edklein69

Jun 262014
 

styx-paradise theater











Back in 1981, before the last mile of Route 66 was on its way to be decommissioned, I remember this album cover and remembering how sad I felt as I watched history disappear.

Growing up on the north side of Chicago and being a ‘city boy’, I always had a thing for history, architecture, and Chicago history and Chicago architecture.

Like a lot of folks, one seems to start having a connection with bands from your home town. We had the Buckinghams, Styx, Chicago, REO Speedwagon, Survivor, Cheap Trick, the Ides of March and many other Chicago area bands. I loved Styx and I loved Chicago and would listen to EVERYTHING they made, even albums out before I was born (OK, there was only one but who is counting…)

I remember the Paradise Theater album in the collection my father had, and I remember just staring at the details in the artwork. I then remember listening to the album as it was about the rise and fall of the Paradise Theater which did actually exist in the city of Chicago, so it was a literal musical biography of this once grand venue.

From Wikipedia:
“The Paradise Theatre was a Balaban and Katz movie palace located in Chicago’s West Garfield Park neighborhood. Its address was 231 N. Pulaski Road, Chicago, Illinois 60624. Located near the intersection of West Madison Street and Crawford Avenue (now Pulaski Road) on Chicago’s West Side, it opened on September 14, 1928, and was billed as the world’s most beautiful theater for its stunning interior and exterior beauty. It is regarded as one of the finest designs by architect John Eberson, as the sheer opulence and intricate craftsmanship that went into the theater made it a showpiece in and of itself. Unfortunately, flaws in the design (blamed on the vast domed ceiling in the over 3,600-seat auditorium) were exposed with the advent of talking pictures. Poor acoustics eventually cost the theater its attendance as neighborhood movie-goers would eventually turn to the nearby Marks Brothers showplace, the Marbro Theater. As a result, business at the Paradise never recovered.

The Paradise Theatre’s demise came in 1956, when Balaban and Katz decided to demolish the building and sell the land to a supermarket chain. The theater that was “built to stand forever” almost lived up to that claim: what was estimated to have been a six-month demolition job ended up taking two years.”

I remember looking at the album over and over and just wondering what it was like to see this place all lit up and packed to the rafters with well dressed folks on a “night on the town” at such a majestic place. I then remember flipping the album cover over and seeing the artists rendition of a broken down, ruined, old looking, empty building with ‘Temporarily Closed’ on the marquee. I was 12, and I knew this place would never open again (remember, I was 12 and this place was closed when my parents were children, but it felt more alive to me at that time.)

I was saddened by the fact places like these seem to go away, and not only some folks do not seem to care – they do not know places like this even existed. With my sights on getting through high school and wanting to get a degree in Architecture, I always felt I could do something about not letting this happen again.

Fast forward to 2009, almost 30 years later, this plan has come into reality. When I started Route 66 World – I had no idea preservation would be my passion on Route 66. I was planning on just enjoying it and being one of the many ‘roadies’ who just want to get on the open road and enjoy everything it has to offer.

I always say this and I will continue to say this: Route 66 has enough to do and see for everyone to have there own little slice of what they would like to contribute to the route. I tell everyone I try to do a lot of this with my own time and money and I mean that – I love the route and I wish I could just pack up the SUV and drive it everyday with paint brush and hammer in hand, stopping at places where they could use a hand and some guidance.

Thinking back, I realize you never know what any given impression could have on a child. The trip they didn’t want to take on the route, or to grandma’s or to anywhere they dread going to. One little thing could set their lives on a different path than they ever could have imagined.

For me it was an album cover………

Jun 242014
 

FSG-sign-new








I am starting to put together a project plan on what needs to be done to the building, when to do it and what it will cost me.

The Front Street Garage sign, to me, was the first priority.

I have contracted Doug and Sharon Quarles of Quarles Art Gallery in Benson AZ to work on this one with me. We all know them from all of the work they have done in Tucumcari with the murals, buildings and signs they have helped paint over the years. These murals and the many other things the Quarles have painted are one of the many projects which helped make Tucumcari the destination it now is. I have worked with Doug on a few projects and could not think of any other artists to work with.

I showed Doug the picture of the station in 1941 and I wanted him to recreate the sign to as close as original as possible BUT at the same time, make it a little more sharp and crisp as if a professional painted it taking their time and putting some care into it – versus someone grabbing some board and just painting a sign.

The sign is 2′ tall be 4′ wide and will hang where the original sign was. I knew the original colors but wanted to make the background of the sign a dark green as I think it just looks classic this way.

I will have the sign shipped from Arizona to Allen Sign Studio in Miami OK for them to create the bracket which will support the sign and will be able to mount it. The sign will be put up (hopefully) later this year / early next year as I really need to focus on the facade of the building.

FSG-signHere is the pic of what the original sign looked like. I think it is important to try to keep this building looking as period correct as possible….

Doug will be doing most of the sign work as well as a few other things, I will do some painting and other things with the building and Allen Sign Studio will help me restore the original neon sign from the late 40′s which I also want to hang on the front of the building.

More to come…

Jun 182014
 

front-street-garage-galena-03









This is the press release which just went out. I am happy to say I have found a building I absolutely love and have huge, huge plans for it….

