Nov 042011
 



I had the privilege on working on the streetcar when it was in a ‘secret location’ before it was moved into its current location. I will tell you this – it was in rough shape last time I saw it, and it looks like (from the picture at least) they have done quite a bit of work on it. I would have to say this is probably in the ‘Top Ten Oldest Items’ on the route – right next to the jailcell which would also be included in that list! The next time I will be anywhere close to Gardner will be in January – so I will try to stop out and see it in person – hopefully without 14 inches of snow around it!

GARDNER, Ill. — On Nov. 11, 2011, a two-part Veteran’s Day Program will honor veterans and dedicate a historical diner that dates back to the late 1800s.

The program, themed upon the Gettysburg Address, begins at 11 a.m. and includes the Gettysburg Address, given by Don Phillips, as well as remarks from Mayor Tom Wise; a war story read by Linda Tyler; guest speaker Russell Santerelli, who is currently serving in the U.S. Army; a balloon release; and other speeches to recognize the veterans.

The second part of the program will include the re-dedication of The Diner, a restaurant that began as a horse drawn-streetcar operated by the Kankakee Transit System. It first was owned by George Kaldem. His mother and the cook, Minnie Springborn, was praised as the woman whose pies, stew, fried chicken and homemade bread were considered some of the finest that could be found anywhere.

Later, it was moved behind a residence and was used to house workers at the armory during World War II. Then it was moved to the rear of the Riviera Roadhouse, where it was used as a place for family reunion picnics, a house for local fishermen and a storage shed.

The Diner has never had toilet facilities or even running water. Water for cooking and washing equipment was carried in with containers supplied by local residents.

The Route 66 of Illinois Preservation Committee, headed by chairman John Weiss, has restored The Diner with a new cement block foundation, new windows, painting, cleaning, repairs and installation of many donated artifacts of the diner.

“We started the restoration on it, but volunteers and Tom Perkins and his sons worked hard on it,” Weiss said. “The restoration is complete, and I will be speaking at the re-dedication of the diner, talking about the connection between Route 66 and Gardner.”

“We have the streetcar to re-dedicate and, at the same time, it is the 85th birthday of Route 66. I will also mention Rev. Christian Christensen, who is the man that saved the world from nuclear destruction. There is a plaque dedicated to him in the two-cell jail.”

The historic jail, which is located in the same area as the streetcar, is always open. Visitors can press a button, the “message repeater,” and hear about Gardner, which also includes the streetcar information.

“The streetcar is not always open, but you can still go peek in the streetcar and see what travel was like back in those days,” Weiss said. “It’s a great piece of history for a little town like this. Not many people know about it.”

Peggy and Bob Kraft, who owned the diner that had been located at the site of the former Riviera Restaurant before the restaurant burned, donated the diner to the village and are happy that the structure is now being restored. They will be present at the program.

“We refurbished the diner all up and got it all ready,” Mayor Tom Wise said. “It certainly is a good thing. I gave Peggy and Bob the key to the city and we have a memorial plaque for the re-dedication.”

Coffee and donuts will be served at the diner by Auxiliary No. 663 Unit the day of the dedication.

Contributions and donations towards continuing preservation efforts are greatly appreciated.

By Genevieve Toussaint — news@morrisdailyherald.com

Oct 142011
 



The honeymooners from Spain spoke limited English, but that didn’t stop Mayor Bob Russell from giving them a hearty welcome to his community.

“How long have you been here?” Russell asked, posing for a snapshot with the newlyweds by a giant Route 66 mural before moving on to greet a busload of French tourists.

“There are visitors on the street all day long,” he said, smiling. “This has brought new life to our community.”

While many small towns across the country are struggling to keep their downtowns afloat, Pontiac and a string of other Illinois communities scattered along the famed Route 66 are enjoying newfound popularity as foreign tourists roll in by rental car, motorcycle and bus.

The visitors come from Armenia and Ukraine with cameras around their necks, road maps in hand and money in their pockets. They tell locals they heard about the highway on international travel programs and read about it in guide books. Some catch an all-night flight to Chicago, skipping the downtown attractions to head out on the “Mother Road.”

“In Europe, it’s very much the epic American road trip,” said Sonny Dudes, a 31-year-old resident of the United Kingdom who pulled a rental car up to a visitor center housed in a restored Texaco gas station in Dwight on a recent afternoon. “It’s the novelty of a bygone era.”

And the homegrown tourism efforts are getting results. Shops in downtown Pontiac, for example, report an 8 percent increase in business over last year. The number of visitors has grown from 6,900 in 2008 to more than 15,000 so far this year, with representation from 84 countries, according to tourism officials.

The foreign interest gratifies boosters such as John Weiss, a resident of nearby Custer Park who has spent 15 years, he said, encouraging Route 66 communities to play up their ties to the road for their own survival. Weiss says he has sold more than 10,000 copies of his book, “Traveling the New, Historic Route 66 of Illinois,” many out of the trunk of his car.

“It’s so rewarding,” he said. “They’ll take pictures of our cornfields and our soybeans. They spend thousands of dollars just to come here — it’s their dream.”

Anyone familiar with the old Bobby Troup song knows that people get their kicks on Route 66, which ran 2,448 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles. The 85th anniversary of the roadway’s designation is Nov. 11.

The storied highway began as 300 miles of uninterrupted paved road in Illinois in 1926. By the early 1930s, the entire distance was paved, prompting business owners along the path to create kitschy gimmicks — giant statues, Indian trading posts and neon signs — to entice drivers to stop and spend money, Weiss said.

The construction of Interstate 55 in Illinois replaced the need for Route 66, and in 1977, the roadway was taken off official state maps. Communities began losing touch with its history. Former attractions turned into storage buildings. Once-bustling gas stations fell into disrepair.

