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

Oct 262015


Victorville landmark draws in locals for celebration and car show

A local landmark that more often garners a mostly international audience drew in hundreds of locals Saturday to celebrate its 20-year anniversary of preserving the history of “The Mother Road.”
The mission of the California Route 66 Museum in Old Town Victorville is to “preserve and increase” interest in “all aspects of history and heritage related to the road,” which it has been doing since it opened its doors in 1995. With three display rooms and a gift shop, the 5,000-square-foot former Red Rooster Cafe location remains entirely free for admission, accepting contributions from patrons and donors.

Museum President Susan Bridges said it’s unfortunate that “all the locals don’t know this place at all.”
Bridges said that about 75 percent of the museum’s business comes from visitors from all around the world.
“We want to let people know that this used to be a prime area,” Bridges said.
She said the ongoing Victor Valley Wastewater Reclamation Authority construction project has taken a large toll on Old Town shops, including the Best Deal Furniture store that recently closed its doors after 20 years of business.
Best Deal joined the row of 17 other buildings between A and D streets on the east side of Seventh Street that were once open businesses that have shuttered their doors, according to a previous Daily Press article.
The museum continues to thrive however, and with Route 66 turning 90 years old next year, it will likely gain even greater attention.

California Historic Route 66 Association board member Scott Piotrowski traveled from Glendale to attend the Victorville museum anniversary celebration, providing information about the group to attendees.
The big buzz for the association is the Route 66 90-year anniversary national festival planned to take place in Los Angeles next year. Piotrowski said they expect at least 50,000 attendees at the festival, but are hoping for more than 100,000.

The main event of Saturday’s celebration was the car show, an annual display of classic cars ranging from hot rods to rat rides.
Among the cars was a 1963 Ford Galaxie replica of the Mayberry Sheriff’s car used in the Andy Griffith Show, and a unique 1936 Ford Custom pickup truck with a 1983 Volvo built in a custom rod shop.

A celebrity of the Route 66 community was also at the event, National Classic Miss Route 66, Monica Burrola, decked in her sash and stetson to sign and take photos with visitors.
Burrola said she didn’t know a lot about the road when her son’s girlfriend asked her to participate in the pageant for the Classic Miss Route 66 for women more than 50 years old.
The next thing you know, I had a love for the road,” Burrola said. “The coolest part is all of the people on the highway.”

By Charity Lindsey – Desert Dispatch

Oct 062015


There’s no getting away from it – San Bernardino in the fall means classic cars and Route 66.
Gleaming chrome and the throaty roar of souped-up engines.

A little drive down Memory Lane.
On Saturday, car buffs can do it all again, cruisin’ back to E Street, where it all began.
The third annual “Where it All Began — Rendezvous Back to Route 66” (and back to downtown) revs up the memories — the good old days of cruising in classic cars and nostalgia for the Mother Road.
So polish up that chrome until it gleams, the candy-apple red paint until it dazzles — happy days are here again.

Join the 400 already registered car enthusiasts from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday when a community comes together for all-day entertainment, cars. cruisin,’ food and fun.
This year’s edition again celebrates the glory days of San Bernardino’s love affair with the automobile, going back to the city’s roots as a “car town.”
The event, presented by the San Bernardino Area Chamber of Commerce and the City of San Bernardino, returns to downtown San Bernardino at Court Street Square.

Judi Penman, chamber president and CEO, says this year’s edition keeps the spirit of the Route 66 Rendezvous alive in San Bernardino.
“I want this to be a community project,” she said. “We want to have something San Bernardino can be proud of again. We’ve brought together San Bernardino City Unified School District, Parks and Recreation, the YMCA, City Hall, the Neighborhood Association Council and nonprofits to help make this a wonderful event,” she said.
Dave and Mary Raphael of Long Beach are especially glad to see the Route 66 celebration back in downtown San Bernardino.
They are owners of a 1948 Ford Woodie they had taken to the traditional Rendezvous for 10 consecutive years.

