Motel operator is driven to keep Route 66 culture alive and kicking

 California  Comments Off on Motel operator is driven to keep Route 66 culture alive and kicking
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

Outlook uncertain for Shea’s Museum, Joe Rogers Chili in Springfield

 Daily, Illinois  Comments Off on Outlook uncertain for Shea’s Museum, Joe Rogers Chili in Springfield
May 112014
 










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

‘Mother Road’ Visitors Key to Putting Joliet on Tourist Map

 Daily, Illinois  Comments Off on ‘Mother Road’ Visitors Key to Putting Joliet on Tourist Map
Aug 152013
 




The Illinois 53 corridor plan calls for, among other things, creating attractions that would be “photo opportunities” luring Historic Route 66 travelers.

When you get right down to it, there are few day trip or weekend destination spots in Illinois other than Chicago, Galena and, maybe, Springfield.

But one untapped possibility, the magic key to the economic engine known as “tourism,” is right in Joliet’s back yard.
Some people refer to it as the “Mother Road.” Joliet folks know it better as Route 53, aka Historic Route 66.

Ten months ago, Ginkgo Planning & Design Inc. was hired to by Will County come up with a plan to turn the Illinois 53 corridor between Joliet and Braidwood into a magnet for day-trippers with money in their pockets and escapism on their minds.

What they’ve come up with was presented to the Joliet City Council’s Land Use Committee Wednesday, and is nearing the point at which it will be drafted into a blueprint for implementation, Ginkgo Principal Zerhat Zerin said.

It still lacks a name, but the working concept is “6 Stops on 66,” Zerin said.

“Just like we think of Door County (as a destination), we want to think of this as one place,” she said. “We have this challenge of how do we tie it all together?”

Essentially, the Orland Park firm, working with a steering committee of representatives from the communities along the route, cataloged the corridor’s “assets” and divided them into six areas.

The key to each is to establish a “photo opportunity” — something large, iconic or quirky that makes drivers want to stop and take their photo in front of it, Zerin said. Wilmington already has theirs with the Gemini Giant, the huge spaceman holding a silver rocket outside the now-closed Launching Pad Drive-In.

Think of a giant statue of Abraham Lincoln in front of letters spelling out “Mother Road” or maybe a dozen cars stacked on a spindle (similar to the now-gone Berwyn landmark) or set into the ground a la the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, Zerin said.

Joliet is the “North Gate” — the trip’s starting point and home to the Route 66 Visitors Center at the Joliet Area Historical Museum. Train overpasses under which Illinois 53 traffic drives could be painted to alert motorists that they are entering the historic corridor, Zerin said.

Other existing or potential attractions include Joliet’s Union Station and Brandon Lock and Dam, the Illinois & Michigan Canal and Wauponsee Glacial trails and a former quarry that could one day be used for zip-lining, cliff-climbing and other recreational uses, she said.

Another key destination would be Chicagoland Speedway, which draws as many as 150,000 visitors on race weekends but offers few reasons right now for people to stop otherwise, Zerin said. Speedway officials are very interested in working with the group to make it part of the Route 66 tour, she said.

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Wilmington and the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood are two sites that have the potential to draw huge tourist numbers but currently are little known to people outside of the area, Zerin said.

Midewin will be adding bison to their grounds next year, she said, and that will be a great lure. Another would be a proposed lookout tower incorporating an existing pedestrian bridge giving visitors a panoramic view of the hundreds of acres of restored prairie, Zerin said.

It’s estimated the tower would cost $5 million, and officials at the Illinois Department of Transportation have already been briefed on the idea, she said.

“They did not say no,” she said. “That’s a good thing.”

The bottom line is as many as 30,000 people a year, many from foreign countries, seek out Historic Route 66 and follow it from Chicago to California, Zerin said. The goal now is to capitalize and expand on that, she said.

Kendall Jackson, the city’s director of planning and economic development, sits on the group’s steering committee. Many things, such as improved signage and painting the railroad overpasses, can be done relatively easily and for not a lot of money, he said

“A lot of these things are already in the works,” Jackson said. “I think that the crucial thing about this plan is that it ties all of these assets all together. I think this is a plan that has a really good chance of being implemented and working.”

By Karen Sorenson – Plainfield Patch

Joplin to consider Route 66 emblem at key intersection

 Daily, Missouri  Comments Off on Joplin to consider Route 66 emblem at key intersection
Aug 262012
 




I would love to see what the logo and the compass they are planning on looks like…..

