Oct 112016


The front door of the Grand Canyon Café in downtown Flagstaff was swinging open and shut multiple times on Wednesday, Sept. 13, and two waitresses inside moved rapidly between booths alive with animated and hungry customers seated for late breakfast or early lunches. The smell of frying bacon and eggs and toasting bread wafted out from the kitchen in the rear of the establishment.

Mid-September was especially busy at the iconic Route 66 dining spot, as devoted patrons visited to pay their respects to the owners and chefs, Fred and Tina Wong, as they headed for retirement after selling their business.

The restaurant officially closed Saturday, Sept. 17. It is scheduled to reopen in December after being gently revamped by the new ownership team: two couples, Paul and Laura Moir, and Michael and Alissa Marquess, who already own and manage several high-profile restaurants and beverage and food supply businesses in Flagstaff, as well as minority partner Paul Thomas, who is a faculty member at NAU’s W.A. Franke College of Business. The location has been continuously open as a restaurant since 1942, a total of 74 years. In the Wong family since 1945, Fred Wong’s father, Albert, in partnership with his two brothers, Alfred and Edward, and also a nephew, Bill Yee, purchased the restaurant.

Through the years, the café became a beloved destination in Flagstaff, with constant loyal customers and visitors, all seeking that historic Route 66 flavor.

“A visit to the Grand Canyon Café was just part of the day for us,” said Bill Cordasco, Babbitt Ranches president and general manager. “It was an important thread in the fabric of our lives.”

On this Wednesday, Maite Blin and Regis Loock, both from Beauvais, France, came to for breakfast.

“It’s not expensive,” Loock commented. “You have a beautiful breakfast, very complex. And the staff is sympathetic.”

Wong, who was born in a small village in China and came to the U.S. at age three, took over management of the café in 1980 when his father retired.

Among local eaters on this Tuesday was James Burns, 44, a regular at the café. He works next door at the Galaxy Sales leather and saddle shop, which his family has owned since 1949.

“I’m a local pest,” he explained. “I come and harass Fred and Tina every morning when I come and get my coffee. They’re some of the kindest people. They’re the oldest, and we’re the second oldest [business]; there’s a lot of history between these two places. Fred’s been here since he was a little runt peeling potatoes in the back.”

Burns also orders out lunch, to eat at the Galaxy where he took over in 2015 after his father, Isidore (Izzy) Siebenberg, died. Lunch often is corned beef, his favorite, or the chicken fried steak, which he said is “the best in town.”

With its art deco exterior and neon signage, as well as the eclectic novelty items adorning the interior, the restaurant has been featured in many cookbooks, travel guides and newspapers and magazines, including the Arizona Daily Sun and Arizona Highways Magazine.

Retiring from the restaurant will give the Wongs more time to work their farm in Camp Verde, where they have another home. They also plan to frequently visit family in Phoenix. The couple, who married in 1982, have three grown children, Mark, David and Jessica, as well as their first grandchild, born earlier this year. “I’ll be able to spend more time at the farmers markets,” said Wong. “I had to skip this year. My son couldn’t help me; we had our first grandson, four months old. We’ll be going between Phoenix and farmers markets. We’ll go back and forth.”

Tina Wong said she plans to keep busy.

“It’s not retirement,” she said. “I’ll find something to do. I can’t sit around.”

Wong, who was a business major at NAU, first learned his cooking skills from his father, who had worked cooking Chinese food in Colorado. Wong said he had also trained as a chef at Hyatt hotel in San Francisco. The Wongs often cook side by side in the kitchen, working from about 13 hours a day, six days a week. Tina, who her husband said learned to cook “on the spot,” is fluent in the Chinese language and is greatly valued for her tasty Chinese cooking.

“She’s known for her eggrolls, fried rice and Mongolian beef,” he noted. “I’m famous for my chicken fried steak. It’s time for me to retire; I’m 68 this month. We’ll stick around to help the new owners if they need us. Flagstaff is nice and cool in the summertime. We want to thank all the loyal customers through the years.”

One of eight staff members, waitress Paige Sandoval, 23, has been working at the café for 5 ½ years.

“It’s been amazing,” she said. “I’ve known Tina and Fred my whole life, so working here is just like being at home. My great-grandparents, when I was small and we lived in Tuba City, used to bring us in for lunch just about every Friday. Tina and Fred, they’re wonderful employers, but to me, they’re more like a second pair of parents.”

