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City Museum founder dies in industrial accident September 26, 2011

Posted by Ron Warnick in Museums, People.
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Bob Cassilly, founder of the popular City Museum in St. Louis, died in an apparent construction accident Monday on the north side of town, reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The newspaper reported that Cassilly died while operating a bulldozer at the construction site of his Cementland amusement park, formerly the Missouri Portland Cement Co., in north St. Louis.

Cassilly, 61, was found dead Monday morning inside the bulldozer’s enclosed cabin. Police say the bulldozer tumbled down a hill with Cassily inside.

More about Cassilly’s unique vision:

Cementland is located along Riverview Drive near the Mississippi River. Cassilly had been working on the site for more than a decade. Cementland, which was running far behind its scheduled opening of 2010, was supposed to be an attraction featuring a castle, man-made mountains, elevated paths, pools and a river with tunnels for rowboats and inner tubes. […]

A visionary and an entrepreneur, Cassilly created dozens of public art sculptures across the region, including Turtle Park. He salvaged St. Louis’ forgotten architectural treasures and redeveloped the International Shoe Building into the City Museum. […]

The City Museum, which he opened with his then-wife Gail Cassilly in 1997, was an instant hit among St. Louisans and tourists who loved its whimsical artifacts, art and activities. Today, visitors ride of the museum’s rooftop Ferris wheel and scamper across MonstroCity, the museum’s outdoor playground.

The City Museum’s website’s main page Monday night was all-black, except for this message: “City Museum is saddened by the loss of our founder and inspiration, Robert Cassilly. 1949 – 2011.”

Here’s a video about Cassilly, when City Museum was being built:

And here’s an irreverent but informative look at the City Museum (caution: It contains a bit of mildly vulgar language):

It’s difficult to overestimate the impact Cassilly made to the St. Louis area. His founding of the City Museum — along with renovating long-abandoned industrial buildings into lofts — helped spur the revitalization of the city’s Washington Avenue district and other downtown areas.

Having lived near St. Louis for eight years and observing Cassilly’s impact firsthand, the city benefited greatly because of him. Every city could use a Bob Cassilly-type character to remind us that great things are possible, no matter how eccentric they may seem.

UPDATE 9/27/2011: The Post-Dispatch has posted an overview of Cassilly himself. A key passage:

Whenever Mayor Francis Slay travels, people tell him they love City Museum. Fodor’s touts it as “an institution unlike any museum you’ve been to before,” and the New York Times calls it a “must-see for visiting gerbils of any age.”

“It has earned international acclaim,” Slay said on Monday. “He made this totally unique, phenomenal creation that no one else has and anybody can enjoy.”

Cassilly opened City Museum in 1997 in an abandoned shoe factory with his former wife, Gail Cassilly. Their first mission statement: “To reawaken the childlike imagination, joy and sense of wonder in all of us.” Today the museum draws 630,000 visitors annually.

And this:

“If you rank important people in the history of St. Louis — not just artists — you would have to include Bob Cassilly. He showed young people that you can take old, abandoned stuff and make it beautiful,” Christman said. “Hopefully these children grow up and don’t tear stuff down and ignore the everyday beauty of what’s around them.”

A vigil was held Monday night at the City Museum:

Tough miles ahead for old theaters, drive-ins September 26, 2011

Posted by Ron Warnick in Movies, Theaters.

Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune tells about an upcoming development that likely will lead to a rough era for drive-in theaters and older movie houses — digital film distribution.

According to the article, the Route 66 Twin Drive-In in Springfield, Ill., remains the state’s only digital-projection drive-in. Obviously, the SkyView Drive-In on Route 66 in Litchfield isn’t digital, and it’s probably safe to say the other surviving drive-ins on Route 66 — 66 Drive-In in Carthage, Mo., and soon-to-be-rebuilt Admiral Twin in Tulsa — aren’t digital.

Some stark data about theaters converting from film to digital:

Right now it costs about $75,000 per screen to convert to digital projection. That’s $150,000 (lower if he waits a couple of years for used equipment) for a weather-dependent outdoor theater open four or five months out of the year […]

Film distributors commonly spend $1,200-$1,300 to strike a single 35 mm print, plus shipping costs. Digital delivery of a new release, by contrast, is more like $100, according to Cinedigm’s McGurk.

The studios have been steamrolling this one for several years while squabbling with exhibitors over the bill for the digital conversion tab. The industrywide conversion to digital has been financed by what’s called a virtual print fee (VPF) formula. Digital projection equipment costs between $50,000 and $80,000 per screen on average. The majority of those costs will be repaid to the theater owners by the studios.

