Transforming the Route 66 community begins with the transformation of each community between Chicago and Santa Monica. That is the Madison Avenue derived, pre-game pep talk, simplistic solution for what may appear on the surface to be an insurmountable if not impossible task.
I am painfully aware of the daunting challenges that need to be surmounted if a Route 66 community is to shake off the dust and utilize the resurgent interest in the highway as a catalyst for development. For more than twenty years I have been striving to find that magic key that sparks a renaissance in Kingman.
For more than two decades I have endured false starts, maddening frustrations, promising developments that never materialize, and palpable apathy. That was then, this is now. The international fascination with Route 66 made manifest in the rising tide of tourism, and the resultant economic impact detailed in the recent World Monuments Fund/Rutgers University study has made it easier than ever to sell a very simple message. If you transform a community into a destination, in the process you make that community a place people want to live, to raise families, and to open businesses. As an added bonus you also make it a sustainable community. The first step is to initiate public discussion. Your efforts can be as simple as writing informed, articulate, letters that avoid inflammatory language to the editor of the local paper, making presentations at local meetings of the Lions Club, Kiwanis and similar organizations, arranging to have knowledgeable people speak at those meetings, or ensuring the chamber of commerce is made aware of what other communities are doing, and how those efforts can be modified to benefit your community. Hand in hand with this is the need to become educated about the history of Route 66, what makes it an international destination, and what makes this a linear community. If you are truly baffled by the roads popularity, take a bit of a road trip along the road or simply initiate conversations with travelers at local museums, stores or restaurants. Pick up a copy of the various guide books offered by the National Historic Route 66 Federation, check out a few of the key websites such as posted by the Route 66 Alliance or the Route 66 Chamber of Commerce. I also recommend the Route 66 News site to ensure your information is relevant and fresh, as well as to spark ideas about topics for initiating discussions. There are two things to be avoided. The first is myopia. Route 66 may be a linear community but is is also a string of communities with unique and individual personalities. Think of it as a large town with neighborhoods that have colorful and distinctive attributes. The Route 66 traveler is looking for an authentic experience. So, find ways to link your communities unique attributes and charms to that of Route 66. Include these things in your discussions and conversations. The second item to be avoided is divisive individuals. These are the folks whose focus is so self serving and narrow that they can look down a beer bottle with both eyes. These are the polarizing people that seem to thrive on fueling divisions and transforming simple disagreements into riots or lynch mobs. These are the folks who blame everyone but themselves for the state of their business or community, and that are quick to vocally proclaim why things don’t work but never offer solutions. Trying to rationalize or negotiate with them is an absolute waste of time. This is not to say that crafting compromises is a wasted effort. Remember, anyone can whip a mob into a riot but it takes a leader to turn those passions toward creativity rather than destruction. If your really ambitious, and the pinata impersonations that result from your public conversations haven’t deterred you, take it to the next level. In the next posting I will provide ideas on doing just that, and examples of where those simple efforts have paid very big benefits.
The recent Route 66 symposium has the potential to transform the road, as well as ensure its vitality and relevance for decades to come. It could easily serve as a foundation for realistic and sustainable development and the creation of a real linear community rather than an envisioned one.
However, for any of this to take place it is imperative we address divisions and hurt feelings that resulted from the symposium as a first step. Then we can craft a unified sense of purpose by finding a single point of focus, and making that our goal.
As an example, the centennial of Route 66 is looming on the horizon, an event noted at the symposium. If we center our vision on that, we see the immediate need to preserve the staggering number of first and second generation bridges currently scheduled for demolition or replacement.
A preservation project of this magnitude will not be accomplished by a single community, a divided entity, or a few spirited Route 66 enthusiasts. It will require a coordinated and unified sense of purpose from the Route 66 community if we are to emulate the preservation success of the Marsh Arch Bridge in Kansas, the Lake Overholser Bridge in Oklahoma, or the Colorado Bridge in Pasadena on a national level.
Bridge preservation is but one issue requiring immediate attention that is revealed when we focus on the highways centennial. Bicycle tourism is an increasingly popular component in Route 66 tourism.
Developing the infrastructure to accommodate this aspect of the roads future can not be accomplished by Kingman or Pontiac alone. It will require the unified participation of every community from Chicago to Santa Monica.
Under the auspices of developing infrastructure for the bicyclist, we have a viable venue for the preservation of historic bridges, and currently abandoned alignments of Route 66. We also have another opportunity to bridge chasms of division and replace apathy with enthusiasm.