Galena KS – The building located at 118 N. Main Street in Galena KS has been sitting on the corner of Front and Main Streets since 1896. It has been a gas station, a tire shop specializing in new and used tires, and after World War II, it served as a tire retreading shop as rubber was becoming scarce like so many other materials which were being used for the war efforts. The building closed out the last few decades as a satellite dish manufacturing and repair shop.

The building has been standing close to 120 years and has seen Galena change over this time. Starting as a mining town, Galena had a population of 30,000 during the boom of the mining craze throughout southwest Missouri, southeast Kansas and northeast Oklahoma. The last mine closed in the 1970’s.
Route 66 was designated a travel way through Galena from Joplin around 1926 and the stretch of the route in Kansas is only 13.2 miles, the shortest strip in any of the eight states Route 66 passes through. The gas station served tourists and migrants heading west (and rumor has it gangsters frequented the station) as it was one of the only corridors of automobile travel between Missouri and Oklahoma.

Ed Klein, owner of Route 66 World and its website (www.route66world.com) has been doing preservation, restoration and education work on Route 66 for almost five years and does it all with his own time and money. He has traveled the entire route several times and has traveled many sections of it dozens of times. “I love the route, it gives me the peace of two things I truly love: driving and Americana.” Klein adds. He has worked with plenty of businesses and towns trying to help them get tourism dollars and gives advice on how to restructure their businesses or how to restore properties, buildings or his favorite: signs. He works with many other key ‘roadies’ on Route 66 to advance the help the inquiring business owner may have, and wants to make sure all options are exhausted.

“I have been on Route 66 through Kansas several times and always stop into Galena and Baxter Springs. The history of these two towns is so vast and interesting and folks need to slow down a bit and do more than a ‘photo op’ and then take off to the next stop. They really do not know what some of these old, historic buildings actually hold within its history.”

Klein said he was in the market to purchase a historic gas station for the last few years with the first being in Winslow AZ. “I called the owner of the (Richfield) gas station and I was number three in line to purchase it, so I had to wait to see if the other two potential buyers would pick it up or walk away. They both dropped out and I started working on negotiations with the owner and he decided to keep it. It was heart breaking as the plans were to restore it to the way it looked back in 1939”. Klein then mentioned another station in Holbrook AZ. “The Holbrook station was a former Whiting Brothers gas station and it was just screaming for a restoration. The current owner wanted to sell a bunch of other properties along with it and I just wanted the gas station and nothing more, so we could not work out a deal.”

It was by chance Klein and his good friend Bill Conron were planning a trip from Chicago to Scottsdale via Route 66 and Bill started to look at some properties for sale along the route. “Bill was getting the feel for the potential of Route 66 and as an avid investor in the stock market, he was thinking of expanding into a small property”. This led them to Galena.
After locating another potential property to purchase, Bill contacted the owner and arranged a meeting. The deal fell through but Klein was eyeing the building of the former Front Street Garage, sitting right across the street from ‘Cars on the Route’. “Bill and I sat at Cars on the Route, eating a hamburger and having a beer outside on the patio and noticed something strange happening. Tourist would pull up and literally jump out of their cars, take a picture of the (Tow Tater) tow truck at Cars on the Route, turn around 180 degrees and snap a few pictures of the old Front Street Garage building, jump back into their cars and drive off. Bill turned to me and said ‘if they were taking these many photos of an old boarded up building, how do you think they would react to it all restored?’”

After seeing all this activity with the tourist, Klein contacted Mike Hughes, the owner of the building and set up a meeting. After almost a year later of the initial contact, Klein had to wait for a few code compliance issues to be resolved and after negotiations were settled, a deal was finally drawn up. “The longest hold up was the winter in Galena. The contractors had to wait for the weather to warm up to be able to finish the exterior work, this took several months. Mike has been just great with everything and wanted to make sure everything worked out well between him and me. The transaction could have not gone any better.” The building is in compliance and plans are underway for the restoration of the building.

front-street-garage-galena-02“I look at this as the mother of all preservation / restoration jobs! Literally putting my money where my mouth is” Klein jokes. “It is just a great building and deserves to be the jewel it once was when it was open.” Plans are to restore the building to the way it looked back in 1941 using a photo from the Galena Mining and Historical Museum for reference. The front façade will be closely reproduced to exactly the way the photograph shows of the building and he has other plans for the north and south facing walls. “The intersection of Front and Main Streets are really the gateway into Galena and several folks I have talked to in town know this and want it to be a great, lasting impression as travelers are coming into town.” Klein also has been in contact with Galena mayor Dale Oglesby, Galena Council Member Ashley Qualls and Kansas Historic Route 66 Association president Renee Charles. “There are plans for Galena. There are many things these folks have implemented and so many more they are working on and all I want to do is to be part of those plans, and to help them in any way possible, starting with restoring this building.” Klein mentions the interior of the building will take some time as the exterior is the main priority. “I think travelers will be blown away by the way this place will look like in the next few years. As long as it helps Galena and gives the travelers something additional to look at and talk about, I have done my job.”