Sandoval is not sure if she will be staying on with the new employers, but another waitress, Beatris Castruita, 28, will be relocating to be with family in Colorado.
“I’ve been seven years at the café,” she said. “I love it. I’ve met so many people here. Fred and Tina have been great. They’re really good people, and it’s time for them to retire and enjoy time with their grandson. I wish them the best.”

Local businessman Mark McCullough was sitting at the “Liar’s Table,” reserved for hunting and fishing friends of Fred in the back of the restaurant.

“I come down a couple times a week,” he said. “I eat healthy; the Chinese is healthier. Tina changes the special every day. They have worked very hard here, but it took a grandbaby for them to retire. I think that’s great.”

Local Flagstaff Unified School District teachers also made the Grand Canyon Café a favorite eating spot for decades.

At a booth against the wall, Linda Harris sat with her husband, Clair, and Dave Brown, both retired Flagstaff High School teachers, along with Judy Davis, whose husband, Terry, had also been a FHS teacher.

“We used to come at least once or twice a week for breakfast for 35 years,” Harris said. “We just moved out of town. We live not far from Camp Verde where Fred lives, so we know where the food will be.”

Teachers were such frequent diners that seats were assigned to them.

“They would come early,” Davis recalled. “Albert opened early on Friday so they could get to work on time. They all sat in the same seats for years and years. The waitress would say, ‘These people are family.’”

The Wongs always made sure everyone left with a full stomach, including a homeless Native American man who sat in front and was fed regularly.

“We have the most prestigious people in Flagstaff, down to that homeless fellow,” Dave Brown said. “Fred and Tina treat everyone the same.”

Jim Muns, a retired history teacher at Coconino High School, with 31 years in FUSD, has been coming to the café since 1968, when he first came to town to attend college.

“His dad, Albert, had the place; I came in to eat,” Muns said. “I’ve known Fred and Tina about 23 years. I come just about every day. I would come down in the evening and work for them, take cash when they were very busy. After I retired, I upped my job; I’m down here five days a week. Officially, I am the cashier. They’re very, very nice people, who work very hard. I think Flagstaff is going to have a very serious case of chicken fried steak withdrawal.”

Many folks were ordering Fred’s chicken fried steak during the last week the chef would be in the kitchen.

I’ve had a lot of local customers,” Wong recalled. “They come and go, generation after generation. That’s one thing I’m going to miss, all my friends here – all my loyal customers.”

By Betsey Bruner, Flagstaff Business News

Oct 112016


An Albuquerque two-story brick motel with nearly 70 rooms that was once regarded as the latest in modern motel offerings is soon to be no more.

The Desert Sands Motel at 5000 Central Avenue NE, designed by well-known Farmington architect Irving Corywell, was put up in the mid-1950s and shortly became a favorite for both Route 66 travelers as well as local residents.

Owned by businessman Clyde Tyler, who also built the Desert Inn at 918 Central, the Desert Sands featured a front swimming pool, landscaped entrance, and two private dining rooms.

It was those spacious dining rooms that attracted everyone from the Kiwanis Club to the Philatelic Society, and the Bernalillo County Federation of Republican Women to hold their regular meetings there.

But in recent years the motel, after a series of ownership changes, fell on hard times.

This summer three separate fires destroyed much of the U-shaped building, finally prompting Albuquerque’s Safe City Strike Force to take control of the property.

“Prior to the third fire, we had not condemned the property and had not taken administrative control of it,” says Leslie Torres, in the City of Albuquerque’s code enforcement division.

“At that point the property owner did have potentially up to a year to decide what to do with it, as long as it remained secure,” says Torres.

But the third fire last month changed all that.

“At that point it was demonstrated to us that the property had not remained secure,” says Torres. The Safe City Strike force then gave the owner of the property an October 1 deadline to demolish the structure or put in place plans to do so.

Although that deadline was not met, the owner has made what is called a “good faith effort” to finally get rid of the old motel by the end of this year.

The decline of the Desert Sands, which according to one 2014 complaint filed with the local Better Business Bureau had both water leaks in one room and the smell of mold, is also a story of dozens of motels along Route 66 that have fallen into disrepair.

“There are a lot of them,” says Charlie Gray, the executive director of the Greater Albuquerque Innkeepers Association.

