo (1939), Harlem on the Prairie (1937), Two Gun Man from Harlem (1938), and Harlem Rides the Range (1939).
During World War II, the ranch was a welcome oasis for a contingent of African American National Guard soldiers sent to guard locations in the Victorville area deemed as vital to national security. Most recreational facilities in Victorville, Apple Valley, and other communities were off limits.
In 1955, Louis Bellson, a legendary drummer who played with Harry James, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Tommy Dorsey, was motoring west on Route 66 with his wife, Pearl Bailey, when they stopped in Kingman. As they were on vacation with no set destination, from this junction they could choose Las Vegas or California. They chose the latter and the rest, as they say, is history.
Nollie Murray, a widower since 1949, was looking for a buyer for the ranch when the Bellson’s stopped. Their visit stretched to three days, a friendship with Murray developed, and the Bellson’s soon purchased the property for a purported price of $65,000.
The property again changed hands in the 196os. During the next two decades the property fell into disrepair and in 1988 the remaining buildings were burned as part of a training exercise for the Apple Valley Fire Department.
Documenting the history of Murray’s is my primary task. But earmarked for future research are two more African American owned resorts, Lake Elsinore in Riverside County, and Piru in Ventura County, both in California.
Meanwhile, my research into businesses that catered to, or exclusively served, African Americans on Route 66 continues. Anyone have information about Lyons Park near Arcadia in Oklahoma or these type of businesses?

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