Klein is working on building a website for the garage and a Facebook page will follow shortly. With the purchase of the garage, he is also writing a book on Route 66 in Kansas, presenting at the International Route 66 Conference in Kingman Arizona in August, and still finds time to help many Route 66 businesses with questions.

Jun 172014
 

River-010









Back in 2012 – I headed out to Needles CA to start the restoration of the 66 Motel sign. It wasn’t until August of that year I first saw this little gem called Fender’s River Road Resort, and swore I would be back.

I was in contact with Fender’s manager Rosie a few weeks ago and we started talking about how to get the resort on the Route 66 road map, seeing the building was built around 1958 and has been open for business ever sense.  Fender’s River Road Resort has a mix of ways a traveler can stop off the route and enjoy the river. If you are driving in your car or riding your bike, they have several motel rooms. If you are in your RV and looking for a place to stay for a night or 30, they have an RV park. If you are a little more adventurous, they have a camping area where you can pitch a tent.

I decided to go out there for the weekend as there were several things which I wanted to check out. Getting in late Friday night, we went over to the Riverfront Cafe to have a late dinner. The place was busy and overlooked the Colorado River. My BBQ sandwich was good, the beer was cold. What else can you ask for?!?!

Saturday started with us taking a run over to check out the 66 Motel sign, the old Carty’s Camp Shell Station and taking a walk back by the original Carty’s Camp. We headed back to the resort and started walking around the resort while I was getting caught up on the history of the property. Knowing Route 66 AND the National Old Trails Highway is at the front door, and the Colorado River is at the back door, it’s hard to match a property like this one anywhere on the route. I spent a little time looking at the neon sign to determine what work was needed to bring it back to its original condition.

We ate at the historic Wagon Wheel Restaurant for a few meals and went across the street to Juicy’s Cafe for dinner Saturday night. Fender’s is located in the section away from the town the locals call ‘the suburbs of Needles as it is only a few minutes from the Wagon Wheel. You get the town a few minutes away but are left alone in your own little world.

ed-colorado-river-03

The main draw to Fender’s is the river. We sat at the rivers edge with our feet in the water, drinking a few refreshments watching the boats go up and down the river. It was nice to just relax and not care about anything.

We spent Sunday on wave runners running up and down the Colorado River checking out Pirate’s Cove and then heading over to Topok. We then headed north up to Laughlin Nevada. It was great to get back on the water and get some sun and have some fun! The sunburn was well worth it!

My advice is simple: If you are looking to get on the water, plan on spending two days here. Fender’s works with a rental company across the river who can get you wave runners, boats and pontoons. It is nice to know after all of the driving we do to see Route 66, and all the time in the car you can spend a little time on the river before you head out into the desert. They are in the midst of bringing the property to what it once did when it opened in the late 1950′s. Drop them a line and plan your visit! Rosie is a wonderful host and wants to make sure your stay is pleasant.

Check them out via their website by clicking HERE or visit their Facebook page by clicking HERE.

May 302014
 
bel-aire-motel










Whenever Sandra Brunner returns from Montana to her hometown of Springfield for a visit, if she must pass the Bel-Aire Motel, she looks the other way.

Whenever Sandra Brunner returns from Montana to her hometown of Springfield for a visit, if she must pass the Bel-Aire Motel, she looks the other way.
The Bel-Aire, 2636 S. Sixth St., is different things to different people. Some think of it as home, at least temporarily. People who don’t know it’s a mess think of it as a Route 66 attraction with cool neon and the Sputnik flying overhead. But most of us think of it as a rundown eyesore and breeding ground for crime.

For Sandra, the Bel-Aire means family. Her father, Charles Ciesler, built it. Sandra and her family had great times there when she was a little girl. She and her cousin, Chuck Ciesler of Springfield, have watched with dismay the deterioration of the motel that has taken place since 1986, when the family sold it to Gopal Motwani, absentee co-owner who lives in Florida.
“I saw (the Bel-Aire) start to go downhill two weeks after it was sold,” Chuck Ciesler says. “That’s when they let a bunch of the maids go.”

The exact date when the Cieslers opened the Bel-Aire Manor Motel is at least temporarily lost to history. We have a file of stories on it that date back to the 1960s, but if we ever printed a story when the Bel-Aire opened, it’s not there. The Sangamon Valley Collection, repository of local history, doesn’t have one either. And the closest the Cieslers can pin it down is 1949 or 1950.
The first appearance of the Bel-Aire Manor Motel in any Springfield City Directory is 1951, so it had to open in late 1949 or sometime in 1950.
It began as a collection of small cabins and grew from there. Charles Ciesler and his brother, Emil, had greater plans for the motel. In 1966, Emil attended a meeting of the Springfield City Council with blueprints for an $870,000 construction project that would make the Bel-Aire a six-story motel with 64 rooms, a restaurant, bar and convention facilities.
Though it was not within the city limits of Springfield at that time, the Cieslers had to go before the council because zoning laws that covered the perimeter of the city imposed a height limit on buildings.
At the council meeting, the Cieslers were given the OK for an 85-foot height limit on the Bel-Aire. I don’t know why they never followed through with those plans, but they didn’t. Charles and Emil have died, taking the explanation with them.
The Bel-Aire won a national reputation because of its Route 66 connection, a reputation that lingers today since most travelers down the highway don’t know what it has become. Which leads us back to Sandra Brunner, Charles Ciesler’s daughter.
“I remember my mom, 60-some years ago, would clean the cabins,” she says. “She would take me along in a little wagon, all bundled up. There was a gas station out front and a little bar not far from the motel.”