“We had it on the stage with the Beach Boys back in the ‘80s when we first finished it. Then, it was at the San Bernardino Beach Boys concert a few years ago,” Mary said.
“It has been on TV and movies and weddings and mostly to the beach with our family. We can hardly wait for Oct. 10.”
There will be lots of neon and thunder, but you’ll also get to hear the sounds of the Beach Boys — thanks to Chris Farmer and his Beach Boys Tribute Band.
You can enjoy fantastic food and a Car-toberfest Beer Garden and creative kids’ games including a toy train for the little ones to ride.

Look for a variety of merchandise vendors, while food vendors offer tastes from different countries, including the U.S., Mexico and Asian countries. Of course, there will be bratwurst to make “Cartoberfest” official.
Two Beer Gardens will be on site offering tastes of Anheuser Busch fine products.
The Beach Boys Tribute Band is set for 4:30 p.m. at Court Street Square — and dancing in the streets is allowed.
Also, Thumper the DJ will be playing those memorable tunes from the ‘50s and ‘60s and maybe even some newer ones throughout the day.

And then, the thunder rolls.
Following the Beach Boys concert is the Open Header Contest, judged by John Mihovetz, known for his Accufab Lucas Oil 2010 Mustang Shelby pro street race car.
So then comes the Grand Finale, a Neon Light Parade with all the cars participating.
Get ready for awesome — the neon light parade should be a lot like low fireworks.
There should even be some ooohs and a few ahhhs.
People’s Choice Awards, designed by Quiel Bros. Signs, will be presented to the best of the best.
It’s so good to have “Rendezvous Back” back.

– By Michel Nolan, The Sun

Jun 262015


In San Bernardino, they don’t stroll down Memory Lane, they cruise it.

Memory Lane is E Street, one of the main north-south streets that crosses Route 66 in the city.

If you turned the clock back 50 years, you’d see gleaming chrome and hear engines revving as the “Happy Days” moments of cruising, ice cream shops and bobby socks helped define a generation.

Back then, cruising was bumper to bumper.

San Bernardino was the car-cruising capital of Southern California from the late 1940s to the early 1970s.

Memories of cruisin’ E Street in 1955, stopping at Carnation Ice Cream and grabbing 15-cent burgers at McDonald’s are etched into the city’s collective memory.

An important chapter in San Bernardino’s history.

Steve Portias, a 1967 graduate of San Bernardino High School, says he was born at the perfect time.

The consummate “car guy,” Portias said the culture got its start in the 1930s and ’40s, when young drivers would go for “land speed records” at the El Mirage dry lake bed, near Adelanto.

“The most popular car at the time was the 1932 Ford — everyone wanted one,” said Portias, a member of the San Bernardino Historical Society and president of Inland Vans Berdoo, a car club that’s been around since the late 1960s.

“Most guys customized their cars to attract the girls,” said Portias, now 65.

Think “American Grafitti” or “Grease.”

“All towns had a cruise route, but San Bernardino was known as ‘the car town.’”

By the early ’70s, car clubs were huge, and the Over the Hill Gang, which had its roots at San Gorgonio High School, developed the car club culture, according to Portias.

Danny Castro, board member and former president of the California Historical Route 66 Association, remembers getting his first “muscle car” in 1971.

It was a baby blue 1964 Mustang Fast Back, he said, with four speeds and a 302 engine.

At the time, those cars we think of as “classics,” were cheap, said Castro, who always had several cars at the same time.

“You could get a ’64 GTO for $400,” he said. “But a car that might cost $500 to $800 would be bought by Europeans and then sold for $8,000.”

Cruisers in their heyday would stop at Eros and Bogart’s, a popular E Street nightclub and the former Orange Bowling Alley with a nice wooden dance floor.

San Bernardino was a happening place, attracting popular and up-and-coming bands at its venues.

The first time Van Halen played in front of an audience was at Eros and Bogart’s, and he introduced the band as “a garage band out of Pasadena.”

But things started changing in the ’80s, and as E Street declined, so did cruising.

The former nightclub is now a thrift store on E Street, between Ninth and 10th, Portias said.

