In February of 1927, with guidance from Cyrus Avery, a group of businessmen and community leaders from various municipalities along the newly minted U.S. 66 gathered together to hammer out a compromise that manifested as the U.S. Highway 66 Association. I think it would be safe to say that these visionaries expected great things to develop through this entity.
In late November, 2013, Erica Avrami, the Director of Research and Education at World Monuments Fund, and Kaisa Barthuli, Program Manager of the National Park Service Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, facilitated a meeting of Route 66 preservationists and historians, community and tourism leaders selected from along the Route 66 corridor, representatives from several international Route 66 associations, representatives from internationally acclaimed marketing companies, representatives from companies that specialize in commercial property development, representatives from various state and federal government entities, tourism company affiliated representatives, and owners of businesses on Route 66 at the Disneyland Convention Center in Anaheim, California. I am rather confident that all who attended and participated expected great things to develop. They were not disappointed.
The U.S. Highway 66 Association transformed a highway into an icon with promotional campaigns that centered on proclamations that the double six was the Main Street of America. That association provided a unified voice for communities and businesses from Chicago to Santa Monica, and for almost a half century ensured Route 66 served as center stage for the unfolding American story.
That association did its job quite well. They also set the bar quite high.
Fast forward to the second decade of a new century. Officially Route 66 no longer exists but yet, according to a recent Route 66 Economic Impact Survey funded by American Express and conducted by Rutgers University and the State University of New Jersey, in collaboration with the National Park Service Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program and World Monuments Fund, in one twelve month period, 31,664 people traipsed through the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Oklahoma. Of these, almost one third were international travelers.
That is but the tip of the iceberg. POPS in Arcadia, Oklahoma averages 1,000 customers per day, and in Cuba, Missouri, (a town with a population of just over 3,000 people) their Route 66 based mural program attracts approximately 10,000 people annually.
Times may have changed but there is still a need for an association that can provide a unified voice for the Route 66 community, an entity that can maximize resources to ensure the old road remains vital beyond the fast approaching centennial, and that its unique treasures are preserved in the process. There may no longer be a need to lobby for completion of the highways paving but there is a need to lobby and organize if historic bridges that give the road a sense of place are to be preserved for the highways centennial and beyond.
In essence that was the reason for this historic meeting, to create a unified sense of purpose and of direction for the linear community that is Route 66. Moreover, just as with the formative meeting for the U.S. Highway 66 Association, it was also an unprecedented opportunity to assist in the transformation of a road into a venue for commerce, for entrepreneurial enterprise, and for community development as well as revitalization.
I am not sure how the organizers came to the conclusion that my potential contributions warranted an invitation, but I am quite thankful to have had an opportunity to assist in the writing of a new chapter in the history of Route 66. I also know it must have been a very difficult and frustrating endeavor to create the list of attendees.
After all, a primary goal behind the conference was to craft a unified sense of community. Exclusion of anyone carried the inherent risk of negating that vital component in the creation of an entity, an organization that could bridge gaps between existent associations as well as steer the direction of the roads transition.
With this lengthy preamble as an introduction, I would like to respectively request that each and everyone associated with, or that has an interest in this storied old road focus on the future rather than hurt feelings. A few of us may have been invited but each of us a has vested as well as linked interest in the double six and its future.
If this magical old road is to bridge the gap between present and past, if the essence of this historic highway is to survive to the centennial celebration in 2026 and beyond, we will need to work together as never before.
In the weeks to follow the World Monument Fund will issue an official press release that provides information about this conference and its potential to serve as a catalyst for the dawn of a new era on Route 66. Additionally, after the first of the year it is quite possible that we will have a template for the creation of a long awaited entity to fill the very big shoes of the U.S. Highway 66 Association, or to modify an existing organization that can meet these needs.
Stay tuned for exciting details.