Developing a bicyclist friendly infrastructure would have the added benefit of addressing another issue raised at the symposium, the need to attract a younger audience. Currently, Route 66 tourism is dominated by an aging Caucasian demographic, an issue that could very well endanger the celebration of the roads centennial as well as its future if not addressed as a community.
In closing I feel the need to address the numerous notes and phone calls expressing concern about divisions and exclusions received since the symposium. To fully utilize the wealth of information derived from the conference, these issues need to be resolved.
As noted previously, I am unsure who drafted the list of invited participants. However, there is little doubt that the decision of who to include and who to exclude must have been daunting.
Why did I receive an invitation instead of Patrick Tuttle, the Joplin tourism director who spearheaded an amazing festival this past August? Why was the mayor of Pontiac invited but not the mayor of Galena?
Obviously it would have been an impossibility to invite everyone who works hard to preserve and promote Route 66. Additionally, inclusion of just the 700 people who requested an opportunity to attend after the issuance of invitations would have resulted in an unwieldy, unmanageable conference.
In all honesty I am unsure what my reaction or thoughts would be if I had been excluded from participation. However, I sincerely think that my first reaction would be to contact an attendee, and ask what I could do or how I could lend assistance to ensure the symposium didn’t become another missed opportunity.
Instead of seeing exclusion as a personal slight, I respectively request that this conference be viewed in the context of what it means to the Route 66 community as a whole. I also suggest that each and everyone with a vested interest in the preservation of iconic Route 66 strive to assist in the building of a functional coalition that can serve as mediator, facilitator, and for the Route 66 community as a whole.
With that thought in mind, let me attempt to clarify concerns expressed about the Route 66 Alliance and rumors that Michael Wallis was slighted at the symposium. At no time did I witness anything but expressions of respect for Michael Wallis and his efforts to promote as well as preserve Route 66 and its unique culture.
In discussions pertaining to the need for an umbrella organization to coordinate preservation, development, and promotion in an effort to avoid wasted resources of time and money resultant of duplicated efforts, there was almost universal agreement. What could not be agreed upon was if it was best to build this organization on the foundation of an existent one, or if it would be best to start fresh.
Dominating the argument for creation of a new entity were existing conflicts, and the apparent inability of existing organizations to fully address issues of concern, or bring a sense of unity to the Route 66 community. Additionally, there is a justifiable perception that some current organizations exist in name only.
In regard to the Route 66 Alliance, it was noted that their website events page still lists the Joplin festival held this past August, but not the Route 66 International Festival scheduled for August 2014 in Kingman. As this entity is the sanctioning body for this event, such an oversight was presented as evidence that the Alliance exists in name only.
In my opinion, the timing of an announcement by Rick Freeland pertaining to changes being made to the Route 66 Alliance tainted his important message. As evidenced by inquiries received, it may have also actually fostered division.
Still, the Route 66 Alliance represents a very solid foundation for the creation of an entity that can emulate the success of the original U.S. Highway 66 Association. If Route 66 is to survive and thrive, this will be crucial.
However, I would be remiss if the National Historic Route 66 Federation were not mentioned in this conversation. What will be their role in the development of an umbrella organization and can the Route 66 Alliance form an arrangement with them that serves as a template for unification?
The recent symposium in California did more than provide me with valuable information about harnessing the resurgent interest in Route 66 for community development. It also confirmed a number of things I have long suspected, and verified what the organizers of the 2014 Route 66 International Festival in Kingman envisioned when they began crafting the event on a foundation of the city and Route 66 as the crossroads of the past and future.
For Route 66 to remain as a vital, thriving repository of history that reflects American societal evolution in the 20th century, enthusiasts and promoters will need to move beyond the myopia of neon and tail fins. They will also have to develop promotion of cultural aspects of the roads history that better reflect the highways ethnic diversity, and tie all of this to changing dynamics as represented by the roadside installation of charging stations for automobiles, and an increase in bicycle tourism.
The organizers of the festival in Kingman plan on showcasing the Route 66 of the future at the event. To do so, however, there is a need for involvement from the entire Route 66 community and beyond.
To bridge the gap between the past and future on Route 66, there will be a focus on the evolution of alternative energy vehicles. This aspect will consist of seminars about the past, present, and future of alternative energy vehicles and related infrastructure, and inclusion of alternative energy vehicles in the cruise nights as well as car show.
To date organizers have confirmed attendance of an award winning automobile historian and author who will discuss the history of pre 1930 electric and steam powered automobiles, and a collector who has committed to bring the oldest operational Studebaker electric, a 1902 model designed by Thomas Edison.