“After my dad sold it, it went right down. Every time I come home from Montana and have to drive there, I cringe. It used to be such a beautiful place. There was not a piece of litter in that parking lot back then.”
Now, the Bel-Aire is the butt of jokes. People post satirical reviews of it on Web-based travel sites.
The city of Springfield has been dealing with the deterioration of the Bel-Aire under Motwani’s ownership for more than 20 years. Mayor Tim Davlin wanted the city to buy it and renovate it into a Route 66 museum. There was no money for that.
We thought the ordeal was finally over in 1995. That’s when the city ordered it closed because of numerous fire code and other safety violations. The Circuit Court, on Sept. 20, 1995, granted the city’s request to close the Bel-Aire — until a fire alarm system was installed, damage from a previous fire was repaired and other safety improvements made. Not many people expected the owners to ever be allowed to reopen it. But somehow they did, and it continued to worsen.

The police reported being called to the motel 82 times in 2003. In 2004, Bel-Aire neighbors attended a meeting with the neighborhood cop at Ward 6 Ald. Mark Mahoney’s office to air their complaints. Everyone had their say, and nothing came of it. Three years later, 12 people were busted for drugs at the Bel-Aire.
Motwani was fined $114,600 in 2011 for 386 violations. He appealed, and that’s still tied up in court three years later.
About a month ago, Motwani was hit with another fine (file all these fines under “I” for “ineffective”) when the city found 700 building code violations. What does a person have to do to be shut down, their property condemned or be hauled into court? Motwani’s Bel-Aire is as hard to kill as its cockroaches. So you can expect to read the same story again in the future.
There must be some financial advantage to owning a place like this. I’m just not savvy enough to know what it could be.
But really, how toothless are Springfield’s ordinances to allow this situation to fester for so long? It’s nuts. I feel bad for the Ciesler family, and I feel embarrassed for Springfield.

By Dave Bakke -the State Journal-Register

May 192014
 
eagle-scouts











The official Eagle Scout pledge reads, “On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty to God. On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty to my country. I reaffirm my allegiance to the three promises of the Scout Oath. I thoughtfully recognize and take upon myself the obligations and responsibilities of the rank of Eagle Scout.”

Less than four percent of all Boy Scouts ever attain the rank of Eagle, which is the highest honor of the Boy Scouts of America.
Three newly refinished plaques with the names of all of the Litchfield Eagle Scouts, dating back to 1935, were dedicated to the Litchfield Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center in a special ceremony on Saturday morning, May 17 at the museum.
To open the ceremony, members of Boy Scout Troop 89 led the “Pledge of Allegiance” outside the museum.

Once returning inside, Sharon Wood, a member of the museum committee, served as the master of ceremonies.
“We are here today because you, the Eagle Scout, are very important, and we are blessed to recognize each of you with your names on these plaques,” Wood said.
The original plaques were created in 1990 by John and Linda Thull, who wanted the citizens of Litchfield to see the achievement of the young men who attained this honor. They hung in Litchfield City Hall for many years.

“Many times, I had Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts come in the building to sell popcorn,” said Wood, who worked in the clerk’s office.
“I would take them by the hand and show them the plaques and suggest they work really hard and become an Eagle Scout with their name added to the plaque.”
When Wood became involved with the new museum, she thought it would be nice to move the plaques since so many visitors from all over the world stop in to see the museum. Due to their age, the plaques needed some refinishing and updating, which was done by Wood’s husband, Mike.

The Boy Scouts of America office in Springfield helped the Woods to update the records, and the Litchfield Knights of Columbus provided a monetary contribution to the project. Also helping were Cub Scoutmaster Lisa Francis and Connie Beck, who did the engraving.
“The Thulls’ idea has grown, and what better way to honor our hometown Eagle Scouts through the years than by adding their names to a plaque that will be seen by many visitors to our museum,” Wood said. “We are proud of the hard work these young men and their families endure to accomplish each rank on their way to Eagle Scout.”
After her remarks, Wood opened the floor to others present, and Litchfield resident Will Tackaberry, who earned his Eagle Scout in 1947, spoke. He talked about how the skills he learned in scouting helped him have a successful military career with both the Navy and the Air Force.
“What you learn in scouts will help you no matter what kind of a job you have,” Tackaberry said.