“And some of those old Route 66 properties have great value, although many don’t,” Gray adds.

Built before the advent of the federal highway system in the late 1950s and 1960s, the Route 66 motels in New Mexico at one time numbered more than three hundred, although less than a third are left today.

But some of the properties are have survived for a new day.

The late 1930s El Vado Motel at 2500 Central SW is undergoing a $12 million restoration which will see the creation of a boutique property with an outdoor theatre, community food court, swimming pool, and retail space.

The De Anza Motor Court at 4301 Central Avenue, opened in 1939, is similarly seeing an $8 million restoration that will turn the property into an extended stay motel with a restaurant and pool.

“Everything we’re doing on this, the signage, the lighting along the way, the landscaping, we’re trying to stay true to that historic Route 66 form,” Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry declared this summer as the project to restore the De Anza was announced.

Both restoration projects came about through a unique combination of public funding and incentives.

But many others have gone by the wayside, although restoration specialist Doug Reames says even heavily damaged properties like the Desert Sands can be saved.

“You need to preserve the architecture the way it was, and take on the new marketing techniques that we have today to really promote these properties,” says Reames, adding “but that also requires a financial commitment.”

“There is definitely a new interest in these motels among the Millennials, and that’s a good thing,” says Gray.

“The question now is whether there is enough interest to make saving them feasible,” he adds. “And I don’t think we know the answer to that yet.”

By Garry Boulard – Construction Reporter

Sep 202016


18th annual Standin’ on the Corner Fest Friday and Saturday

WINSLOW, Ariz. — Winslow’s 18th annual Standin’ on the Corner Festival takes place Sept. 23-24 in Winslow, an annual event that started in 1999, which coincided with the unveiling of a mural and statue in the park.

The festival will take place in downtown Winslow on Historic Route 66 (West Second Street) and North Campbell Avenue at the Eagle Pavilion located behind the Winslow Chamber of Commerce (Historic Hubbell Building) and Visitor’s Center. The Eagle Pavilion was built by the Standin’ on the Corner Foundation with donations from businesses, individuals, the city of Winslow and funds raised from the festival and volunteers. The foundation’s mission is the redevelopment of Winslow (the mission used to be the redevelopment of just the historic district but it has expanded that mission to include all of Winslow).

The first festival sixteen years ago was an impromptu celebration for the completion and opening of the park, which has now grown into a huge festival, which draws five to 10,000 people over the weekend.

The event celebrates the well-known single “Take it Easy,” written by the late Glenn Frey and Jackson Browne, which became a hit in the 1970s for the Eagles and put the community of Winslow on the map. The verse ‘standin’ on the corner in Winslow, Arizona’ draws visitors from far and wide to stand on that famous corner on historic Route 66.

This year, a Glenn Frey Memorial — a statue dedication — will take place Sept. 23 on the corner of Second Street and Kinsley Avenue from noon to 2:30 p.m. The rest of the entertainment begins at 3 p.m. on Friday and 9 a.m. on Saturday. Cost is $5 per person. A horseshoe tournament is $20 per person and takes place Saturday.

Throughout the festival, vendors will sell everything from crafts, food and clothing. The event has fun for the entire family. A beer garden will have a tasting tent.

The festival’s returning bands Tommy Dukes, Stephen Padilla and Take it to the Limit, an Eagles cover band, will perform. In addition to these familiar names some other bands including Rhythm Edition, Coyote Moon Band, Triple Play, The Miller Boys and Higeria, a local favorite alternative band, Ty One on, country rock, and One of These Nights, a tribute to the Eagles, will also take the stage. In addition to the bands, NPC Ballet Folklorico, a Mexican Dance Group and the High Country Dance Team will perform.

On Sept. 245 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., the annual Standin’ on the Corner Foundation Auction takes place, which is the big fundraiser for the foundation. Lots of items will be auctioned off, including some Eagles memorabilia.

She said the city of Winslow also benefits greatly from the festival, which is the foundation’s mission.

In addition, the festival is a chance for everyone to shop local, which is important for a small community. Butler said that local businesses are generous with donations to the event and to the live auction.

The money raised ensures the foundation will be able to continue with the annual festival, keeping the park and the pavilion in top form and continuing in the efforts to improve our community, a member of the foundation said last year.


The foundation said the history of the park is also important to remember and without the founding members’ hard work and determination, the vision of the historic downtown of Winslow would have been lost.