But it takes up to a decade. And the studios are saying that after September 2012 they won’t be striking any new VPF deals. No deals, no subsidy. […]

Right now North America has about 39,000 movie screens. (Worldwide estimates run between 100,000 and 150,000.) Cinedigm has already handled the digital conversion on 10,000 of those North American screens. In all, 22,000 screens have gone digital. That’s more than half, and that means 35 mm is going to have a very hard time hanging in there for very long, outside the realms of archives, academia and the most purist-driven of the revival and art houses.

That likely would also leave a bunch of small, historic theaters — such as the H & S Theater in Chandler, Okla., and the Odeon Theatre in Tucumcari, N.M. — out in the cold. (Incidentally, the Odeon’s been for sale for about $60,000 for months, with no takers despite being the only theater for at least 100 miles.)

The film industry is yet another sector likely to be severely disrupted by the rise of the Internet. With Netflix streaming, Amazon on-demand, and even Facebook eventually getting into the home-movie sector, it’s going to be difficult to see how many movie theaters will remain financially viable in the coming years.

Perhaps a few of these old film venues can survive by hosting concerts, showing classic films, or becoming beer-and-a-movie places like Alamo Drafthouse. But, in the meantime, you’d better enjoy them while you can.

Relighting date of Luna Cafe sign announced September 25, 2011

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, Events, Preservation, Signs.

The official relighting ceremony of a refurbished Luna Cafe neon sign in Mitchell, Ill., will be about 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 22, according to organizers.

That time is approximate, depending on how cloudy it is at dusk. According to data from sunrisesunset.com, sunset in nearby Granite City on that date is 6:14 p.m. So plan accordingly.

From the news release:

Larry Wofford, owner of the Luna Café, is anxiously awaiting this exciting day when his historic Route 66 beacon will again shine like it did during the hey-day of the Mother Road.

He is delighted to welcome all Route 66 roadies to join in the fun and celebrate this exciting event with him. […]

Refreshments will be served, and it is anticipated that a representative from the Illinois State Historic Preservation Agency will be there for this special event, as well local media and community leaders.

The sign-revitalization project was sponsored by the Route 66 Association of Missouri, Route 66 Association of Illinois, and Friends of the Mother Road. The Luna Cafe received an $11,000 cost-share grant from the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program to restore the sign.

The Luna Cafe was built in 1926, and its clients reportedly included Al Capone, Elvis Presley, Hank Williams Sr., and Ike & Tina Turner over the years.  The sign itself dates to the late 1940s to early 1950s. Most of the neon in the sign stopped working during the 1990s.

(Photo of the temporary removal in August 2011 of the Luna Cafe sign, courtesy of Jim Thole)

Springfield festival sees record numbers September 25, 2011

Posted by Ron Warnick in Events, Route 66 Associations, Towns.
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The 10th annual International Route 66 Mother Road Festival this weekend in Springfield, Ill., saw a record number of entrants, according to a Sunday evening report by the Springfield State Journal-Register.

Festival president Kim Rosendahl said 1,186 people, an increase of 50 from last year, registered for the annual cruise on Friday. Saturday numbers were not immediately available, but crowds were estimated at 75,000 to 80,000 for this year’s show.

“We had a beautiful event this year,” Rosendahl said. “We had a great start Friday with nice weather for the cruise, and the weather continued to be cooperative all weekend.” […]

Gene Eastman of Green Mountain Monogram said he thought more people purchased T-Shirts at his stand. Eastman said it looked like crowds were larger because the rain stayed away.

Reviews from several people who participated were also positive.

As a former volunteer to a big annual festival in Illinois, I can attest that weather plays a huge factor in attendance at outdoor events. A well-planned festival can still become a failure if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate.

The Springfield festival was started as a companion event to an annual gathering by the National Historic Route 66 Federation. The initial festival was such a success, Springfield decided to make it an annual event.

Don’t make it bad September 25, 2011

Posted by Ron Warnick in Music, Religion.
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This latest edition of “Route 66: A Road Trip through the Bible” takes the long and winding road with the Gospel of Jude. You probably now know where this is going …

Duarte’s Route 66 parade September 25, 2011

Posted by Ron Warnick in Events, Towns.
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The city of Duarte, Calif., held its annual Route 66 Parade this weekend.

The Pasadena Star-News filed this report about it, and this amateur video does a good enough job showing what it was like:

The Albuquerque collection of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” September 25, 2011

Posted by Ron Warnick in Food, Restaurants, Television.
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A few segments of the Food Network’s popular show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” have escaped my attention. Here’s one I’ve collected of the ones that are on Route 66 in Albuquerque.

The Standard Diner:

Monte Carlo Liquors & Steak House:

Sophia’s Place:

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