Car shows became popular, but the car culture hit a new low when E Street died.

Enter Route 66 and the revitalization of the city with souped-up classic cars.

When the city’s classic car culture intersected with San Bernardino’s stretch of Route 66 (along Fifth Street), a national car culture rose up from the asphalt of the Mother Road.

Route 66, the legendary strip of highway running between Santa Monica and Chicago, dubbed “The Mother Road” by John Steinbeck in his 1939 novel “The Grapes of Wrath,” has connected a cultural cross-section of Americans since it was paved in 1937.

Cruisers were back on the road again.

Between 1991 and 2013, San Bernardino hosted the Stater Bros. Route 66 RendezvousCalifornia’s ode to the Mother Road — in the city’s downtown streets.

Roadies and car buffs could tell the stories and relive the memories of traveling in vintage vehicles across California’s vast yawning desert.

The huge automotive street fair, which celebrated cruisin’, classic cars and hot rods, attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to the three-day event.

In 2013, the Rendezvous was put on hiatus after the city filed for bankruptcy and the state eliminated funding for the San Bernardino Convention and Visitors Bureau, producers of the event.

Fast forward to the present.

No matter how crazy the city is about classic cars, it’s the positive aspect of shining a light on San Bernardino that has so many people looking forward to this weekend.

On Saturday, the prestigious Great Race cross-country car rally comes to San Bernardino to join forces with local Route 66 car buffs in a huge celebration that includes yet another car culture.

The 2015 Great Race, this year themed “Get Your Kicks on Route 66,” will transform downtown streets with 120 vintage cars.

Great Racers, who start arriving at 5:30 p.m. from their weeklong journey, will join the 1,000 classic American cars on display, with festivities including live music, a veterans parade, chili cook-off, food trucks, craft beer garden, stagecoach rides and vendors in the downtown area,

San Bernardino’s Great Race Committee, headed by city Parks, Recreation and Community Services Director Mickey Valdivia, has been working since early February to plan the event.

These days they are sprucing up the area around City Hall.

“We are getting the landscaping cleaned up, flowers planted and the Route 66 Cruisin’ Hall of Fame wall restored so it will look its best for the big event,” Valdivia said.

Sign painter and muralist Robb McDermott has been working on the wall for nearly a week.

McDermott, who owns a sign-painting company in Redlands, worked in three-digit temperatures giving the wall its face-lift for the Great Race event.

A self-taught muralist and painter, he is a San Bernardino native who looks forward to the festivities.

Welcoming signs are elsewhere in the city.

Great Race banners hang across downtown streets and at the former Arts on Fifth Street gallery, “This is San Bernardino,” a new public art project by poet Juan Delgado and photographer Thomas McGovern, will be unveiled Saturday in the windows of Arts on Fifth, 468 W. Fifth St., just in time for Great Race day.

The classic event, which showcases Americana and its diversity, would not be complete without a veterans’ parade and vintage military vehicles, as well as hundreds of small flags for bystanders lining the parade route beginning at 4 p.m.

Veterans’ services and a mobile service office for Disabled American Veterans will also be on hand.

So prepare to be amazed as San Bernardino recaptures its glory days — and once again, the shine will come from gleaming chrome.

By Michel Nolan – The Sun

Dec 222014


RANCHO CUCAMONGA >> Anthony Gonzalez said he didn’t acquire a true love for historical buildings and landmarks until his involvement with Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles.

In the early ‘90s, Gonzalez served as El Pueblo director when many of the buildings there were damaged by an earthquake in 1994.

“It made me realize the importance of trying to maintain and keep these historical building so we can know where we came from,” he said.

It is that love that led him to in 2011 to begin efforts to save and restore a nearly 100-year-old gas station along Route 66.

Gonzalez lived in La Verne for most of his adolescence and moved out in college. He returned to the area in 1998 when he moved to his current home in Rancho Cucamonga.

As the president of Route 66 Inland Empire California, he is helping to spearhead efforts.