Seeing the success of their efforts to save La Posada, Marie Lamaar and Janice Griffith focused their attention on creating another attraction in Winslow that capitalized on the hit song, “Take it Easy.”

The Standing on the Corner Foundation was formed by these women and a group of private citizens, including Glenn and Yvonne Howeth, Larry Benham, Chris and Larry Payne, Bert Peterson, Greg and Connie Hacker.

The Standin’ on the Corner Park was built brick by brick with donations made by local businesses, individuals, many volunteer hours and investments by the city of Winslow. The Kaufman family donated the property where the park on the corner is located. John Pugh painted a two-story mural for the park and the iconic, bronze life-size 1970s Rock and Roll guitarist, made by Ron Adamson, was placed over personalized donor bricks.

By Katherine Locke – Navajo-Hopi Observer

Jun 242016

Ambler Becker Station - Dwight

Dwight’s restored Texaco station, on popular Old U.S. Route 66, comes to life each year in May. More than 60 volunteers take shifts here, meeting curious motorists from around the world. The following account covers approximately 15 minutes in the lube bay, the office and the old pumps out front.

Ding! A visitor wants to make sure that little black hose works, the one that used to announce a car pulling into a gas station. They don’t need those now at self-service stations.

A driver from the Czech Republic wanted to talk about Donald Trump. A film editor and a sound engineer from Rome talked of creating a movie about their experience. They plan to post it online.

“We want to discover the old America, the real America,” said Luigi Mearelli, 39. “We spent three years planning this vacation.”

Ding! Florian Niederhuber, 33, of Munich, was assisted by volunteer Alex McWilliams. The hosts always ask visitors to place a pin in one of their maps, marking the hometowns of each visitor.

The pins from 2015 were removed, but the European map already was filling up. The U.S. map was busier than expected. You could see other pins in Japan, New Zealand and parts of the African continent.

“We have had visitors come in and discover that they live only 10 miles apart in Germany,” McWilliams said. “I guess they wound up traveling together the rest of the way to California.”

Ding! It seems like like most of the motorists here are coming from Chicago and heading for an overnight stay in Springfield. This stop usually includes photos out front and questions about the next stop, usually in Pontiac.

On this day, the station was missing its celebrity attendant, Paul Roeder, of Kankakee. He wears a Texaco attendant’s uniform and surprises guests with another part of history. There really was a guy who pumped your gas and cleaned the windshield.

Attention always shifts back to the driveway here. The next couple rode up on a motorcycle dressed up to look like a 1957 Chevy. And the trailer it pulled was also tricked out like that Chevy icon.


By Dennis Yohnka – Daily Journal

Apr 132016


A green glow that lit up the corner of Central and Garrison for decades in the middle of the 20th century has been restored in the 21st century with the lighting of the neon Saturday at the Boots Court.
In another step in the restoration of a Route 66 icon, Pricilla Bledsaw and Debye Harvey, the owners of the Boots Court, flipped a switch on Friday, turning on yards of green neon tubing along the edges of the classic building.
Bledsaw said the sisters have been working since they bought the hotel in August 2011 to restore the motel to its 1940s configuration, and while Route 66 aficionados have heard about restoration, adding the neon give people more reason than ever to come and see it for themselves.
“We were so excited we were finally going to get the neon on the building because that’s something people will see,” Bledsaw said. “Right now people come because they’ve heard about the Boots, but with the neon on, it just makes it look so much more open. It makes it look like what it is, it’s a Route 66 icon.”

About 75 people attended a two-hour open house at the Boots on Saturday.
Tables were set up with information about the Route 66 Association of Missouri, the upcoming Jefferson Highway Association of Missouri convention and books about the “Mother Road.”
The Carthage Middle School Tiger Choir, dressed in poodle skirts and dark jeans and t-shirts form the 1950s sang a variety of songs to entertain the crowd and several classic cars were on display.

The motel was filled for the night, marking the first time the restored Vacancy/No Vacancy neon sign was used.
As the sun went down and rain drops started to fall shortly after 8 p.m., dignitaries spoke and it came time for the countdown.
Holding up green LED pens, the crowd counted down from 10, then Debbie Dee, the manager of the Boots, turned on the switch inside the building, bringing to life the yards of neon tubing.
David Hutson, with Neon Time in St. Charles, manufactured the neon tubing to exacting standards replicating the green neon that was on the building based on photos and pieces of the original lights that Bledsaw and Harvey had removed and stored.
Route 66 changed when the sun went down,” Hutson said. Route 66 really came alive to try and attract people into the space. So you have this whole thing flooded with light when it gets dark. I think these kinds of places were so inviting for travelers.”