In addition, Buzz Waldmire will be displaying work by acclaimed artist Bob Waldmire that pertains to electric vehicles at TNT Engineering housed in an historic Ford dealership on Andy Devine Avenue (Route 66). This is the site of a Bob Waldmire mural.
To flesh this out there is a need for additional speakers as well as participation by owners of alternative energy vehicles of the past as well as present. For more information about how to participate, contact Mike Wagner at 714-262-8733 or 928-275-1215.
A common theme at the symposium was the need for inclusion and unity in the Route 66 community. Here too, organizers of the festival are developing means of reflecting the future face of Route 66.
For fifty dollars and a gift certificate redeemable for an item from a business, museum, or community, along Route 66, there is an opportunity for representation of the entire road from Chicago to Santa Monica. Participants will be listed on the website, and the certificates will be give away during a free raffle. Again, the primary contact is Mike Wagner.
Ethnic diversity is another aspect of the highways history that is often overlooked. For the 2014 festival the major sponsor is Grand Canyon West and Hualapai Tourism.
In addition, there will be an exhibition of Native American artists and craftsman, and western artists in conjunction with the traditional gathering of Route 66 authors, artists, and collectors. Bob “Boze” Bell of True West magazine, an acclaimed author and artist will be in attendance. If you would like to participate, the contact is Angela at Beale Street Brews.
A film festival showcasing the best Route 66 themed independent films as well as motion pictures filmed on Route 66 or in the Kingman area is also on the schedule. For information about how to showcase your film call Tom at 928-234-0658.
As envisioned, the festival will serve as a catalyst for the revitalization of the cities historic district, and present Kingman as a destination. It is also hoped that it can serve as a template for other communities to develop and link their unique attributes to the popularity of Route 66, and as a result, enrich the Route 66 experience for travelers.
In the past few days I have been providing a bit of information about the recent World Monuments Fund sponsored Route 66 symposium in California. In the coming weeks I plan on sharing information from the event in a format that will allow for its implication in a practical manner.
One aspect of the event I found most invigorating was the display of general unity during the strategic planning round table session on the final day. Unity in the Route 66 community is a very rare commodity as evidenced by the splintered efforts to promote the road, preserve its unique attributes, and harness the resurgent interest in the highway as an engine for community development.
An example of the unity displayed during this segment of the conference was the consensus that an umbrella organization such as the original U.S. Highway 66 Association was needed if Route 66 was to survive a second century, or if its fast approaching centennial would be a celebration or a dirge. This show of unity also presented a bit of an issue.
There are currently two organizations operating at the national level that strive to represent the Route 66 community – the National Historic Route 66 Federation and the Route 66 Alliance. The former has made, and continues to make, tremendous contributions by keeping members informed about important legislation, needs for preservation involvement, and the publication of books such as the EZ 66 Guide by Jerry McClanahan.
The latter has the persona of Michael Wallis, a foundational element in the Route 66 renaissance. The Alliance has been flying under the radar of most Route 66 enthusiasts but behind the scenes it has been building a powerful coalition for change and preservation that has the potential for dramatic and sweeping Route 66 development, and spearheading incredible projects such as the development of Cyrus Avery Plaza in Tulsa. I will let Mr. Wallis explain all of this in his own words in just a moment.
As noted, a primary point of division at the planning session was the need for an umbrella organization. Most saw no reason to reinvent the wheel by creating a new entity. A few, however, felt that a clean slate was required to create an effective organization.
It is my sincere hope that this sticking point will be resolved quickly and that the momentum from the symposium will not be lost. This was an historic event, a rare opportunity that can not be squandered if the old double six is to survive and thrive.
And now, Michael Wallis –
Nov 24 at 3:59 PM
I am back in Tulsa. Thanks to all of you who sent your sympathies and good wishes concerning the sudden and tragic loss of a very dear friend. Much appreciated.
I am just now seeing a variety of reports sent to me about the conference at Cars Land. I see reviews are quite mixed.
Allow me to remind each of you that an organization exists that can serve as a national-international umbrella for the entire historic highway and also serve the bonafide sate associations. Notice that I said serve and not dictate.
I am, of course, referring to the Route 66 Alliance. The Alliance is 501c.3 non-profit that uses funds received for the betterment of our beloved highway. It was co-founded by myself and Rick Freeland, and Dan Rice has been selected as our designated Executive Director.