For the past year, he and group members have devoted many hours restoring the Cucamonga Service Station with the goal of reopening it next year as a museum.

In September, he was named president of Cucamonga Service Club, the governing body that oversees Sweeten Hall building in the 9000 block of San Bernardino Road.

In the past, Sweeten Hall served as the central location for gatherings and parties in the city. That was lost for years for various reasons.

His plan in the next year is to help restore the building so that it can once again be utilized by the community.

“These two endeavors are keeping me busy now,” said the 63-year-old who retired only three years ago.

Now he spends at least eight hours a day on either restoration projects, he said.

“I’m trying to rehabilitate the buildings, bring them back to its original state,” Gonzalez said.

– By Liset Marquez, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

Oct 122014


MONROVIA – Closed for more than two years, the historic Aztec Hotel is in the middle of a renovation project touted as a return to prominence for the distinctive Mayan-style building in Monrovia, although visible progress has turned out to be as fleeting as the ghosts that supposedly haunt the hotel.

Once a 1920s celebrity hangout and still a Route 66 attraction, the hotel could reopen by early 2015 if work goes according to plan. An application for a new round of upgrades was submitted to Monrovia officials in late September, and work could soon begin with minor alterations to the rooms and construction of a redesigned parking lot.

However, very little has gone according to plan for the Aztec Hotel recently. A former manager who started the renovations by overhauling the hotel restaurant is now entangled in a lawsuit against the hotel’s Chinese owner, alleging discrimination and wrongful termination.

Also, a series of negotiations to lease the hotel’s empty retail spaces fell through, leaving a long-established barbershop as the sole tenant. In January, one new business moved in — a Route 66 memorabilia and gift shop — but it was gone in less than six months.

“There’s interest in the community, and I have to think people are kind of disappointed,” said Jim Wigton, president of the Monrovia Historic Preservation Group. “If the owner was serious about making this a viable concern, a lot more would have been done.”

Despite its troubles, the current hotel manager says plenty has gone on behind the scenes as preparation, and he is optimistic about what the Aztec could become — a boutique destination for Route 66 travelers, ghost hunters and anyone interested in the hotel’s inherent nostalgia and kitsch.

“The goal is to bring it back to the 20s and 30s design, but with modern amenities,” said Peter Kertenian, whose background includes managing Marriott hotels.

Kertenian acknowledged the pace of renovation has been slow, but noted that a building such as the Aztec, a National Historic Landmark that has a similar status at the city level, requires extra time for various approvals.

The newest renovation plans are on track to be considered by Monrovia’s Historic Preservation Commission and Planning Commission this month or November, according to Planning Manager Craig Jimenez.

Kertenian also ran into a few surprises when planning the work, he said. The electrical transformers that serve the building are far too old to handle the installation of air conditioning in the rooms, so Southern California Edison needs to replace them.

Also, the parking lot is unlighted and its spaces non-compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, so redesigning it became necessary before the Aztec Hotel’s restaurant could open, he said.

“They wasted all this time on a restaurant, when nobody sat down and said you cannot open a restaurant when the parking lot is not done,” Kertenian said.

Formerly known as the Brass Elephant, a bar whose rowdy clientele often aggravated neighbors, the restaurant was supposed to transform into the more community-friendly Mayan Bar and Grill under former manager Art DeSautels, who had been hired in December 2012.

“It wasn’t until I went there, seeing that it was closed, when I got into the lobby and saw the history of the building, I was immediately intrigued by the opportunity,” DeSautels said.

While the restaurant work got underway in early 2013, DeSautels invited public engagement through a social media campaign, offering tours and taste testings of the Latin American-inspired menu that he expected to establish. Many of his postings are still available on the hotel’s Facebook page.

“They’ve had so many bad experiences,” DeSautels said, referring to a messy foreclosure that allowed the current owner, Qinhan Chen, to purchase the property through a company called Jia Ming Hotel USA. “There were so many things I needed to do bridge the gap between the owner, the city and the community.”