Bledsaw and Harvey said they applied for a grant from the National Park Service that paid for half the cost of the restoration.
Jim Thole, chairman of the Neon Heritage Preservation Committee for the Route 66 Association of Missouri, said restoring the neon is a big step toward restoring the Boots and giving Carthage place that will draw tourists from around the world.

“It’s just a real prize possession of Carthage in terms of tourism. Route 66 tourism,” Thole said. “People are going to go out of their way to see this. And if you’re here at this time of night to see this, what are you going to do? You’re going to stay here, you’re going to eat here, it’s a win-win for everyone.”
“Signs and architecture like this have taken on a new life in the sense that they are now symbols of local pride. They’re local landmarks, symbols of pride for the community, the community can be proud to have this back.”

By John Hacker – Carthage Press

Mar 182016


The Sipp Shoppe across from the Standin’ on the Corner Park in Winslow is doing brisk business as Nikki Greer and Jacob Martin serve up food and ice cold drinks to customers, including Beata King and Bea Cooper, who stopped in on their way from Phoenix to Wisconsin.

Spring is in the air and that usually means the beginning of tourist season along Route 66, but in Winslow the season is already in full swing. It’s a cautious drive along Second Street as tourists step into the road to get a better angle with their camera or take a quick jog to cross from one sidewalk to another surrounding the Standin’ on the Corner Park.
The center of all the attention is the statue of the lone troubadour waiting for a ride, which has become synonymous with Winslow and draws thousands of people each year as strains of Eagles tunes fill the air from the Standin’ on the Corner gift shop.
At the opposite corner from the gift shop is the Sipp Shoppe. There, numerous patrons enjoy a soda or choose from a long list of hot dog specialties such as the Oklahoma Tornado or the Baja Dog. Nikki Greer, who runs the shop, said that it’s been “total chaos” for the past couple of months, ever since the death of Eagles co-founder Glen Frey. “This is usually our slowest month of the year, but so far it’s been crazy busy, mostly with people from in the state,” she said.
A stroll into the Arizona 66 Trading Co. across from the Sipp Shoppe showed visitors sorting through T-shirts with the words, “Take It Easy” and “Such A Fine Sight To See” emblazoned across the chest, and deciding what knick-knacks to buy while a concert video of the Eagles plays on a wide-screen television.
Sabrina Butler runs the shop and said it’s been busy like this since January. “It seemed like the day after Glenn Frey died people just started showing up,” she said. Butler also talked about the success of the Corner and the people who make it happen. “We have a good group of citizens making that effort, between the Standing on the Corner Foundation and the chamber of commerce we have a lot of great things coming up,” she said before going down a list of events that include a Cinco de Mayo festival, the Father’s Day fishing excursion and the Standin’ on the Corner Festival.
La Posada also is a big draw; they get quite a few celebrities over there. We just had (former Diamondbacks pitcher) Randy Johnson in the other day and he was staying there,” she said.
Soon the city will have another attraction for visitors to the downtown. According to Community Development Director Paul Ferris, the $488,000 grant from the Arizona Department of Transportation’s National Scenic Grant Fund has been freed up and the city can move forward with its plans for the Route 66 Plaza park. The park will be located next to the Standin’ on the Corner Park and will feature a mural of Chicago on the east wall and a mural of Santa Monica pier on the west wall. Winding between the two murals will be a pathway depicting Route 66 and all the highlights of the much-loved road. The work is expected to begin next month, with no time noted for completion.
“It’s taken awhile, but things are finally coming together. This plaza will be another added attraction for our visitors and one more reason to stop,” said Ferris.
Back at the Sipp Shoppe patron Beata King summed up why she stopped in Winslow on her way from Phoenix to Wisconsin: “We love the Eagles and of course we stop in Winslow for the food. We love this place.”

By Linda Kor

Mar 162016

The Boots Court may not be shining green in time for St. Patrick’s Day on Thursday, but it is well on the way to sporting its restored neon green shine starting next month.

