The nation and the world probably know one small strip of Highway 66 better than any other section of the 2,400-mile road. That stretch is Colorado Boulevard, where the annual Tournament of Roses Parade has marched along since the l890s.
The festivities have grown in grandeur and popularity through the years. And with it, television coverage of the parade has delivered Route 66 with its magnificent mountain backdrop right into homes worldwide.
From Arcadia, cross Rosemead and Route 66 becomes Colorado Boulevard through eastern Pasadena. For motorists making an effort to follow America’s Highway today, the trip can be frustrating and confusing. Numerous old and new alignments exist, but the adventure can be rewarding and fun if one follows the recommendations and maps contained in a guide entitled “Finding the End of the Mother Road” by Scott Piotrowski.
See along the way restaurants such as Cameron’s, punctuated by its large neon fish sign, Jakes and the Rose City Diner, touting ambience of years past. Here antique stores abound, as do vintage motels which remain as a testament to the time when travelers were in dire need of shelter and food.
A few feet south of the Road on El Molino Avenue is the Pasadena Playhouse, housed in a beautiful building of Spanish architecture which was constructed in 1917.
To enjoy the Road, take note of the remaining old churches while following Piotrowski’s guide and the Route 66 road signs through Old Town.
In one alignment, Route 66 follows Colorado Boulevard over the Arroyo Seco across the 1913 Colorado Street Bridge, famous for its graceful curves. Nicknamed “suicide bridge,” it is said that during the Great Depression numerous individuals jumped from the structure.
Following Colorado Boulevard, the Road passes Figueroa Street into Eagle Rock and, in 1934, followed what is now Eagle Rock Boulevard. However, the original 1926 Route turned south on Fair Oaks Avenue to Huntington Drive, Mission Road, North Broadway and Sunset Boulevard.
The turn on Fair Oaks reveals a myriad of remnants of the Road’s heyday leading into South Pasadena. The Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain was in full swing at the dedication of Route 66, having opened in 1915. Located at the corner of Mission and Fair Oaks, it continues to serve its famed fountain drinks. Gus’s Barbecue, established in 1946, still dishes up the juicy ribs that have attracted customers since that time. Probably one of the most controversial and photographed sites in the area is the 1925 Rialto Theater, one of the last single-screen movie theaters in Southern California. Will this icon fall victim to the wrecking ball? Not if the many preservationalists bent on saving the structure have their way. Only time will tell.
A far cry from the dusty desert towns and the communities along the vanished citrus groves of the San Gabriel Valley, the Route from Pasadena west becomes convoluted, rife with traffic and congestion.
Even pulling over to take a photo can be problematic. But the icons are there for those who care to search and the history in the area is rich and colorful.
As the Route closes in on the City of the Angels, vintage buildings hint of a past era. But first the Road cuts through Highland Park, a town surprisingly flush with Route 66 signs and icons.
It is perhaps here that travelers become frustrated with the hustle and bustle of city life. However, the end is in sight as the Will Rogers Highway will soon disappear at the Pacific Coast.
By Claudia Heller, Correspondent – sgvtribune.com