Steeped in history, Desert Motors on Old Route 66 is changing hands

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Nov 182015


VICTORVILLE — An iconic car dealership that’s been located on Route 66 for more than six decades is changing hands after drawing countless car buyers and thousands of tourists.

Owner Patrick Matlach of Desert Motors said the car lot’s nostalgic neon sign, with its curved yellow arrow, will still shine bright long after he hands over the dealership to his friend, Sam Shihab. Desert Motors opened in 1951 and has been in its current location on D Street near First Street in Old Town Victorville since 1954.
Sam is the owner of Sid’s Automotive, which is located across the street, and European Automotive in Victorville,” Matlach told the Daily Press. “He’s been around for nearly 20 years and he’s a good man that I fully trust to keep the legacy of this dealership alive.”

The 85-year-old Matlach, who decided to hand the business over to Shihab due to health issues, said Shihab has big plans for the dealership that once supplied the movie industry with classic cars and has been photographed by tourists from all over the world.
“The lot is empty now because I’m just focusing on gathering up and closing accounts,” Matlach said. “Once Sam takes over, I’m sure that will change.”
Shihab said he understands the cultural significance of Route 66 and its shared history with the rise of the automobile industry, and he spoke of the importance of keeping “Patrick’s legacy alive through the dealership.”
“Long after the popularity of Route 66 faded, Patrick continued to sacrifice so much to keep this place thriving,” Shihab said. “The place will still remain Desert Motors and we will keep that nostalgic feel. We will also be known once again as the Route 66 Car Garden, a fitting name for the longest running used-car dealership on Route 66.”

Matlach said part of the nostalgic feel of the car lot is the multiple strings of clear-glass light bulbs that once shined on newly-waxed cars at night.
“You came around that bend in the road and you were greeted by a magical glow of lights,” Matlach said. “It was like moths being drawn by the light. You know, many of those moths drove off in a Chevy, Ford or Chrysler.”
As Matlach thumbed through the book “Route 66: Lives on the Road,” he explained that in 1954 he moved the dealership, once located closer to Interstate 15, to its present location after the construction of the first bypass to downtown Victorville began.
“That bypass really cut into our business because all that traffic from San Bernardino to Barstow did not come through here,” Matlach said. “Before moving down the road a bit, I must have sold 600 cars a year in that old lot.”
Matlach said he still remembers selling his first car, “a light-green, ‘33 Chevy Deluxe, four-door, with twin mounts and a trunk in the back,” to his friend, “a man by the name of Willie Green.”

“He lived across the tracks and he was my best booster because he said I treated people right,” Matlach said. “He was a wonderful friend who was also a hard-working family man.”
Matlach said when Green was in his 70s, he grabbed his 50-year old son by the ear and dragged him into the dealership after he discovered that his son was late on a car payment.
Matlach opened the car lot while stationed at George Air Force Base and serving in the Air National Guard. He added that opening the Victorville business was a continuation of a passion for selling cars.
“I opened my first used car lot at age 19 in St. Louis, right on 4955 Natural Bridge Avenue,” said Matlach as a BNSF train rolled past his lot. “Besides Victorville, I opened car lots in Fontana, San Bernardino and Austin, Texas.”

According to Matlach, Desert Motors once supplied vehicles for TV shows such as “77 Sunset Strip,” which aired in the 1950s and ‘60s, and for various movies such as “Angel Face,” starring Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons.
“James Dean drove a really beat-up old Duesenberg that I restored,” Matlach said. “I think that old Duesenberg was used in the movie ‘Giant.’ And the Jaguar was used in the ‘Angel Face’ movie where the roadster goes off the cliff.”
According to Shihab, Matlach’s experience helped him to create a solid and trusted reputation, and helped him to achieve, at one time, the status of president of the California Independent Automobile Dealers Association and National Independent Automobile Dealers Association.
Shihab said his dream is to restore Desert Motors back to the prominence that it once held by transforming the lot back to the shining gem that once sparkled along Route 66.
“I couldn’t find a better place to fulfill that dream, and a better coach and mentor than Pat Matlach,” Shihab said. “He’s a man with great history behind him since 1951, and I would like to be the continuation of that legacy here at Desert Motors.”