The historic Boots Court went green for a few hours on Sunday to test the restored neon lighting along the edges and around the windows of the building. An official re-lighting of the neon is scheduled for 8:15 p.m. Saturday, April 9 at the Boots Court, located at the intersection of Garrison and Central avenues. Music, speakers and food will be available at the event which starts at 6 p.m.

Debye Harvey, one of the sisters who bought the historic motel in 2011, turned on the newly installed neon lighting to test it and for photos late Sunday evening.
Harvey and her sister, Pricilla Bledsaw, are planning a grand re-lighting of the neon for 8:15 p.m. Saturday, April 9, at the Boots Court near the intersection of Garrison and Central in Carthage, and the public is invited.
Harvey said the neon is being restored to its 1940s glory with the help of a Route 66 Corridor Preservation grant from the National Park Service.
“In the 1940s, green architectural neon was installed along the parapet and around the windows of the front building,” Harvey said. “Two shafts of the neon were also installed over the doors to Rooms #9 and #14 in the back building. By the time we purchased the Boots in 2011, the green neon did not work in many places, and much of it had already been removed. We removed the remaining pieces and placed them in storage.”
Crews have spent several days earlier this month installing the restored neon tubes and electric lines around the building and around the windows.
Rain earlier Sunday allowed the wet pavement to reflect the green glow.
Harvey said the April 9 event starts at 6 p.m., with food, music, speakers and informational tables about the Missouri Route 66 Association and other related groups. The switch will be thrown on the new neon lights at dark, which will happen around 8:15 p.m.
“Please make time that evening to come by and see the new, green architectural neon – one of the biggest keys to returning the Boots Court to its historic appearance of the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s,” she said.

By: John Hacker – Carthage Press

Jan 212016

Terri Ryburn - Sprague Super Station, Normal IL

Terri Ryburn – Sprague Super Station, Normal IL

I have met with Terri a couple times a few years back and she is a genuine person who really would like to see this gas station reopened and enjoyed by all the Route 66 travelers…

From those of us who embrace the Route 66 mythology that comes with living here in its shadow, today’s GO! cover story subject is owed a big debt of gratitude.

As if you didn’t already know that, per her many history presentations, books on the subject and even comedy club routines.

But we’re especially delighted to see that the tireless Terri Ryburn is doing her bit to get both us and That Road on a movie screen near us.

Move over “Grapes of Wrath,” “Cars,” “Two-Lane Blacktop,” “Bagdad Cafe” and all you other cinematic pretenders to the throne — including the fabled ’60s TV series of the same name (“Route 66,” with Martin Milner and George Maharis tooling away for an hour a week).

Ryburn thinks that series has aged none too well, leaving room for improvement.

As chronicled in the story above, Ryburn is hoping to do just that via the odyssey of the fictional pop duo, Hank & Rita.

The proposed film would involve tracking the married pair’s travels through a succession of small, obscure clubs … from Chicago to “Saint Louey” to Barstow to all the stops name-checked by Bobby Troup in a certain kicks-oriented anthem.

If it’s not exactly “the horror, the horror” stuff of “Heart of Darkness,” we’re advised that the road trip marks the gradual disintegration of a union … in fact, the one that comes to a head in the Hank & Rita show we’ll be seeing next weekend at the Bloomington Eagles Club.

If the movie is made, there’s been no word yet on what venues along this stretch of the road might serve as moment-of-truth stops.

So feel free to send your suggestion this way, and we’ll pass them along to Hank and/or Rita.

But back to Terri Ryburn, whose other big Mother Road project of the moment continues apace, at her own pace.

Which she admits is pretty much one mile on the odometer at a time.

Namely, her efforts on behalf of the historic former Sprague Service Station perched alongside Old U.S. 66 on East Pine Street in Normal, where it has stood since 1931.

“I have no money,” she admitted to us recently with the good spirits that fuel her “second career” as a stand-up comedian hereabouts.

“But I have managed to cobble together grants, and to keep plugging away at it!”


She purchased the two-story, 3,600-square-foot Tudor Revival-style gas station nearly nine years ago.

The first Pantagraph story on the project, in May 2007, announced that the then-75-year-old edifice would be reborn as a bed-and-breakfast, with tea room, gift shop and restaurant.

She has since received grants from the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program of the National Park Service and the Town of Normal, which have slowly but surely allowed the project to move forward.