His work initially had Chen’s approval, DeSautels said, but it didn’t last. Making decisions primarily from his home in China and visiting occasionally, Chen at first appeared more interested in a Las Vegas-style hotel and wanted to make the Aztec’s rooms bigger by knocking down some walls, DeSautels said.

By the time he was fired in May 2013, DeSautels had filed a discrimination complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, alleging Chen had hired a Chinese assistant manager to usurp his duties and slandered him with allegations of stolen funds.

In his lawsuit filed in May, nearly a year after his dismissal, DeSautels makes further claims that Chen was skirting the U.S. Patriot Act and other laws by hiring Chinese nationals to transfer money to the U.S. through their bank accounts.

Chen counter-sued, alleging DeSautels performed work without approval and stole $1,500 through petty cash funds.

DeSautels says all of the money went into the hotel. “Everything I did was to save them money,” he said, also referring to Chen’s bookkeeper. “I had them sign off on all the equipment that was given to them.”

Chen’s Alhambra-based attorney, Peter K. Chu, called DeSautels’ accusations untrue and noted that the claims of illegal money transfers don’t have anything to do with the labor dispute that’s the basis of the lawsuit.

“(Chen) was outraged by the allegations,” Chu said.

The restaurant remodel had been nearly complete when DeSautels left the project, but instead of opening it as the Mayan Bar and Grill, the plan soon changed to leasing it.

The restaurant and the Aztec’s other retail spaces have attracted plenty of interested parties, but several potential business owners said they walked away because Chen kept changing his mind about terms, often seeking more money or repairs.

“We left with a very bitter feeling about it,” said Joe Ramsey, who wanted to start a music store at the Aztec and said he and a partner had a handshake deal in 2013. Instead, after about the fourth round of requests to restructure the deal, “we said, you know, we’re not going to be able to do this.”

Ramsey now co-owns Resistor Records, in Monrovia’s Old Town district on Myrtle Avenue.

Former Old Town business owner Patty Fairman, who had been interested in moving her Patty’s Antiques shop to the Aztec, said she backed out when the lease rate and repair requests kept changing.

Kertenian said leasing deals could come together once the hotel reopens, and said construction is ready to progress quickly once all the approvals are completed, barring the likelihood of setbacks because of the hotel’s age.

He also defended Chen’s plans for the Aztec, saying the owner wants to ensure the remodeling work is a fit with hotel’s historic status.

“His vision is right on, he’s not trying to make this place look like the Taj Mahal or anything,” Kertenian said. “Almost all the plans, the design, everything is set, it’s a matter of executing it.”

By: James Figueroa – Pasadena Star News

Oct 062014


While driving across the east Mojave with my brother about 35 years ago, we came to a lonely crossroads where one very sad-looking building sat baking in the sun.

The crossroads is called Goffs, and the building — a one-room schoolhouse — sat in ruins with its roof ready to collapse. We stopped only briefly, dismissing it as one of those nameless relicts soon to be swallowed by an unfeeling desert.

About the same time, Dennis Casebier also stopped there, but while I saw a wreck, he saw history and a future.

Because of his insight and a lot of help from volunteers, there will be a special celebration in Goffs this weekend marking the 100th anniversary of the opening of the school and bright prospects for its future.

The refurbished schoolhouse building — whose last class was dismissed in June 1937 — is the core of a remarkable complex known as the Goffs Cultural Center. Many miles from the nearest town, it houses an unsurpassed collection of written material, photos and mining and railroad equipment of the heritage of the eastern Mojave.

This weekend’s celebration is the 35th Mojave Road Rendezvous, a get-together by members of the Friends of the Mojave Road on whom Casebier has counted on in the creation of the center. Hundreds will attend to meet, greet, enjoy, share stories and appreciate the saving of the schoolhouse which has twice been left to die.

A century ago, Goffs — sitting at the very top of a Santa Fe railroad grade 2,000 feet higher than Needles 40 miles to the east — once boasted about 60 residents, mostly railroad employees and their families.