By Rene Ray De La Cruz – VV Daily Press

Victorville Route 66 Museum celebrates 20 years

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Oct 262015


Victorville landmark draws in locals for celebration and car show

A local landmark that more often garners a mostly international audience drew in hundreds of locals Saturday to celebrate its 20-year anniversary of preserving the history of “The Mother Road.”
The mission of the California Route 66 Museum in Old Town Victorville is to “preserve and increase” interest in “all aspects of history and heritage related to the road,” which it has been doing since it opened its doors in 1995. With three display rooms and a gift shop, the 5,000-square-foot former Red Rooster Cafe location remains entirely free for admission, accepting contributions from patrons and donors.

Museum President Susan Bridges said it’s unfortunate that “all the locals don’t know this place at all.”
Bridges said that about 75 percent of the museum’s business comes from visitors from all around the world.
“We want to let people know that this used to be a prime area,” Bridges said.
She said the ongoing Victor Valley Wastewater Reclamation Authority construction project has taken a large toll on Old Town shops, including the Best Deal Furniture store that recently closed its doors after 20 years of business.
Best Deal joined the row of 17 other buildings between A and D streets on the east side of Seventh Street that were once open businesses that have shuttered their doors, according to a previous Daily Press article.
The museum continues to thrive however, and with Route 66 turning 90 years old next year, it will likely gain even greater attention.

California Historic Route 66 Association board member Scott Piotrowski traveled from Glendale to attend the Victorville museum anniversary celebration, providing information about the group to attendees.
The big buzz for the association is the Route 66 90-year anniversary national festival planned to take place in Los Angeles next year. Piotrowski said they expect at least 50,000 attendees at the festival, but are hoping for more than 100,000.

The main event of Saturday’s celebration was the car show, an annual display of classic cars ranging from hot rods to rat rides.
Among the cars was a 1963 Ford Galaxie replica of the Mayberry Sheriff’s car used in the Andy Griffith Show, and a unique 1936 Ford Custom pickup truck with a 1983 Volvo built in a custom rod shop.

A celebrity of the Route 66 community was also at the event, National Classic Miss Route 66, Monica Burrola, decked in her sash and stetson to sign and take photos with visitors.
Burrola said she didn’t know a lot about the road when her son’s girlfriend asked her to participate in the pageant for the Classic Miss Route 66 for women more than 50 years old.
The next thing you know, I had a love for the road,” Burrola said. “The coolest part is all of the people on the highway.”

By Charity Lindsey – Desert Dispatch

66 Motel in Needles CA – Immortalized…

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Nov 082012


Ron ‘The Tattoo Man’ Jones is pretty much known for one thing – his over 100 tattoos, and almost ALL of them are Route 66 related…

I (have known) of Ron for a while, but never really met him or even spoke to him. Then I found out he was going to attend the Route 66 International Festival in Victorville CA – and I knew I had to contact him.

Seeing I was just coming off the final trip to Needles CA to get the 66 Motel sign completed and lit – I thought it would be a great idea not only to have this sign immortalized, but also give Ron another excuse to add another tattoo of a Route 66 icon.

I Emailed him and we started going back and forth and I started sending him pictures of the sign and he picked one out. Now, there were only two rules with this tattoo – the first one being the tattoo HAD to be done at a tattoo parlor on Route 66. I started my research and found a few in Victorville and we agreed it would happen that friday of the festival. The second one was – I was paying for this as it was my honor to have him do this not only for me, or the 66 Motel, but for the entire Route 66 community.

The day came and Ron and I met for the first time in Victorville at breakfast. We talked about the plans for the day and when and where this was going to take place. Easy enough….

Then the unexpected. He received a phone call about his father not doing well, actually he was in dire condition health wise and Ron and his wife had to leave, at that very moment. I remember Rich Talley calling his wife Gail up at the Motel Safari telling her ‘..if Ron needs to stop and stay the night on his way home, please make sure he is taken care of…‘ Ron was going around the room saying his ‘goodbyes’ and he thoroughly apologized to me for not being able to have the tattoo put on that day. I told him family always comes first – I that I had no doubt in my mind we would see each other again soon and we can continue where we left off.

Off he went….

So, just a few weeks ago, I received an Email from Ron asking for my permission to go ahead and get the tattoo anyway. I told Ron to go right ahead and that I hoped it turned out well. So he did, and it did!

