First things first. It was brought to my attention that the link provided for the forthcoming calendar of events on the Route 66 News site was incorrect. So, lets try this.
Okay, let me explain the title for this mornings post. Then I would sincerely like to hear thoughts and suggestions, as well as get your input.
Next week I will be attending the World Monument Fund Route 66 conference in California. In addition, I am providing promotional assistance, as well as lending input based on my knowledge of the Route 66 community, to the organizers of the 2014 Route 66 International Festival.
This coupled with a very long year filled with adventures on the old double six,and countless opportunities to visit with friends new and old from most every corner of the globe leads to a great deal of reflection. It also leads to the headline and subject of today’s post. Are we loving Route 66 to death?
From its very inception Route 66 was a transitional highway. The culture of the road in the 1930’s was vastly different from the culture of the road in 1944, and both were quite different from the culture of the road in 1957.
We are witnessing another transitional epoch on Route 66. It would be quite easy to find ample evidence to support the argument that this highway is more popular today than at any point in its history.
From Chicago to Santa Monica communities both large and small are discovering that the resurgent interest in Route 66 is an unprecedented catalyst for renewal and development. Look at the transformation of Galena or Cuba or Pontiac in the past five or six years. Look at the Campbell Hotel in Tulsa, the El Trovatore Motel in Kingman, or the Wigwam Motel in Rialto.
However, in the rush to capitalize on this renaissance, are we preserving or destroying what makes Route 66 special? Route 66 is a living, breathing time capsule filled with magical places like the Ariston Cafe and the Munger Moss, as well as the dusty relics like Glenrio and Endee.
There is, and always has been, a thin Disneyland type veneer on Route 66. However, in the rush to attract tourism dollars and lure visitors are we allowing that veneer to obscure the real treasures of the road?
Where is the line in the sand between preservation of the remnants, the tangible links to almost a century of American societal evolution, and obscuring them behind the transformation of the roadside into a garish amusement park?
Route 66 is a linear community. However, it is also a string of monuments to the diversity and individuality that made America, and this highway unique.
In our rush to capitalize on Route 66 are we forgetting that Kingman has an unequaled skyline or that Santa Fe has a history which predates that highway by hundreds of years? In the rush to create the romanticized image of Route 66, are we loosing the Route 66 that people want to see and experience?
Paris Springs Junction is a true delight, an attraction for legions of fans. Is the reason for that international popularity the fact that it represents a window into a lost world, or is it because of Gary Turner?
What is it that makes the refurbished gas station on the corner in Galena different from the refurbished gas station in Odell?
What is it about Glenrio, or John’s Modern Cabins, or the Painted Desert Trading Post that makes them such an attraction? Is it possible to preserve them without destroying the essence of what makes them special in the process?
If the Longhorn Cafe reopened in Glenrio with an appearance that matched that of vintage post cards, would it be as popular as it is today? If that cafe reopened and was painted a garish shade of pink with purple trim and bright green highlights, but as a result imminent collapse was prevented, would it become an attraction?
In original or garish configuration, if the cafe reopened with Fran from the Midpoint Cafe at the helm, would that make a difference?
If the Hilton Hotel chain decided to capitalize on the resurgent interest of Route 66 by purchasing long dormant motels, and fully refurbished them, but utilized the format of generic sameness, would they be as popular as the Motel Safari, the Wagon Wheel Motel, or the Blue Swallow Motel?
My personal preference is the Oatman I remember from 1966 over the Oatman of today. However, if residents had steadfastly insisted that the old Copeland Lumber building, the theater, the store fronts, and service station remained empty to preserve originality, what would remain today?
How do we balance the haunting allure of the defunct Palmer Hotel and Basset Grocery with the vibrancy and color of Afton Station?
Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner in Kingman is a garish impostor of the old Kimo Cafe. It is caricature, a compilation of the Route 66 imagined, not the Route 66 of history.
The Palms Grill Cafe is a recreation, a time capsule reborn. The Ariston Cafe and Clanton’s are the real deal, a portal into another time.
Each restaurant has their place on Route 66 and in Route 66 history. Each is an important part of the rich and colorful Route 66 tapestry. Each offers something to enhance the Route 66 experience.
The challenge for the Route 66 community is to strike a balance. If every community were a city of murals like Pontiac or Cuba, where would be the incentive to drive on to Oklahoma or Texas?
If every town between Chicago and Santa Monica looked like Glenrio or Texola or Essex, who would travel from the four corners of the globe to drive Route 66?
Route 66 is and was the Main Street of America. It has always mirrored the rich and vibrant diversity of this nation, its people, and its landscapes.
For it to remain as America’s longest attraction those tasked with stewardship of its history, its treasures, and its landmarks must never loose sight of the fact that this old road is a time capsule with a thin amusement park veneer (think Snow Cap in Seligman). If we allow it to become simply an amusement park, everyone looses because it will be impossible to compete with Disneyland or Six Flags.
If we myopically insist that it is preserved as a dusty, dry time capsule with all the excitement of a high school history class or an insurance seminar, everyone looses as Route 66 will soon be little more than an historic footnote.
So, just how do we strike that balance? How do we preserve the essence of the old road and its vibrant culture without succumbing to the empty allure of promised riches in the gold rush?
Okay, what are your thoughts and ideas?