Following the ceremony, the plaques are now on display inside the museum.
Litchfield Eagle Scouts
Ray Prange, 12-7-1935
Don Lee Brubaker, 12-1-1936
Irving Nathason, 12-1-1936
Russell Eppinger, 12-7-1937
Fred Griffith, 12-7-1937
Charles Napier, 12-7-1937
Philip Rainey, 12-7-1937
John Ritchie, 12-7-1937
Bernard Schoen, 12-7-1937
James Griffith, 8-11-1938
Richard Savage, 11-29-1938
Melvin Kellenberger, 11-21-1939
Billy Griffith, 6-1-1941
John Morris, 3-12-1942
Herbert Perkins, Jr., 3-12-1942
Fred J. Carll, 8-23-1946
Fred Hammond, 4-25-1947
Warren L. Roach, 12-3-1947
Wilbur Tackaberry 7-9-1947
Carl Bierbaum 6-17-1949
Ross Schweppe, 12-10-1949
Paul B. Ulenhop, 7-25-1951
Chris McClurg, 9-24-1952
Patrick McClurg, 5-31-1953
Fred Barringer, 1-6-1953
Mike Ulenhop, 4-15-1956
Bruce C. Wilson, 6-10-1957
Robert Ulenhop, 5-24-1960
Thurman Schweitzer, Jr., 7-30-1963
James E. Gibson, 6-13-1973
John J. Benitez, 6-24-1975
Allen E. House, 6-24-1979
Steven C. House, 2-13-1980
Stephen J. Fiscor, 1-31-1981
David M. House, 2-21-1982
Christopher Thull, 3-21-1985
Brent Harty, 9-22-1988
Lewis F. Harty, 9-22-1988
Steve Jurgena, 12-17-1988
Joshua S. Hardy, 10-3-1990
Randolph T. Harty, 10-3-1990
Clark L. Johnsen, 1-21-1991
James A. Thull, 1-18-1991
Stewart E. Johnson, 12-22-1992
Corey M. Wood, 8-17-1994
Joshua M. Nickles, 8-22-1995
Brian Paul Reid, 5-16-1995
David Hiscox, 5-19-1996
Scott White, 4-21-1996
Nathaniel J. Harty, 10-18-1997
Andrew P. Weick, 11-4-1998
Jason W. Horrocks, 2-3-1999
Chad J. Nickles, 12-16-1999
Brian E. Smith, 12-16-1999
Michael B. Weber, 12-16-1999
Sean R. Donham, 6-20-2002
Nicholas L. Thull, 2-20-2003
Travis J. Pence, 12-2-2004
Ryan D. Bishop, 8-19-2005
Benjamin M. Weber, 8-19-2005
Joseph R. Weber, 1-19-2006
Michael D. Reimer, 2-22-2006
Michael J. Arnold, 3-12-2006
Michael R. Smith, 3-12-2006
Adam J. Fischer, 2-17-2011
Austin Marburger, 11-24-2013
Jacob Cadwell, 11-24-2013
Timothy Francis, 11-24-2013

by Mary (Galer) Herschelman – The Journal News

May 152014
 
springfield-park










Nearly 90 years after “U.S. 66″ was proposed as the name for the new Chicago-to-Los Angeles highway at Springfield’s Colonial Hotel, City officials will break ground for a roadside park celebrating Springfield as the birthplace of the Mother Road. The groundbreaking will take place at 10 a.m., May 22 at the park’s future site on West College Street, between Fort and Broadway avenues. Parking will be available on site and on the streets adjacent to the site.

Route 66 meandered across Springfield from Kearney to Glenstone to St. Louis Street, through Park Central Square to College Street, then headed west along what is now Chestnut Expressway.

Plans for the Birthplace of Route 66 Roadside Park include incorporating memories of local Route 66 landmarks, sculptures, a filling station replica, a motor court sign replica and a history plaza. The first phase of the park will be complete by August and will include the replica of the Red’s Giant Hamburg sign; park driveway and parallel parking; and landscaping and sidewalk improvements along College Street.

The estimated cost for the Birthplace of Route 66 Roadside Park is about $1 million, according to Director of Planning Ralph Rognstad.

While the City will provide funding to implement certain infrastructure improvements along the College Street stretch of Historic Route 66 between Grant Avenue and Kansas Expressway, it must leverage its investment in the project with private donations and other sources of funding. A larger plan to revitalize Historic Route 66 through other parts of Springfield could roll out in phases, as the City gauges interest and potential funding. The City raised more than $15,000 to build a replica of the Red’s Giant Hamburg sign through local crowd funding company www.Crowdit.com.

We hope to make Springfield THE stop along the famed, historic byway,” says City Manager Greg Burris.

Birthplace of Route 66 Roadside Park renderings can be viewed at: www.springfieldmo.gov/collegestreet/pdfs/collegeRoadPark.pdf

By Springfield Regional Arts Council

May 122014
 
wigwam-motel-CA










Kumar Patel grew up along Route 66, a highway long celebrated in literature, song and film. He was not impressed.

On his first long road trip, about six years ago, he found himself bored by the route’s decaying monuments, mom-and-pop diners and dusty museums.

“I hated it,” he said. “But I didn’t understand it.”

The journey to understanding started soon after that trip, when his mother started having health problems. She had been running the family’s Wigwam Motel, a clutch of 20 tepee-shaped rooms on Route 66 in San Bernardino. She could no longer run it alone.

So at 26, Patel took over, giving up a career in accounting to run an aging tourist trap that struggled to cover its costs.

Kumar Patel operates the Wigwam Motel, a clutch of 20 tepee-shaped rooms on Route 66 in San Bernardino. He has become a tireless promoter of the highway’s culture. He sees that as a way to keep the history of Route 66 alive and fill his motel rooms.