JOPLIN, Mo. — A Joplin resident wants to mark a local intersection with an emblem pointing out its Route 66 history, and the idea is getting support from city leaders.

Steve Lea, a retired Joplin firefighter, presented a sketch to the Joplin City Council last week for a Route 66 logo that he thinks should be embedded in the intersection at St. Louis Avenue and Langston Hughes-Broadway to commemorate the historic highway.

The highway, celebrated in everything from song to television shows to American novels, went from Chicago to California, and passed through Joplin on the way. It went from what is now Range Line Road and Zora Street through the Royal Heights neighborhood, south on Florida Avenue and Euclid Avenue to St. Louis Avenue, south to Broadway, west to Main Street and south to Seventh Street. There it turned west to Kansas.

Lea said that with all the visitors who travel the famous route, he thinks a medallion made of embossing brick pavers with the Route 66 logo inside a compass would be eye-catching.

Lea told council members that some people he has talked to about the idea have offered to contribute money toward the cost.

City Manager Mark Rohr said the proposal also might fit in with city plans to eventually redevelop Langston Hughes-Broadway. Council members expressed no opposition to the idea, and Rohr said he would assign Assistant Public Works Director Jack Schaller and Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Patrick Tuttle to explore the idea.

Tuttle said it is possible that the idea could be incorporated in upcoming projects.

“We have two things in the works, and we could add it to the mix,” Tuttle said. “For 2014, we’re upgrading and improving the city’s way-finding program that’s in place, as well as looking at both tourism and economic development opportunities along the traditional Route 66 route. We’re really in the beginning stages of discussing it.

The way-finder program is one in which the city makes and installs signs pointing motorists in the direction of attractions and districts of the city.

“This falls in line with that,” Tuttle said.

Construction materials for a street medallion would have to hold up to heavy truck traffic in that area and probably would need to comply with guidelines of the Missouri Department of Transportation, Tuttle said.

 

Mother Road

Route 66, also known as the Mother Road and America’s Main Street, was a federal project that started in 1926 to create a continuous paved highway from Chicago to Los Angeles. Missouri’s stretch was paved in 1932.

In the 1930s, motor courts cropped up as a result of the development of the highway. Joplin had five tourist “camps” early in that decade. As a result of Route 66, that number increased to 11 by the end of the decade.

By Debby Woodin – Globe Staff Writer The Joplin Globe

Mother Road Marathon planned for third year

 Daily, Oklahoma  Comments Off on Mother Road Marathon planned for third year
Jan 092012
 



Planning is under way for the third Mother Road Marathon, despite a drop last year in the number of participants.

Last year’s Mother Road Marathon cost the city about $31,000 after paying all the bills for the event, according to figures compiled by the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Income, mostly from entry fees, amounted to $32,719, while expenses totaled $63,678, according to Patrick Tuttle, director of the tourism bureau.

It was the second year for the event. The marathon is promoted as the only one along historic Route 66 that treks through three states, starting at Commerce, Okla., going through Cherokee County, Kan., and ending in Joplin.

In 2010, the local bureau spent $30,000, with $20,000 going to hire a promoter, Reinke Sports Group of Winter Park, Fla., to attract participants and provide the awards, prizes and final ceremonies for the inaugural marathon. The city’s relationship with Reinke Sports Group dissolved in a disagreement over ownership of the marketing rights and responsibilities for the labor to put on the run. The city ended up paying Reinke an additional $30,000 to settle those claims and to ensure that it owned the marketing rights.

Dean Reinke was allowed to collect entry fees for the first run, but he also paid much of the costs, including advertising and prizes, said former bureau director Vince Lindstrom. Lindstrom said Reinke never disclosed what he took in or spent from the entry fees. Entry fees have ranged from $30 to $60, depending on the event entered. The initial run attracted about 1,500 participants. Tuttle said last year’s event drew 641 runners: 138 for the full marathon, 292 for the half-marathon and 211 for the 5K run.

Tuttle attributed the decrease in runners last year largely to the impact of the May 22 tornado.

“The perception of some runners was the race wasn’t going to happen, and that was hard to overcome once implanted,” he said. There was a misperception that lodging and restaurants would not be available to the runners, and that volunteers would be focused on tornado recovery and would not be available to put on the event, he said.

Marketing of the event also got a late start because of the dispute with Reinke and the retirement of race founder Lindstrom.

