RANCHO CUCAMONGA – Route 66 through this city is characterized by an abandoned gas station, Sycamore Inn, Magic Lamp and a metal dinosaur with three heads. But, starting today, that menacing figure on Foothill Boulevard is extinct.
For 15 years, Route 66 Memories sold its metal dinosaurs, water fountains, old gas pumps and other memorabilia from the Mother Road. But the lingering recession did not spare the store or its foreboding dinosaurs.
On Tuesday, owner Rosa Ramos watched as her husband, Gilbert Ramos, and other workers put the remnants of the store on the back of trucks. The dinosaur with three heads went with the patio furniture and garden gnomes. Meanwhile, Rosa sobbed.
“I get too emotional. I don’t really want to believe it.”
A worker carries away items to a waiting trailer on Tuesday, the last day for Route 66 Memories on Foothill Boulevard in Rancho Cucamonga. After 15 years, the memorablia store closed due to effects of the recession. “We didn’t want to leave,” she said. “But the economy was really bad.”
“They didn’t have money to buy fountains or art that my dad makes,” said Ramos’ daughter, Michelle Ramos. “We have our loyal customers but it was just not enough.”
Route 66 Memories was kitschy and unique – a souvenir shop for those who revere the nation’s famed highway. But these aren’t souvenirs of the refrigerator magnet variety. These were souvenirs of towering Spinosaurus and wrought-iron salamanders.
Melissa Guerrero, a Highland resident who drives by Route 66 Memories every day, was reduced to tears when she paid her last visit to the store.
“I want to cry,” Guerrero said. “This is a landmark. This is Route 66.”
The store leaves the city at a time of much transformation on Foothill Boulevard. Last year, the city tore down the 81-year-old bridge near Baker Avenue to widen Foothill and spruce up the aging thoroughfare. A portion of the original Route 66, now shaded by old eucalyptus trees west of Vineyard Avenue, will be preserved in a trailhead park, scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.
As part of the street-widening project, the city will maintain the Mother Road theme but much of those decorations – like the art work on the new bridge or the road paving with the Route 66 insignia – will be shiny and new. They look nothing like the decrepit house that the Ramoses found years ago.
Built in 1900, the Foothill Boulevard house west of Haven Avenue was occupied by mostly transients when Rosa Ramos set her eyes on it.
“I saw this house and it was all ugly,” she remembered. “But I closed my eyes and I saw basically what it’s been for the last 15 years. I wanted to make Route 66 come back to life and we did it.”
The Ramoses put a lot of sweat equity into the home. They first lived on the second floor and raised their children there. Eventually, they moved elsewhere in the city.
Michelle Ramos, 19, the oldest of three children, remembers growing up in the family business. When she was young, she’d watch shooting stars from the back patio and during holidays, she could see the fireworks from The Epicenter. In high school, she worked part time at the store to earn money for prom.
The lemon, tangerine and avocado trees planted when Michelle was young are now sagging with fruit.
“There’s so many memories here,” Michelle said.
On Tuesday, the building was nearly empty. A faded sign, once an item for sale, sat on a chair and read, “Memories are perhaps the best gifts of all.”
Next week, the family will go on vacation to figure out their next move. For now, they are storing the remaining merchandise in Victorville, where they own property.
Rosa Ramos has started new chapters in her life many times. The native of El Salvador was once a singer and served in the air force in Brazil. She also owned a jewelry business in Los Angeles.
But her true love is Route 66 and losing this store has been heartbreaking.
“I’ve been crying for two weeks,” she said.
As a young girl growing up in El Salvador, Ramos had an American pen pal who sent her postcards of Route 66. Scenes of that open road excited her and she made it a dream to someday visit.
In 1983, Rosa took a 15-day drive from Santa Monica to Chicago in her 1966 Chevy Nova, seeing the sights made familiar by postcards. It was the first of several Route 66 road trips she would take. Two years ago, she took two of her children on that iconic drive.
They returned from their trip to a nasty economy. Few had the expendable income for decorative pieces that the store sold. The family thought they could weather the economic storm but they were wrong.
“We can’t continue,” said Rosa Ramos. “We’ve put all our savings into it. I can’t continue to feed something that doesn’t produce. I’m crushed.”
Rosa Ramos said she may open a store in Victorville or Newport Beach in the future. She does not rule out opening again at the same Foothill Boulevard location should the economy revive.
To purchase the remaining Route 66 Memories merchandise, call 909-843-0498