Now, as a 32-year-old entrepreneur, he stands out among the typical Route 66 merchants, who promote such roadside curiosities as a Paul Bunyon monument, a blue whale statue and the Petrified Forest National Park. Such sites now are operated and visited mostly by white, middle-aged travelers, whose numbers are dwindling.

Unless Patel and other Route 66 business owners can attract a younger and more diverse crowd, one that matches the evolving demographics of America, the shops and oddball attractions along the route will shut down for good.

“If it doesn’t happen, we are not going to keep all of this alive,” said Kevin Hansel, the caretaker of another struggling Route 66 business, Roy’s Motel and Cafe in Amboy. “It will be history.”

That history started in the 1920s, when the road was built to handle a surge in automobile ownership and a push by business owners to link the small towns and merchants of the Midwest to big cities. Route 66 became the nation’s main east-west artery.

In his novel “The Grapes of Wrath,” John Steinbeck called it the “mother road” because it beckoned and delivered the refugees from the Dust Bowl exodus to jobs in California in the 1930s. Bobby Troup penned his biggest hit song, “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66,” in 1946.

But by the 1950s, the narrow, slow-moving route was replaced in pieces by multilane, interstate freeways, designed for high-speed travel. Federal workers removed the freeway markers and decommissioned Route 66 in 1985, effectively killing business for the jukebox-blasting diners and neon-rimmed motels.

Today, with the future of the Wigwam at stake, Patel has immersed himself in that history, driving Route 66 himself, stopping to chat with his fellow shopkeepers and travelers. He set out on a search for insight into how to promote his business but ended up with a more personal appreciation of the route’s culture.

“That’s what grew on me: The people who shared with me their stories of the road,” he said.

When the Wigwam Motel went on sale in 2003 for nearly $1 million, Patel’s father, an Indian immigrant who ran another small hotel in San Bernardino, saw it as a good investment. It has yet to pay off.

Like many Route 66 businesses, the Wigwam struggles to squeeze out enough money to pay for improvements. It took five years to save up to renovate the pool area. Last year, Patel was finally able to afford a full-time maid for the motel. Before then, Patel and his mother cleaned and changed sheets while selling souvenirs and booking rooms.

“We still run it on a thin line,” he said.

With the Wigwam’s success tied to Route 66, Patel has become a tireless promoter of its culture. He sees that as a way to keep the history of Route 66 alive and fill his motel rooms.

He set out recently on a drive to show off some of its peculiar attractions along California’s stretch of the 2,400-mile highway that runs from Chicago to Santa Monica. He started from a rundown roadside hotel in Needles, in the Mojave Desert near the Arizona border.

Stars twinkled in the darkness. The only sound was the hum of big rigs bouncing off the blacktop. The best way to experience the road, he said, is by driving east to west. It’s the way the Dust Bowl refugees saw it and later Midwesterners, heading for vacations in Los Angeles.

“On Route 66 you find real people, real food,” Patel said.

He rattled off history and trivia as the car zipped past telephone poles on National Trails Highway — the name now given to the portion of Route 66 that runs through much of the Mojave Desert.

A downed palo verde tree about half a mile outside of Amboy is called the “Shoe Tree” because it toppled under the weight of hundreds of shoes tossed on the branches by visitors. It’s a tradition that locals say was started by an arguing couple and continues today.

“The purists love this stuff because they don’t want to see things that are renewed,” Patel said. “They want to see the original stuff.”

Take tiny Amboy (population 17), once a bustling pit stop. Today, the only commerce happens at Roy’s Motel and Cafe. The cafe sells only soft drinks and snacks. The motel is closed because of a lack of water. The drop-off in business no longer makes it practical to ship in water by train. The ground has long been saturated with salt, making well water undrinkable.

Kevin Hansel, the caretaker, dreams of the day someone drills a well deep enough to reach drinkable water.

“Once we get the water, we can open the restaurant and the bungalows,” he said.

As Patel visited, about a dozen Volkswagen vans pulled in under the cafe’s giant boomerang-shaped sign. The VW road warriors were meeting at Roy’s before driving east to Lake Havasu.

Among them was retired welder Joe Stack, 71, of Costa Mesa. He has been taking this road trip for 10 years. When Stack’s daughter was a girl, she rode shotgun in his van.

But she is now 22 and not interested in the retro architecture of Route 66.

“Young kids don’t want to come out here,” he said, squinting in the morning sun. “Young kids are on a computer wearing their thumbs out.”

Route 66 travelers today have a median age of 55 and 97% are white, according to a 2011 study by David Listokin, a Rutgers University economics professor. Only 11% of the travelers on the road are ages 20 to 39, according to the study.

A few months ago, Listokin read the highlights of his study to a group of Route 66 business owners who met at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim to discuss the road’s future. Patel was there — among the few people in the room under age 40.

Patel stood at the front of the brightly colored Magic Kingdom Ballroom, urging his fellow Route 66 merchants to reach out to young travelers, the way he has done.

He hosted hip-hop, end-of-summer festivals at the Wigwam Motel, with DJs and strobe lights. During a recent Christmas, he threw a doughnut party and decorated the tepee-shaped motel rooms to look like Christmas trees. He’s volunteered his motel as a stop for a classic car show to raise money to restore a historic gas station in Rancho Cucamonga.

