It became apparent while reading Kip Welborn’s self-published book that it’s not just a guidebook about Route 66 in St. Louis. It’s also a love letter to his city.
It’s that enthusiasm about the Mother Road and his town that lifts “Things to Look Out for on Route 66 in St. Louis” (60 pages, spiral-bound soft cover, $10) above the dull prose of many history books or sloppiness of many self-published volumes. That proceeds from the book’s sales go to the Friends of the Mother Road nonprofit preservation group is a bonus.
And Welborn’s town needs such a guidebook. St. Louis boasts no fewer than six Route 66 alignments, making it one of the most confusing cities in which to trace that historic Road. Fortunately, Welborn’s book generously supplies turn-by-turn directions, plenty of hand-drawn and annotated maps, and black-and-white photographs of landmarks.
Not only does Welborn trace notable buildings, motels, businesses and restaurants, he points out vanished ones, too — including the site of Sportsman’s Park, the longtime home of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, and the art-deco masterpiece Coral Court Motel.
In the back of the book, Welborn provides appendixes of Route 66 alignments year-by year, lodging options on or near Route 66, and restaurants.
In fascinating but succinct detail, Welborn traces St. Louis’ history and its role as a critical hub in river, rail, air and highway transportation. The city not only hosts Route 66, but U.S. 61 (Blues Highway), U.S. 67 (Ozark Highway), U.S. 50 (Loneliest Highway) and U.S. 40 (National Road).
But unlike those other roads, U.S. 66 was decertified as a federal highway in 1985. According to a St. Louis Globe-Democrat story from that time that Welborn reprints, those U.S. 66 signs were swiped by souvenir hunters even then. (Some things never change.)
Welborn really knows his stuff. I lived in “The Lou” metro area for nearly eight years, and knew plenty about before then from many years of listening to KMOX radio. But Welborn’s book informed me of a few things which I was unaware (such Yacovelli’s restaurant, Schneithorst’s pub, and the real purpose of the century-old water towers). And if he isn’t sure about something, he knows where to find out.
Welborn also devotes separate stories to the Stanley Cour-Tel and Lin Air Motel, the historic Calvary and Bellfontaine cemeteries, Falstaff Brewery, KSHE rock ‘n’ roll radio station, and Route 66 enthusiast Jane Dippel. It’s these segments where Welborn’s knowledge and enthusiasm hit their stride. He writes about the now-gone Chouteau Bridge and Vandeventer Viaduct:
During the dismantling process, I visited the old Bridge and Viaduct on numerous occasions. It gave me the opportunity to see how strong it was constructed. It appears that the original pavement was framed in metal. Underneath the pavement was concrete supported by large Belgian blocks. These were set atop wood rafters, where were set atop more concrete. The supports for the Viaduct were rebar enforced concrete.
There is now a nice, sterile new bridge taking Chouteau Ave. across the railroad tracks. There was no replacement constructed for the Vandeventer Viaduct. The bridge gets you from hither to yon, and you won’t find the concerns and defects you found crossing the old Bridge, but, as in any case where the “old” is replaced by the “new”, you sense a loss of something old, something different, something special.
(A copy of “Things to Look Out for on Route 66 in St. Louis” can be mailed to you, postage paid, by sending a check of $12.25 to Friends of the Mother Road, 3947 Russell, St. Louis, MO 63110.)