He then sent me an Email a few days ago asking for my address as he wanted to send a picture to me of the tattoo – I gave it to him and he sent me the picture. And now I just had to share it with you.

This really is about more than a tattoo – this is about the kind of people we have on the route. Ron knew me through my website but didn’t know the person behind it. I have read and heard stories of Ron, but never really knew the man.

We both met – albeit a short time – but I think we made long lasting impressions on each other… I like the guy! And I like what he is doing for the route!

So… if the planets line up and there is a chance – I wil be attended the 2013 International Route 66 Festival in Joplin, and you guessed it, Ron and I will have another date at a tattoo parlor!

Route 66 festival gets disappointing attendance

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Aug 162012

We were there most of the weekend EXCEPT for Saturday as we took a drive out to Santa Monica (via Route 66 of course) – but the attendance on Friday was very low…

VICTORVILLE • The Route 66 International Festival 2012 attracted a little more than 5,000 people during this past weekend, disappointing organizers and businesses who expected a much bigger turnout.

Some of them blamed the above-100-degree heat for low attendance, while others criticized a lack of organization and marketing.

The festival attracted about 800 paid visitors Friday and 4,000 on Saturday at the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds, where a gourmet food-truck show, a classic car show, live entertainment and military vehicle exhibits took place, according to Vince Sapina, the festival’s media and PR chair. About 350 people attended a mixer and tours in Barstow on Thursday.

After the Daily Press ran an article in April stating that Sapina’s co-chair estimated 6,500 visitors and 40 vendors, Sapina asked for a correction saying he was expecting 30,000 attendees and 90 vendors.

Marc Melloul, general manager of the Green Tree Inn, which hosted banquets during the weekend, said his hotel saw a 30-percent increase in the number of reservations.

Paul Chassey, a volunteer at the California Route 66 Museum in Old Town, said the museum saw more visitors during the weekend than usual.

“I had a great time,” Chassey said. “I was really impressed by the food trucks.”

But Carmen Andalon, sales and catering manager at the Ambassador Hotel in Victorville, said she didn’t feel any positive impact from the festival despite offering coupons and special rates. She thinks the festival should have been publicized more.

“I was looking forward to this event, to get more business from it,” Andalon said. “I get more revenue from a small wedding in town.”

People involved in the festival gave conflicting accounts as to how Victorville was chosen among other Route 66 California cities to host this event in the middle of August. The festival is held each year in one of eight states the Mother Road runs through.

The festival committee initially announced in December that the Green Tree Inn was chosen to host a classic car show during the festival with food and merchandise vendors. But after going through a few leadership changes, Sapina took over in March.

“Maybe we could have moved it down the hill, but we thought Victorville needed this,” Sapina said. “I think we built a good event. I just think that the heat wave and local demographics made it difficult. I think we did a great job and want to thank all the volunteers.”

The festival hosted the first gourmet food-truck show in the Victor Valley.

Gourmet food trucks are different from traditional food trucks as onboard chefs cook and serve creative dishes such as a lobster corn dog. These trucks have gained popularity in recent years, especially in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

“The expectation was far greater than the turnout,” said Rick Singerman, who owns the Maui Wowi LA smoothie truck.

Maui Wowi was among 15 vendors that attended the festival on Friday when there was hardly any line at each truck. Singerman said he lost money that day driving up from Los Angeles County.

“I don’t know why it was scheduled for Friday and Saturday and not Saturday and Sunday,” Singerman said.

Sapina said he sat down with the vendors Friday night and told them he would cancel additional trucks coming Saturday to avoid competition. Singerman said he returned Saturday and barely made a profit.

Keith Kahn, president of Inland Empire Gourmet Food Trucks, which organized the gourmet food-truck show, said he booked too many trucks based on the organizers’ estimate. The Inland Empire Gourmet Food Trucks offered to refund booking fees for Friday to the gourmet food trucks.

“If we only had 10 trucks on Saturday, we probably would have had 10 happy trucks,” Kahn said.

Daniel Tate helped organize military vehicle exhibits, which he said attracted 2,500 visitors.

“I think what they should have done is work with local nonprofits and they could have made it more attractive to a lot more people. They have a huge following,” Tate said.

Tomoya Shimura, Staff Writer – Victorville Daily Press

The two ‘new faces’ on Route 66 in Needles CA.

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Jul 022012

After a few days of research – the two gas station slated for ‘restoration’ are an old Texaco and an old Union gas station.