Bringing us up to date, she notes that “I’m getting a new parking lot in the spring and opening a Route 66 visitor center and gift shop.”

In addition, she says, “I’m working on a grant application for exterior work … tuck-pointing of brick … repair of stucco and timber … and painting.”

We’re not trying to stage-direct the movie from our desk across town at the newspaper, but …

We think that the Sprague Station would be a perfect fit for Hank & Rita to come to some moment of their truth … even though, technically, the drama would be taking place in the middle ’80s, when the station was a decade past its life as a gas station and three decades prior to its rebirth as a tea room/etc.

So haul out the artistic license, we say, and let’s dovetail Ryburn’s two big Mother Road dreams into one big fat fantasia of movies, music and memories.

All-singing, all-dancing … all kicks.

Lori Ann Cook-Neisler – The Pantagraph

Jan 152016


A committee of local leaders has been assembled with the goal of restoring the iconic Tropics restaurant sign.

In May 2014, the symbol of Lincoln’s place in Route 66 history was dismantled for the first time since it was installed in the early-1960’s.
The roughly 4,200-pound sign was cut, lifted by an industrial crane and taken away on a trailer for storage on city property.

In March 2015, the treasurer of the Route 66 Association, Martin Blitstein, accompanied by Andrea Dykman, with The Mill, approached Lincoln City Council on the whereabouts of the sign, which was being stored outdoors at the landfill, raising many concerns from locals.
That following July, the Tourism Bureau took ownership of the sign and partnered with the City of Lincoln and the Johnson family, former owners of the Tropics restaurant, to restore it. Once restoration is complete, it will once again be city property.

Today, a committee of 10 is working to raise funds for the three-year project. Those members include: Executive Director of the Logan County Economic Development Partnership, Bill Thomas, The tropics family- Bob and Tammy Goodrich, Eric Johnson, and Kim Johnson, the President of the Route 66 Heritage Foundation of Logan County, Bob Wilmert, Event Coordinator for the Logan County Alliance, Cara Barr, Lincoln Alderman Michelle Bauer, Tourism Director Maggie McMurtrey, LCA intern Konner Browne and Rene Martin, with the Mount Pulaski Courthouse Foundation.
“The committee is working to get things off the ground. Our goal is for each member to network,” said McMurtrey. “Eventually we want to grow into a bigger group of people who really care. So, the role of the small committee, for now, is to brainstorm fundraising ideas and collecting information”

After reviewing several bids, the group is aiming to raise $50,000 for the project. Approximately $30,000 of that will go towards the restoration and the costly transportation of the sign, while the remaining money will be used for unforeseen costs and for the city to use for maintenance.
Currently, the group is utilizing Facebook for public awareness and collecting start-up costs through a Gofundme.com account.
“In terms of progress, the committee worked to establish an online process folks can use to make donations and the committee is working to plan fundraising events,” said Thomas.
The committee is also applying for several grant applications seeking funding support from the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway Program, the Danner Trust, and The Woods Foundation. The amount of grants applied for will be just shy of $10,000.

Currently, approximately $850 has been donated from the Lincoln and Logan County Chamber of Commerce, which is held in a bank account designated for the project.
While the group is planning a large fundraising event this fall, it is currently hosting a silent auction for four Chicago Bulls versus Cleveland Cavalier tickets for April 9.
“It’s only been up on our Facebook page for two days and it is currently at $450,” said McMurtrey. “So, that’s kind of exciting. It should put us at $1,000 raised.”

As far as a destination for the sign, no decisions have been made just yet. It is still being stored on city property. However, it is now lifted off the ground and has been covered.
“Restoring the Tropics sign, locating it in an appropriate spot and ensuring there is an onsite means of telling the Tropics story to people who stop to see the sign are, in my opinion, the keys to creating a new attraction that will motivate folks to stop and visit Lincoln and Logan County,” said Thomas.
“More tourism money will flow into Lincoln and Logan County if we have more attractions available. The more attractions we have available, the more time visitors will spend in our area. The more time visitors spend in our area, the more likely they are to purchase gas, eat in a restaurant, spend the night, and/or purchase goods at our stores.”

According to McMurtrey, at this point the committee is in the phase of working to raise awareness and start-up funds. “Any donations would be greatly appreciated.”
To donate to the cause, checks can be made out to Save The Tropics Sign and sent to the LCA office at 1555 Fifth Street, Lincoln, Ill. 62656.
For more information visit: Gofundme.com/SaveTheTropicsSign or the Facebook page Save the Tropics Sign.