His work has won him the respect of older Route 66 advocates.

“We absolutely need that kind of thing that he is doing,” said Linda Fitzpatrick, 73, who is leading a campaign to restore the Needles Theater, a 1930s-era Masonic temple that was converted to a movie house.

Back on the road, just outside Barstow, Patel pulled up to an attraction known as “Bottle Tree Ranch.”

The forest of metal trees, adorned with colored bottles, was built by Elmer Long, a 67-year-old retired cement worker who, with his long white beard and floppy hat, looks like a ’49er-era gold prospector.

During the busy summer months, he said, his bottle trees draw as many as 1,000 visitors a day. But most of the visitors are international travelers. Each day, visitors leave Long a few dollars in a tip can.

“To them, the U.S. is a magical place,” he said, as traffic rushes past his ramshackle home.

The sky began to dim as Patel pulled up to the Wigwam Motel. His mother, who still helps Patel with the business, told him that two motel guests — young ones — were finishing a long road trip.

At the door of one of the tepees, Patel introduced himself to Emily Mills, 28, and her sister Anna, 25, from North Carolina. Emily Mills was starting a new job managing a Culver City restaurant. For the move west, the sisters decided on a Route 66 road trip.

They hit all the big stops, including the Cadillac Ranch, west of Amarillo, Texas, where junk Cadillacs have been thrust nose first into the earth. A few miles south of the ranch, the sisters stopped to see the statue of a giant pair of legs, more than 20 feet tall.

The Mills sisters also spent the night in another Wigwam Motel, in Holbrook, Ariz. — one of seven built across the country by architect Frank Redford. Only two Wigwams remain on Route 66.

“We wanted to tell our friends we slept in a wigwam and saw a giant pair of legs,” Emily Mills said as the sun set behind her tepee.

Guests like the Mills sisters are a good sign for the Wigwam, Patel said. Most Route 66 travelers zip through San Bernardino to reach the end of the route in Santa Monica, 78 miles away.

Patel can’t yet say when — or if — the Wigwam will ever become the moneymaker Patel’s father envisioned. But now he’s grown attached to the road, and sees himself as more than just a motel operator. Patel has become a curator of the Route 66 legend, a proud member of its cast of characters.

- By The Los Angeles Times

May 112014
 
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Two Route 66 landmarks in Springfield face an uncertain future.
Hours at Shea’s Route 66 Museum, 2075 Peoria Road, ended following the 2012 death of founder Bill Shea Sr., whose name was synonymous with the museum and Route 66. Family members are considering what to do next.

A “closed for repairs” sign went up more than two weeks ago at Joe Rogers’ The Den Chili Parlor, 820 S. Ninth St.

Shea’s and Joe Rogers’ are fixtures in local, state and national tourism promotions of the Route 66 experience in Illinois. Both are on the Ninth Street-Peoria Road corridor that was among the routes followed through Springfield by the historic road.
“It’s such an important part of our marketing, including international marketing,” said Gina Gemberling, acting director of the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Gemberling said word of the uncertainty facing Shea’s spread quickly among Route 66 communities and preservation groups.
“They are continually asking us, ‘What’s going to happen toB?’” Gemberling said.

Considering options
“I hate for anything on Route 66 to close,” said Bill Shea Jr., who now watches over the Shea’s Route 66 Museum operated for decades by his father.
William “Bill” Shea Sr., who died in 2012 at age 91, was as much an attraction on Route 66 as his gas station-museum. The visitor logbook contained signatures from across the globe.

Dressed in his vintage Marathon attendant uniform, Shea walked visitors through life on Route 66 when the road was dotted by service stations that still checked oil and cleaned windshields, all night café-diners and neon-lit, mom-and-pop hotels.
He was inducted into the Route 66 Hall of Fame in 1993. The building is packed with Route 66 memorabilia.
Shea Jr. said the property went to probate court after his father’s death and that it could take until this fall to resolve legal issues. While regular hours ended in 2012, the younger Shea said he occasionally hosts special visitors. A group from Germany was scheduled to visit last week.

“I finished up all the appointments that he had,” said Shea, who is 65 and retired. “People were still coming by the bus loads.”
He said he has no specific plans for the museum while probate continues, but that there have been offers for pieces of his dad’s Route 66 collection. Shea said his preference is to keep the building and the collection together.
“I’d like to see it turned into a Route 66 visitors center,” said Shea, “and maybe have my dad’s name on it.”
There have been informal discussions, said Gemberling. But as with past ideas for a Route 66 visitor center, there is no money.
“It comes down to funding,” Gemberling said. “We know how important it is (Shea’s). We’d like to save it, but where are the dollars coming from?”

Joe Rogers’ The Den Chili Parlor has been closed for two weeks, with no indication of when, or if, it might reopen. Owners Ric and Rose Hamilton didn’t return calls requesting information about the status of the business.
Efforts to reach Marianne Rogers — daughter of Joe Rogers, who founded the chili parlor in 1945 — also were unsuccessful. Rogers has proprietary rights to the special spice blend used in the chili.