The Alliance is now poised to truly move forward on all fronts. I am puzzled why this was not made clear at the meetings in California last week. Perhaps Rick and Dan were not provided with the right forum or given an opportunity to fully explain the Alliance and our position and plans. Perhaps some attendees decided to ignore the words of Rick and Dan. Whatever happened and if there is any doubt at all about the viability of the Alliance, please know my friends that the Alliance is definitely for real.
The Route 66 Alliance is precisely what you all were trying to come up with during your sessions. The Alliance is all about the Mother Road. All we need is your support.
Below is an FYI, a recent story from Route 66 News, in case you missed it. This piece is about but one project we are now focusing on as we build a strong board that includes John Lassiter. The grandson and great-grandson of Cyrus S. Avery, have also committed to our cause. We also have major support from the most viable and genuine influences on Route 66.
In response to the staggering number of requests for information about the recent World Monuments Fund sponsored Route 66 symposium in California, I still have a pile of notes and materials to correlate, and thoughts to sort out. So, as this process unfolds I will share as much as possible in an effort to ensure rumors don’t replace facts, and that divisions aren’t fostered as a result of limited information.
The first rumor that needs to be immediately addressed is in regard to the role of Michael Wallace. The entire renaissance of Route 66 is being built on a foundation laid by a handful of people and Mr. Wallis is one of those individuals.
It was a pressing unscheduled personal issue that prevented his attendance. This was unfortunate from a number of perspectives as his expertise would have lent itself well to the round table strategic planning session on Friday.
Now, a bit about the symposium and what I took from it. With the exception of a very early, very fascinating, drizzly morning tour of Cars Land (6:30 on Thursday), the first two days were marathon sessions of coffee, note taking, reviewing of notes, coffee, brain storming, coffee, discussions, presentations, and more note taking as speaker after speaker presented information about the roads future, how to preserve its unique attributes, how to ensure it remains an important of the American landscape for another century, how communities have harnessed the power that is the resurgent interest in Route 66, and a staggering array of other topics.
The best way to portray the wide scope of the presentations is to give you a bit of background on a few of the speakers. The lengthy list included Glenn Schlottman, Community Relations Manager at the Arizona Office of Tourism, Allan Affedlt, elected mayor of Winslow on two occasions and the owner of the stunning La Posada Hotel who restored it to former glory, Ellie Alexander, Director of Tourism for the City of Pontiac Illinois, and Amir Eylon, Vice President, Partnership Development for North America at Brand USA.
Ensuring that almost every facet of Route 66 development and preservation was represented, additional speakers included, Amy Webb, heritage tourism specialist, Bob Russell, Mayor of Pontiac, Illinois, Kevin Mueller, owner of the Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, Ed Wilson, strategic consultant for the World Monuments Fund, Jamie Sweeting, Chairman of the Board of Sustainable Travel International, film producer Zdnek Jurasek of the Czech Route 66 Association, David Knudson, Executive Director of the National Historic Route 66 Federation, Stephen Johnson, Guided Tours Product Manager at Eagle Rider Motorcycle Rentals & Tours, Anne Haaker, Illinois Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer, Hal Fairbanks, Vice President of Acquisitions for HRI Properties, and Aaron Chaffee, Vice President of Hostel Development. This is but a partial list but it gives you an idea as to why I need more time to decipher notes and present solid usable information.
Needless to say I learned a great deal at the symposium and hope to be able to utilize it to make a contribution to the preservation, as well as development, of Route 66. I also was quite pleased to learn that without meaning to we aptly bestowed the moniker of Crossroads of the Past & Future on the 2014 International Festival, and taped into key components needed to advance the roads popularity.
The challenges facing the Route 66 community are extensive and diverse. They run the gamut from the fact that almost every single first and second generation bridge on this highway at the end of originally designed lifespans or beyond to the endangered species that is original lodging in the form of motels or hotels.
Extensive detail and technicalities aside, I came away from the symposium with a great deal of hope, optimism, and excitement that I hope will be infectious. Each who attended received an overwhelming wealth of information for the transformation of their community, and as a result the Route 66 community.
However, the most exciting aspect of the entire event was the cohesive sense of community. This is not to say there weren’t disagreements, especially during the round table strategic planning discussions on the last day.
However, most of the disagreements can easily be resolved, especially if those who attended will use this event as an opportunity to forge alliances and cooperative partnerships. Now, the primary obstacle to really gaining momentum is leadership, and that was a primary sticking point.
Do we, the Route 66 community, build a coalition of existent organizations, do we wipe the slate clean and rebuild using key components and hard won knowledge, or do we build an organization of an existing entity to mediate conflicts between, and coordinate, existing organizations?