Even so, Route 66 consistently drew throngs of visitors each year, and it remains one of the state’s top tourist attractions, said Jan Kostner, state travel director for Illinois’ Office of Tourism.

Last month, more than 50,000 people from 30 countries stopped in Springfield for the International Route 66 Mother Road Festival, she said.

Recognizing the untapped market, Joliet tourism officials in 2006 spent $150,000 in state grant money and city funding to create attractions. They added furniture from the 1950s and ’60s and Blues Brothers statues to the visitors center at the Joliet Area Historical Museum. A neon sign went up on the Rich & Creamy ice cream parlor along the route’s path.

Joliet leaders posted Route 66 signs, printed maps and renovated a parking lot near the Joliet Correctional Center — made famous in the movie “The Blues Brothers” — where tourists often stopped to take pictures.

“They’d been coming through here and we just didn’t have a system for guiding and directing it,” said Rebecca Barker, media and communications manager for Visit Joliet.

About the same time, Weiss and his late wife, Lenore, approached leaders in communities along the former Route 66 path, encouraging them to showcase historic places such as the two-cell jail in Gardner and the iconic Standard Oil Filling Station in Odell.

“All these little towns, they don’t have tourism directors, they don’t have big budgets,” Weiss said. “And yet thousands of people drove by every day.”

By October 2006, leaders from 12 communities from Joliet to Towanda agreed to do whatever they could — repaint, add audio narration, post new signs — to promote Route 66 attractions. Clustered along 90 miles of the highway, the towns coined a name designed to promote their offerings collectively: “The Red Carpet Corridor.”

Aug 262011
 



About a year ago – I took (4) folks who are in a Mini Cooper Car Club pretty much the entire drive of Route 66 in Illinois – I ended up finishing ‘my part of the tour’ in Edwardsville as they continued to St. Louis the next day.

When we drove it back then, the street car was ‘in hiding’ and the pad had not yet been poured…

Fast forward to today – and my friend decided to take another mini ‘MINI’ trip and took this pic of the street car.

As you can see – the pad is finished, the ‘skirt’ or base is in place, a plaque is up and the stairs are put back in it’s correct place (even though the door is nailed shut).

This is how I remembered it looking as we painted it with primer and then a coat of white exterior paint while it was located in its hiding place.

The roof was supposed to be completed this year – but the year is still not over and they still have a good month or two before the weather starts going south.

If not, there is always next year!!

For those of you who may not remember where the street car was relocated to after the Riviera Restaurant fire – it is right next to the Historic Jail Cell in downtown Gardner.

Nov 262010
 

As most of you know – Route 66 World has relocated to Phoenix AZ. I was up in Chicago for Thanksgiving and we were heading down to Bloomington (Normal) IL to have dinner and my gut was telling me to swing by to see if there was any progress to the streetcar since I helped paint it last time.
Well, to my surprise – there it was! Moved from the ‘secret hiding place’ where I saw it last to now floating on I-beams until the Town of Gardner can officially lower it and secure it in place.

Now, looking at the pictures (and being up close and inside of it) – it needs a LOT of work. I say a good year to get it looking half-way decent.
But, with all that being said, I am glad it is one step closer to be re-opened for all Route 66 travelers to enjoy again.

Enjoy the winter – there is a whole ‘nother Route 66 travel season right around the corner!!

Jun 222010
 

I took a quick trip down Route 66 to Bloomington/Normal and had to stop at the Riviera to see if the rumors were true about the sign and letters being stolen… and they are true.

The rubble was still there – untouched, and still hiding in the back was the streetcar. The yellow tape looked like it was taken down, someone pulled it down, or all of the bad weather we have been getting hit with in Northern Illinois took it out.

Regardless – this will probably be my last trip to the Riviera until the streetcar (finally) finds a home – I have volunteered to help move it – when that day comes.

Anyway, met a nice (older) couple from Texas. They were at the Gardner Jail Cell and I asked if they wanted me to take a picture of them inside the cell – a polite ‘no, it’s OK’ was given. It’s not like I would lock them in there…. or would I??

On the way back to Chicago, I stopped back in Dwight for gas and noticed a group taking pictures of the old gas station and I decided to stop and say ‘hi’. Just so happens they are (5) 20-something year old guys from Norway who are driving the route for the next 2 weeks. We talked for about 15 minutes and they were happy with what they saw (so far). So anyone who has a business on Route 66 – they are driving a Black mini-van with Maryland plates and are stopping in Springfield (IL) Tues nite.

Anyone who does not have a business and is up to no-good, they are driving a red 4-door heading EAST!!! ; )

Jun 112010
 

On the way downt o Bloomington/Normal, I thought I would swing by the Riviera Restaurant (or what is left of it) and snap a few pics. The ‘caution’ tape is around the entire property and it was hard to get my car into the driveway.
It is a mess folks. Ironically, the RIVIERA sign is one of the only things left. The streetcar is still standing and tucked away safely in the back.

Jun 092010
 

I received a call from Bob (new owner of Riviera) and he told me he is vacationing in the North Woods of WI/MI. He told me his cell didn’t work up there (which, ironically, he and I vacation some 20 miles apart from each other so I know that most cells do not work up there!!) and he called me on a payphone to tell me what happened.

He recieved SEVERAL VM’s regarding the fire and told me that there was a cleaning crew in the restaurant Monday cleaning up the place. He is looking into the possibility that someone left something either opened or something caught by one of the halogen lamps.

He told me that he will be cutting his vacation short to come back down and check out the remains. He did say “All I wanted to do was to open the damn restaurant – that was it….”.
He did mention the streetcar and said that the car is his property and will now have to fight for where its new home should be.

I will try to get out there sometime this week/weekend to get pics.