As for expenses last year, costs associated with producing the race such as course certification, equipment, traffic control, transportation for runners before and after the race, and other services and materials amounted to nearly $31,000, according to Tuttle’s figures.

Other categories of expenses included advertising, about $18,000; meals and festivities, including awards, food, beverages and entertainment for the runners, $10,000; and costs to maintain and buy software for the event’s website, nearly $5,000.

Tuttle said the date of this year’s event is Sunday, Oct. 14. That date was selected to keep the event from conflicting with the Chicago Marathon, which is slated for Oct. 7 and draws thousands of runners.

Tuttle has already launched advertising to try to attract runners and plans to attend regional running events to help get the word out. He said the Joplin Roadrunners club is assisting with that effort.

By Debby Woodin – Globe Staff Writer The Joplin Globe

Historic Route 66 Passport honored with Governor’s Tourism Awards

 Arizona, Daily  Comments Off on Historic Route 66 Passport honored with Governor’s Tourism Awards
Aug 092011
 



The Historic Route 66 Passport was recently awarded the prestigious Governor’s Tourism Award during the 2011 Governor’s Conference on Tourism held in Phoenix. For about a year, the passport has been available for fans of the historic landmark at the Williams-Forest Service Visitors Center. Route 66 communities from throughout the state are featured in the promotional tool, including Williams.

The passports are available for free at participating visitor’s centers along Route 66, and for those traveling on the Mother Road can have their passport stamped at each location along the Route. Acquiring all Route 66 stamps qualifies participants for a prize.

Besides having their passports stamped in various Route 66 communities, coupons may also be added to the passports, which can be slipped inside the pages to help draw visitors to particular area businesses.

Williams Main Street Coordinator Sue Atkinson said the passports have been very popular and it has been difficult to keep up with the demand.

Mary Barbee, visitor’s use assistant at the Williams Visitors Center agreed with Atkinson and said the public has had a positive response to the passports.

“They are really liking them,” she said. “We went through them like that.”

The Arizona Historic Route 66 Passport, spearheaded by the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona (Association) on behalf of the Route 66 communities, received the distinguished Cooperative Marketing Award at a luncheon, which recognized 10 individuals and organizations for their best practices, accomplishments, and contributions to the Arizona tourism industry.

The Cooperative Marketing Award is presented to the project that best exemplifies creative partnerships to develop and execute a cooperative marketing initiative. The criteria used by the panel of judges to select the winner included demonstrating an exceptional effort, innovation, uniqueness, effective use of resources, measurable results, and its overall contribution to the tourism industry of Arizona.

According to the Association’s press release, The Historic Route 66 Passport is the first joint marketing effort between all the communities across Arizona’s stretch of Route 66. The Association said while the overall goal for the Passport Program is to increase visitation to the Route 66 communities, attractions, and businesses across northern Arizona, a major objective has been to demonstrate the power of working together.

The Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona, founded in 1987 to preserve, protect, and promote Arizona’s Route 66, oversees the Passport Program, however, according to the Association’s press release, it was the financial contributions of so many that made this project a reality.

All communities across the Route were represented in this marketing tool thanks to a grant from the Arizona Office of Tourism, and generous contributions from the Hualapai Lodge in Peach Springs, Hualapai Tourism, the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona, Kingman Chamber of Commerce, Flagstaff Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Winslow Chamber of Commerce, Williams’ Main Street Association, and the Holbrook Chamber of Commerce.

Get your dining kicks on Route 66

 Arizona, Daily  Comments Off on Get your dining kicks on Route 66
May 042011
 



Before Interstate 40 pulled tourists and businesses away from downtowns across northern Arizona, the “Mother Road” was the main route for travelers headed from Chicago to California.

Dozens of hotels, tchotchke shops and, of course, restaurants popped up to serve them. A few still survive.

ROUTE 66 CLASSICS
1. Grand Canyon Cafe, Flagstaff, 1941

Even though Grand Canyon Cafe offers a full slate of American and Chinese dishes, customers walking in after dark may find it hard to resist ordering the chop suey. That’s what the neon sign encourages. The words “Chop Suey” glow at the bottom of a big, curved, lighted arrow that lures diners inside.

The Grand Canyon Cafe is swaddled in an ethereal wreath of neon, a beautiful display. For connoisseurs of such places, neon is gospel.

The Grand Canyon Cafe has been in the Wong family since 1947. Fred Wong started working there as a kid, eventually buying it from his father and uncles in 1980. The classic look of the counter-and-booths interior, combined with a homey clutter of creaking shelves and an arboretum’s worth of house plants, has made the cafe a popular venue for filmmakers.