Emilio Lomeli knows a business can’t run on nostalgia alone.
Lomeli and his wife, Rosa, blended two Springfield greasy-spoon legends — The Coney Island and Sonrise Donuts — in 2012.
The Coney IslandSpringfield’s second-oldest restaurant — operated from the 100 block of North Sixth Street from 1919 to 2000. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum now occupies its original site.
The Lomelis moved the business to 1101 S. Ninth St., the home of Sonrise Donuts. The diner with its original Formica counter and red stools opened in 1947 as Springfield’s first doughnut shop with a coffee counter.
The hybrid — now known as Emilio’s New Coney Island — blends menus and motifs from both businesses, as well as the Lomelis’ own Mexican dishes.
“We try to keep the spirit of The Coney Island alive,” Lomeli said. “But we need the people to help us, keep coming. Many still don’t know we’re here. They’ll see me at the store and say, ‘When are you opening?’
“I’m open now.”

Lomeli said business has picked up a bit since The Den has been closed.
“We’re not really competition. Some people go there, some here,” he said. “I try to help them for now. Maybe they’ll go back when it reopens. We’ll wait and see what happens.”
Bill Klein is another person waiting.
He has spent the past two Saturdays discombobulated. The landmark chili parlor has been Klein’s Saturday lunch haunt for four decades.
“This has created a devastating hole in my Saturday because, as night follows day, I could be found at The Den on Saturday at noon,” he said. “I’ve watched kids grow up, talked about marriages. I send chili to my son in Tampa, (Fla.). When someone comes home for the holidays, it’s a tradition to go to Joe Rogers for chili.
“I hope they open soon.”

Pontiac ‘Hall of Fame’
Operators of the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum in Pontiac are among those watching Shea’s from afar.
The community is on a section of old Route 66 about 100 miles north of Springfield.
“We’d be honored to have some of the pieces in our museum,” said museum treasurer Martin Blitstein, who lives in Tinley Park. “They (the Shea family) are personal friends of ours and of the corridor.”

As in Springfield, said Blitstein, money is the issue. The Pontiac museum relies on donations, including for Route 66 collections. He said the museum drew at least 50,000 visitors in 2013.
Lillian Ford, owner of Ray’s Route 66 Family Diner in Sherman, said she could attest to the drawing power of Route 66.
“We have people from Australia, England, Ireland, Brazil and China,” said Ford. “They come from all over the world.”
Sherman is working on its own promotions of Route 66 connections, including a wayside park and exhibit at the north edge of the community.
“We get car and motorcycle tours,” Ford said. “There are so many things to make it popular. It’s the ‘Mother Road.’
Bill Shea Jr. said, in addition to resolving the probate case, he must have the museum property appraised before making decisions. But he said he remains hopeful of maintaining at least a piece of his father’s Route 66 legacy.
“I’d like to have it there in memory of my dad,” Shea said. “We’ll just have to see what happens.”

Route 66 landmarks
* Shea’s Route 66 Gas Station and Museum, 2075 Peoria Road: Named for Bill Shea. Shea, who was inducted into the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame in 1993, worked in the Springfield gas-station business for nearly 50 years before converting the Marathon station to a Route 66 museum. Regular hours ended following Shea’s death in 2012 at age 91.
* Joe Rogers’ Den Chili Parlor, 820 S. Ninth St. Joe Rogers opened the original chili parlor in 1945 at 1125 South Grand Ave. E. Became known for “Firebrand” chili and allowing customers to custom-order. Moved to Ninth Street location in 1997. Rogers family sold to current owners, Ric and Rose Hamilton, in 2008.

Sources: Illinois Route 66 Associaton; archives of The State Journal-Register

May 032014
 
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Route 66 Preservationist Ed Klein announced today he is to author a book about Route 66 through the state of Kansas. The approval for the book came from Arcadia Publishing who has over 9,000 books in their catalog, most written by locals and first time authors. The book will be titled ‘Route 66 in Kansas’ which will be part of their ‘Images of America’ series and is due for release mid 2015. It will cover the early mining days of southeast Kansas through present day Route 66.

Ed Klein is the owner of the website Route 66 World (www.route66world.com) which is dedicated to the preservation, restoration and education of Route 66. He was researching information on several projects with locations ranging from Joplin, a building in Kansas and another project in Oklahoma.

“I scoured the internet and finding the information for Joplin and Oklahoma was much easier than finding certain bits and pieces about a location in Kansas I was working on. I then checked to see if there were actually any books written about Route 66 in Kansas and to my surprise, there were none.”

Klein contacted Arcadia Publishing to check to see if there were any books in the works for Route 66 in the state of Kansas, and they responded with a ‘no, but what do you think about writing a book about the route in Kansas?’

Kansas has the shortest stretch of Route 66 of all the eight states it runs through. Less than thirteen miles connects Kansas from Joplin Missouri to Quapaw Oklahoma, two towns which have been affected by tornadoes and in both occasions, Klein has helped by donating much needed funds to local relief efforts.

Route 66 is not only about the old motels, the diners and the gift shops, it is also about saving history and places so many travelers around the world come to see and experience. It is very easy to have a business close down or suffer a catastrophic loss like this, keeping them open is the hard part!” Klein adds.