By Cassy Good – The Courier

Nov 182015


VICTORVILLE — An iconic car dealership that’s been located on Route 66 for more than six decades is changing hands after drawing countless car buyers and thousands of tourists.

Owner Patrick Matlach of Desert Motors said the car lot’s nostalgic neon sign, with its curved yellow arrow, will still shine bright long after he hands over the dealership to his friend, Sam Shihab. Desert Motors opened in 1951 and has been in its current location on D Street near First Street in Old Town Victorville since 1954.
Sam is the owner of Sid’s Automotive, which is located across the street, and European Automotive in Victorville,” Matlach told the Daily Press. “He’s been around for nearly 20 years and he’s a good man that I fully trust to keep the legacy of this dealership alive.”

The 85-year-old Matlach, who decided to hand the business over to Shihab due to health issues, said Shihab has big plans for the dealership that once supplied the movie industry with classic cars and has been photographed by tourists from all over the world.
“The lot is empty now because I’m just focusing on gathering up and closing accounts,” Matlach said. “Once Sam takes over, I’m sure that will change.”
Shihab said he understands the cultural significance of Route 66 and its shared history with the rise of the automobile industry, and he spoke of the importance of keeping “Patrick’s legacy alive through the dealership.”
“Long after the popularity of Route 66 faded, Patrick continued to sacrifice so much to keep this place thriving,” Shihab said. “The place will still remain Desert Motors and we will keep that nostalgic feel. We will also be known once again as the Route 66 Car Garden, a fitting name for the longest running used-car dealership on Route 66.”

Matlach said part of the nostalgic feel of the car lot is the multiple strings of clear-glass light bulbs that once shined on newly-waxed cars at night.
“You came around that bend in the road and you were greeted by a magical glow of lights,” Matlach said. “It was like moths being drawn by the light. You know, many of those moths drove off in a Chevy, Ford or Chrysler.”
As Matlach thumbed through the book “Route 66: Lives on the Road,” he explained that in 1954 he moved the dealership, once located closer to Interstate 15, to its present location after the construction of the first bypass to downtown Victorville began.
“That bypass really cut into our business because all that traffic from San Bernardino to Barstow did not come through here,” Matlach said. “Before moving down the road a bit, I must have sold 600 cars a year in that old lot.”
Matlach said he still remembers selling his first car, “a light-green, ‘33 Chevy Deluxe, four-door, with twin mounts and a trunk in the back,” to his friend, “a man by the name of Willie Green.”

“He lived across the tracks and he was my best booster because he said I treated people right,” Matlach said. “He was a wonderful friend who was also a hard-working family man.”
Matlach said when Green was in his 70s, he grabbed his 50-year old son by the ear and dragged him into the dealership after he discovered that his son was late on a car payment.
Matlach opened the car lot while stationed at George Air Force Base and serving in the Air National Guard. He added that opening the Victorville business was a continuation of a passion for selling cars.
“I opened my first used car lot at age 19 in St. Louis, right on 4955 Natural Bridge Avenue,” said Matlach as a BNSF train rolled past his lot. “Besides Victorville, I opened car lots in Fontana, San Bernardino and Austin, Texas.”

According to Matlach, Desert Motors once supplied vehicles for TV shows such as “77 Sunset Strip,” which aired in the 1950s and ‘60s, and for various movies such as “Angel Face,” starring Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons.
“James Dean drove a really beat-up old Duesenberg that I restored,” Matlach said. “I think that old Duesenberg was used in the movie ‘Giant.’ And the Jaguar was used in the ‘Angel Face’ movie where the roadster goes off the cliff.”
According to Shihab, Matlach’s experience helped him to create a solid and trusted reputation, and helped him to achieve, at one time, the status of president of the California Independent Automobile Dealers Association and National Independent Automobile Dealers Association.
Shihab said his dream is to restore Desert Motors back to the prominence that it once held by transforming the lot back to the shining gem that once sparkled along Route 66.
“I couldn’t find a better place to fulfill that dream, and a better coach and mentor than Pat Matlach,” Shihab said. “He’s a man with great history behind him since 1951, and I would like to be the continuation of that legacy here at Desert Motors.”

By Rene Ray De La Cruz – VV Daily Press