My ‘Needles partner in crime’ Linda Fitzpatrick sent me several Emails about her investigative work. We originally thought the gas stations were an old Mobil and Cheveron station, but upon talking to the owners, talking to some folks ‘in the know’ and finding some old pictures, it was determined the Mobil station started it’s life out as a Texaco station, and the Cheveron station originally began pumping Union Oil gas!

With this information, I do what I always do on these types of projects: start hitting the web for information!
After about 3 days and hundreds upon hundreds of websites, I gathered enough information to confirm these were originally Texaco and Union gas station.

Now, we are getting all of our ducks in a row and will really start putting things thogether the weekend of July 20th. The buildings will be painted white, and I will come into town and hit the trim and get all the signs in place.

A muralist is working on something special for these places and even I am excited to see what she will be able to accomplish.

The goal is to have these finished so all travelers heading west to Victorville for the fest have several reasons to stop into Needles. First and foremost: the 66 Motel sign – a MUST see! Then these two gas stations will be brought back from the ‘drab’ and should make for some great photo ops.

We are getting a lot of support and help from several sources on this project. If you are around and/or able, let em knwo if you want to help that weekend as we can always use an extra set of hands!!

The owners are waiting to see the outcome as they even might put orders in for gas pumps and a few other signs to go on and around the buildings.

‘On the Eighth day of Christmas, Route 66 gave to me…’

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Dec 192011

The ‘party’ of the year for Route 66

If you are gonna throw a party, might as well make it a big one! And if you decide to throw it in Texas, you better make it an international party! It doesn’t get any bigger than that!

The 2011 International Route 66 Festival was held on June 9th through 12th in Amarillo Texas. And by all accounts – it was a HUGE success!

The different days had different events – from banquets, to concerts, to car shows, to food, to food, to food (wait, did I say food?!?!) to award ceremonies, to booths, to just plain old fashion fun.

Now, we are going to do a little something different on this day of Christmas. Not only am I going to show the ‘old’ – but I will include the ‘new’.

For the old – click HERE to visit the 2011 website to see all that happened on the weekend of the festival.
For the new – click HERE to get information on the 2012 International Festival in Victorville CA.

We have already planned on spending a few days at the event – so look me up and say ‘hey’ when you see me!

Holland Burger Cafe a historical point of interest

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Oct 172011

After surveying eateries from coast to coast, Guy Fieri, host of the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” proclaimed Emma Jean’s Holland Burger Cafe among the top three roadside cafes in the entire nation.

On Sunday, the cafe — the Victor Valley’s oldest restaurant and a Route 66 landmark — received recognition of another kind: a historic point of interest.

“This is a historic place that has gone back to an older, simpler time,” said Brian Gentry, son of Emma Jean Gentry and namesake of the cafe’s signature Brian Burger. “People know the person they are sitting next to before they leave.”

E Clampus Vitus, a fraternal organization dedicated to preserving Western heritage, selected the Holland Burger Cafe to receive the honor and plaque dedication. The group on Sunday dedicated a plaque honoring the roadside diner.

Founded in 1947 by Bob and Kate Holland, the cafe is a part of Route 66’s history.

Its appeal among truckers and locals has allowed the eatery to flourish over the past 64 years, according to Cass Ellsworth, president of E Clampus Vitus, better known as the Clampers.

In 1979, Emma Jean Gentry, who was a waitress, took over the cafe and turned it into a family business. Brian Gentry was only 13 years old at the time.

When she passed away in 1996, her husband, Richard, continued to run the cafe with his son and his son’s wife, Shawna.

More than six decades later, Brian Gentry is still serving food the same way. Cooks make homemade food and provide a home-style atmosphere for customers, he said.

One of its most popular dishes is the Brian Burger, which is a handpessed patty that includes mild green chili and Swiss-American cheese on Parmesan toast.

The cafe has been featured in many scenes in Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill: Vol. 2,” as well as Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.”

The Clampers select locations that meet the organization’s standard twice a year.

During these ceremonies, new members are initiated into the group. These potential members have to go through a “rite of passage” in order to become a member, which included preparing for Sunday’s dedication ceremony.

Emma Jean’s Holland Burger Cafe is at 17143 D St. in Victorville.
Hours are 5 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Monday through Friday and 6 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays.