If you put up the signs, they will come.
Well, truthfully, they’re probably coming anyway, but with the signs, they might not get lost.
Sometime in the fall, San Bernardino County will begin erecting 75 signs between Barstow and Needles identifying Route 66.
It’s not like the road’s been lost. It is traveled all the time. There are even painted stencils on its surface to help identify it for those who are pursuing a piece of America’s transportation history. The stencils, which began appearing in 2000, were a response to the theft of the iconic Route 66 road signs, perhaps the most recognized highway sign in the world. The road from Chicago to Santa Monica was the main artery from the Midwest to Southern California for much of the 20th century.
The famous logo of the sign appears on T-shirts, coffee mugs, tennis shoes, you name it.
That will not be what the new signs look like.
Part of the County Route Marker Program — a 1958 initiative to establish signage for tourist routes that highlight points of interest and provide an alternative to the state highway system — the modified pentangle signs will have a blue background with San Bernardino County 66 in white lettering.
First District County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt said he got the idea for marking the route last year and asked the Public Works Department to research the project.
“Route 66 is one of those treasures that we are fortunate to have inherited,” Mitzelfelt said. “It draws visitors from around the world. I think we need to do more to promote it and maintain it better and make it more of a tourist attraction.”
While he hopes the county can eventually install signs every couple of miles along the road from the state line to Upland, right now only the desert section from Barstow east will be marked. The cost of that part of the project will be $30,000. That includes brochures and a website.
Mitzelfelt said he hopes the investment will pay off in increased travel and commerce on the roadway.
With special incentives, he said, he hopes “to encourage commercial and retail development that would have a retro feel to it and rebuild some of that history and generate sales tax dollars at the same time.”
Albert Okura, who owns the local Juan Pollo chain of restaurants, is one of the few people with a retail business on the route’s Barstow-to-Needles leg. But it’s not a Juan Pollo.
Five years ago, he bought the storied town of Amboy and has kept the landmark Roy’s Cafe in operation as a gas station and souvenir shop. No fresh food is served, but Okura hopes to reopen the cafe in the future.
He’s not sure the signs will increase his business, but he does think they will help tourists.
“A lot of people get lost,” Okura said. “We always get people asking directions, especially the Europeans. I think if you have a unified sign they can look for, that would help them.”
Okura said he also thinks there is the potential for more commerce along the historic road.
“What I’m trying to do is get the tourists to drop their money in our county,” he said.
Among the states that Route 66 passes through, he said, “California is the only one lagging behind where there’s no organization where people are restoring things and getting businesses going. There are things that could be highlighted between Barstow and Needles. There’s a lot of history out there that people don’t know about.”
But he adds, it’s important not to do too much and maintain the flavor of places like Amboy.
“People are more interested in keeping it the way it is,” he said.
Mark Muckenfuss – The Press-Enterprise