Most recently, the BBC shot scenes here for a movie called “Nuclear Race,” and country music star Rodney Crowell filmed a music video.

Details: 110 E. Route 66. 928-774-2252.

2. Joe & Aggie’s Cafe, Holbrook, 1943

No one ever gets lost at Joe & Aggie’s Cafe because there’s a giant map painted on the side of the building and, on it, a big star marking the spot for Holbrook.

The mural of Route 66, and the nearby Wigwam Motel, have become popular photo ops for travelers of the historic highway,. The small eatery was opened in 1943 by Tom Smithson, who called it the Cactus Cafe.

Joe and Aggie Montano bought the joint in 1945; it has been in the family ever since, dishing up a blend of Mexican and American cuisine. The chiles rellenos are menu standouts.

Cases and shelves of Route 66 souvenirs fill the front of the restaurant. The connection with the Mother Road remains strong as more and more people seek out the small-town experience away from the cookie-cutter sameness of interstate off-ramps.

Joe & Aggie’s Cafe is thanked in the credits of the Pixar movie “Cars” as one of the inspirations along Route 66.

Details: 120 W. Hopi Drive. 866-486-0021, joeandaggiescafe.com.

3. Rod’s Steak House, Williams, 1946

Anytime you see a neon-lit steer on the roof of a restaurant, it’s a pretty safe bet that tofu isn’t on the menu.

While Rodney Graves was running a tavern in Williams before World War II, he had a notion that a steakhouse might do well in the little burg. How right he was.

In 1946, he opened Rod’s Steak House on Route 66. In the postwar boom, Americans streamed West on the Mother Road, and it seemed no one could resist a cow on the roof.

Lawrence and Stella Sanchez purchased Rod’s Steak House in 1985. Lawrence had washed dishes at Rod’s as a teenager and then returned to work as manager and head chef. Aware of the steak house’s storied history, Lawrence and Stella have made some updates. But the steer-shaped menu – now a registered trademark – is the same one Rod used to open the eatery.

Many of the same recipes are used, including Rod’s Special, a sugar-dipped charred steak.

Details: 301 E. Route 66. 928-635-2671, rods-steakhouse.com.

4. Miz Zip’s, Flagstaff, 1952

“Easy as pie” is one of the most perplexing idioms of the English language.

There’s nothing easy about preparing pie. Maybe that’s what makes homemade pie with a flaky crust and rich flavors so memorable and what has kept customers flocking to Miz Zip’s for all these decades.

The little Route 66 diner opened in 1952. By 1964, it was a popular truck stop, and a girl named Judy, fresh out of high school, started working there. It’s where she met, and eventually married, the owner’s son, Craig Leonard.

Craig and Judy bought Miz Zip’s in 1991 and continued the diner’s tasty traditions, such as butchering their own meat and making everything from scratch, including those luscious pies.

Colleen Schutte was the pie maker for Miz Zip’s for 36 years. When she retired in the mid-’90s, Judy Leonard took over the job, producing about a dozen each day.

Details: 2924 E. Route 66. 928-526-0104.

5. Snow Cap Drive-In, Seligman, 1953

Juan Delgadillo built the Snow Cap Drive-In from scrap lumber he gathered while working for the railroad.

The little place opened in 1953 and quickly earned a wacky reputation because of Juan’s interaction with the customers. Juan’s freewheeling gags – like “accidentally” squirting patrons with mustard that was actually colored string and offering comically undersize and oversize servings – delighted families for decades.

When Interstate 40 opened, Route 66 was decommissioned. Seligman, like many towns suddenly bypassed by the flow of traffic, struggled to survive. In 1987, Juan, his brother Angel and other local business owners formed the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona.

They lobbied the state to designate Route 66 a historic highway. Within months, the state had agreed and began posting promotional signage. Soon, organizations sprang up in other states, and a wave of Route 66 nostalgia was under way.

Today, Seligman is regarded as the birthplace of Historic Route 66, and the Snow Cap has become a mecca for those traveling the Mother Road.

Juan Delgadillo died in 2004, but the same off-kilter humor is carried on by his kids. And just because the Delgadillos are quick with a gag doesn’t mean they don’t know how to cook. The juicy burgers stack up against any in the state.

Details: 301 E. Route 66. 928-422-3291.

Roger Naylor – The Republic