The parents of the dozen or so children there wanted a school so a petition went to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors requesting one be opened. and the Goffs School District was soon formed. For $2,300, a local man named Tom Weir built the 800-square-foot classroom on donated acreage with instruction beginning in the fall of 1914.

By the Great Depression, however, Goffs was dying — in 1931 it actually was bypassed by Route 66 (now that’s a first) and then Santa Fe reduced its workforce there. After the school closed in 1937, what kids were left were bused to a new school up the highway in Essex.

The schoolhouse got a short rebirth in early World War II when Gen. George Patton trained thousands of troops in the desert for the invasion of North Africa. The school was briefly turned into a canteen where long lines of dusty soldiers could buy hamburgers, candy, cigarettes and cold drinks.

But when the troops left, the schoolhouse was left to rot.

On a March day in 1982, Casebier — then a Corona resident and employed at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Norco — wasn’t planning on becoming a resident of Goffs, as he is today, or building a cultural center. He was just out in his Jeep exploring when he stopped at the schoolhouse.

“I had a roll of film left and thought I’d better take some pictures because the next time I saw it, I figured it would be a pile of rubble,” he said.

But there were others also interested in the old place. Jim and Bertha Wold, who had worked at ranches in the area, actually went ahead and bought it. With a lot of work, they made it into their home.

Casebier as part of his hobby of collecting the stories and history of the eastern Mojave struck up an acquaintance with the Wolds. When they decided to sell the schoolhouse in 1989 due to ill health, Casebier, now retired from the Navy job, decided to buy it and its 113 desert acres.

The rest is, well, history.

The schoolhouse complex now boasts 10,000 volumes on Mojave and Western history, 120,000 historic photos and 6,000 maps of the desert. He had also conducted 1,300 oral histories of pioneers, ranchers and school children of the eastern Mojave’s past.

The special activities at Goffs get underway Thursday with the dedication of the American Boy stamp mill, a rebuilt multi-ton piece of mining equipment used in years past to crush rock from the mines. On Saturday will be the huge raffle that generates funds to operate the center as well as a barbecue dinner. There will also be off-road tours of the desert landmarks throughout the weekend. To participate: email There are some camping facilities at Goffs.

If you visit, remember Goffs is many miles from the nearest motel (Needles or Laughlin), inexpensive gas (same) or food (same again), but it’s worth the trip either this weekend or in the future to get a taste of the West of days gone by. It’s 100 miles east of Barstow via the 40 Freeway, then north on Goffs Road for 12 miles.


Jun 172014


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.


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 122014

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

Dec 122013


The preservation of the Richfield Gas Station in Rancho Cucamongo CA.

I posted back in March of this year the work to restore the historic Cucamonga Service Station on Route 66 in Rancho Cucamonga CA.

The Route 66 Inland Empire California nonprofit group owns the propery after it was deeded to them by the Lamar sign company.

The nonprofit was formed to save the structure and members intend to renovate and rebuild the gas station to what it looked like during its business heyday in the first part of the 20th century.

“It’s really exciting to see the community want to see this gas station, this service station, come back to its golden years,” said Anthony Gonzalez, president of the Route 66 IECA.

A main goal of the organization is to turn the site of the old Richfield service station into a landmark Rancho Cucamonga tourist destination and museum for Route 66 fans and travelers from all over the world.

Known as the Cucamonga Service Station, it opened in the 1910s and provided service up to the 1970s.

The group plans to bring back the old gravity-fed pumps from the 1930s, and possibly have old signs, oil cans, souvenirs, and literature related to Route 66 for visitors and the community.

The group’s members had been concerned about the fate of the old building in recent years. A larger adjoining garage in the rear had been demolished in the recent past.

Group members say the plan is raise money with the help of the public to restore the gas station and rebuild the demolished garage. The hope is to have something open by 2015 in time for the 100 year anniversary of the station.

Lamar has donated the land to the nonprofit, and the company should get a tax break from the deal.

The group will also look to the state and federal government to assist in available grants.

I am so happy to see another historic property being not only saved – but restored to its former glory.

As we all know – I am about preserving history! ESPECIALLY Route 66 history…


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