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

Aug 262012
 

 



I find the article interesting only because while they are stating the rendezvous WILL take place – BUT they are still asking for donations. Also, I feel if this years event fails – it might be the last time this takes place….

The 23rd Annual Stater Bros. Route 66 Rendezvous is taking place in downtown San Bernardino from Sept. 13-16. That is a fact. And, in an effort to provide some background information and clear up any misconceptions, here are more facts regarding the San Bernardino Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Route 66 Rendezvous.

The Stater Bros. Route 66 Rendezvous is solely owned and operated by the San Bernardino Convention & Visitors Bureau, a non-profit 501c(6) corporation, with major support from our partnerships with the city of San Bernardino, the county of San Bernardino and our event sponsors, particularly our title sponsor, Stater Bros. Markets. The first Rendezvous was held in 1990 in Devore with the collaboration from the Over the Hill Gang. The event has grown each year and now attracts over 500,000 spectators during the four-day extravaganza.

Established in 1989, the San Bernardino Convention & Visitors Bureau’s main mission is to serve as the marketing arm of the city by promoting travel and tourism opportunities.

Initial funding for the San Bernardino Convention & Visitors Bureau was provided by a Memorandum of Understanding with the city of San Bernardino, whereby the SBCVB would receive 20 percent of the TLT (Transient Lodging Tax) collected by the city. As the economy became depressed, over the years that percentage has decreased and for the past three years the majority of our funding came through the Economic Development Agency.

In order to produce the annual Stater Bros. Route 66 Rendezvous all of the funds received from our sponsors, vendors, and car participants are used to pay the costs of the event, with an annual shortfall covered by the SBCVB. With the elimination of the Economic Development Agency and the subsequent loss of funding, coupled with the city’s current fiscal situation, there are no longer any funds available to subsidize any future losses on the Rendezvous.

While the 2012 Stater Bros. Route 66 Rendezvous will take place in downtown San Bernardino this September, we are asking for the support of local businesses and individuals to help us cover the loss of funding and in-kind support from the city, as well as to help us continue to move forward in planning for next year’s Rendezvous.

Donations made will be allocated exclusively for the operational expenses of keeping the Route 66 Rendezvous in downtown San Bernardino.

Donations can be made on the www.route-66.org website by clicking on the different dollar amounts ranging from $10 to $250, making the donor a “Friend of the Rendezvous” as bronze, silver, gold, super or ultimate cruiser. There is also an account set up at the 1st Valley Credit Union, 401 W. Second St., San Bernardino, CA 92401.

Or, businesses can become “Business Friends of the Rendezvous.” For a $2,500 or $1,500 donation, businesses will receive a large banner to display at their business, hundreds of billboard images on the large electronic sign on the 10 Freeway near the 215 Freeway junction and the San Manuel electronic billboard on the 215 Freeway near the Second Street exit.

Wayne Austin is president and CEO of the San Bernardino Convention & Visitors Bureau and wrote this article.

Aug 102011
 



SAN BERNARDINO – Have you slept in a teepee lately?
Kumar Patel thinks more people should experience Americana from one of the last remaining Wigwam motels in the country.

The historic motel has a team of painters working to restore San Bernardino’s Wigwam Motel, 2728 Foothill Blvd., along the old Route 66, to its original external color scheme as part of its application to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Patel said.

“We hope to have this completed by the start of the (Stater Bros. 22nd annual) Route 66 celebration (on Sept. 15),” Patel said.

The 20-unit Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino was built in 1949 and was the last of seven built by Frank A. Redford, said Patel, the motel’s manager.

The concept was inspired by a popular ice cream shop shaped like an upside down cone and teepees he had seen while visiting a Sioux reservation in South Dakota.

His first motel was in Horse Cave, Ken., in 1935. And the second followed in 1937 in Cave City, Ken. Over time others were built in Alabama, Florida, New Orleans and Arizona.

The only other remaining Wigwam motels are in Holbrook, Ariz., and Cave City.

Patel said that the Holbrook location was the only franchised property and the franchise fee was the coins from the guests who put coins into the “magic fingers” slot beneath their bed.

Many guests at the San Bernardino site, Patel said, are from other countries, particularly Australia, Holland and England.

“They believe staying in a teepee should be part of their American experience,” he said.

Guests are often enthusiastic about Route 66 and everything connected with it, Patel said.

“Many foreigners are astounded that you can drive 2,000 miles and still be in the same country,” said Patel, who has immersed himself in Route 66 lore since his family bought the Wigwam Motel in 2003.

Coming from the east, the Wigwam Motel is near the end of the historic route, Santa Monica. Driving time for the 78 miles from the motel to Santa Monica, is about five hours – longer than most people think, Patel said.

On Wednesday, workers were scraping off the brown paint on the motel’s 20 teepees. Eventually all will be a white/cream color.

The original red zig-zag lines around the cones and red trim on the windows will also be restored, as will the yellow paint on the three poles protruding from each building.

The poles are actually heat vents that extend deep within the structure.

For a time, Redford lived in San Bernardino’s unit No.1, where he built an firepit, which is still there.

Later he moved into another unit and built an office area in the front. And that’s the office today.

The rooms have modern touches, flatscreen televisions and large refrigerators.

Patel said Wigwam Motel guests are often walk-ins, people stopping in on their cruise of the historic Mother Road.

And the walk-in room rate is $66 – a natural fit.

——————————————————————————–
At a glance
Wigwam Motel

Began in 1935 and grew to seven locations, including San Bernardino.
Only two others remain: one in Kentucky and one in Arizona.
The San Bernardino motel owners have applied for registry as a historic place

Contra Costa Times – Jim Steinberg, Staff Writer

Mar 162011
 



For much of the early twentieth century, Route 66 was the way most people got to California. After its creation in 1926, it was the way west for migrants escaping the Dust Bowl, hoping to find work in California’s fields and factories. After World War II and the beginning of America’s new car culture, it carried vacationers who wanted to tour The West, visit a new-fangled attraction called Disneyland or see the Pacific Ocean.

In 1985, it was removed from the United States highway system, replaced by wider, more modern Interstate Highway, but in those six decades it gained a status few strips of asphalt enjoy, passing into the fabric of our culture. It was the backdrop for John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, the topic of a song by Bobby Troup and the backdrop for a 1960s television show. Steinbeck called it the Mother Road – and the name stuck.

In California, Route 66 ran from the Arizona border near Needles, through Barstow, across San Bernardino County, into Pasadena and south into Los Angeles, a distance of about 270 miles. Today, drivers making the same journey travel on I-40, I-15 and I-10.

If you’ve strolled along Route 66 in Williams, Arizona or cruised the neons along Albuquerque’s Central Avenue, don’t expect to find anything comparable in California. In the east, the Interstate often bypassed towns along the Mother Road, leading them to inevitable decline. Further west, fueled by dreams of growth and funded by state money earmarked for redevelopment, San Bernardino and Los Angeles County’s civic leaders all but obliterated the old Route 66 landmarks and today, you’ll find Route 66 signs outnumber the sights.

If you want to focus on exactly where every square inch of asphalt ran and when it ran there, following tortuous routes to drive on as much of it as possible, this guide may not be for you. However, the highway department has conscientiously signposted every possible exit from I-40 that leads to a section of Historic Route 66 and the California Route 66 Preservation Association has a mile-by-mile guide and some nice historic photos to go along with it. And if you want to know all the details of where Route 66 went in Los Angeles County, experts say Scott R. Piotrowski’s Finding the End of the Mother Road is the definitive resource.

By Betsy Malloy, About.com Guide