The Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program on Thursday announced its annual cost-share grant awards, with seven grants totaling $98,137.
This year’s grant awards are remarkable in their breadth, including neon-sign restorations, oral-history projects, a full assessment of Route 66’s bridges, a historic-property database, an educational websites and a documentary film.
Since 2001, the program has awarded 139 cost-share grants total $5.5 million in private and public investment. The Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program is scheduled to end in 2019, barring intervention by Congress.
This year’s grant recipients are:
The Tropics neon sign restoration project
Location: Lincoln, Illinois
Applicant: Logan County Tourism Bureau
NPS grant: $17,000
Cost-share match: $28,500
Vince Schwenoha opened The Tropics restaurant in 1950 in Lincoln, Illinois. Vince served in Hawaii during his WWII tour of duty, which was the inspiration for the name of his business. The site included a large, neon sign that quickly became the symbol of the restaurant and a Route 66 landmark. Under the leadership of Lew and his wife, Bev, it operated successfully as a family-run business for the next five decades. In 2016, the Tropics was inducted into the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame. After sitting vacant for 10 years, the property was purchased for a McDonald’s. While the building could not be saved, a public/private partnership was put in place between Lincoln, Logan County Tourism Bureau and the Johnson family to preserve and restore the Tropics neon sign. The sign will be restored to operating condition by spring to honor the history of the site. Included in the design is a plan to interpret the story of the Tropics so visitors can learn about the history of the restaurant and its relationship to Route 66.
Wilder’s neon sign restoration project
Location: Joplin, Missouri
Applicant: Private owners
NPS grant: $24,000
Cost-share match: $24,000
In 1936, Verne Wilder opened Wilder’s Buffet on Main Street in Joplin. The restaurant quickly became a hot spot serving fine and exotic foods such as rattlesnake and Rocky Mountain Oysters. Located just off of Route 66, the restaurant also served as a tourist information hub for the Ozarks Playground Association, an organization that promoted tourism throughout the region. During World War II, the restaurant was popular with soldiers stationed at nearby Camp Crowder. By 1950, the seating capacity of the restaurant had expanded to 750. It was during this time the name changed to Wilder’s Restaurant and was open 365 days a year offering fine dining and cocktails, an exotic food and candy counter, a gambling hall, and a tourism information center. While operations and seating have since scaled down, the restaurant remains open for business today. By 1950, Wilder’s had installed two flashy neon signs to match its reputation. One of these signs was a large animated rooftop sign built to attract Route 66 travelers. The rooftop sign reportedly “lit up the sky”, but has been inoperable for over 20 years. The grant project will restore the sign to its brilliant, authentic, animated appearance enhancing the neon landscape of Joplin’s Main Street and Route 66.
Trucking on Route 66 in Missouri oral-history project
Location: Route 66 through Missouri
Applicant: Missouri State University Libraries
NPS grant: $5,105
Cost-share match: $5,697
When people think of Route 66, they often think of neon signs, road trips and tourist traps. However, the road was integral to American history in many other ways, such as the rise of the trucking industry and its impact on commerce and transportation. The Campbell 66 Express — including its iconic image of Snortin’ Norton – has its origins in Missouri and is an example. This project will capture first-person experiences and stories about the trucking industry before they’re lost. Oral histories have a proven track record of expanding and enriching the historical record and documentary evidence of Route 66. The Missouri State University Libraries, in partnership with Ozarks Alive, will conduct 20 oral history interviews with people involved in the trucking industry along the Route 66 corridor in Missouri from 1926 to 1985. Audio and video will be recorded and preserved, with metadata and transcriptions created for each interview. The results will be uploaded to the internet and made freely available to researchers and members of the public. This project will complement other oral-history collections held by Missouri State University, other Research Route 66 institutions and the Route 66 Association of Missouri.
Texas Route 66 historic property online database
Location: Route 66 through Texas
Applicant: Texas Historical Commission
NPS grant: $13,532
Cost-share match: $18,668
Historic property inventories play a critical role in preserving Route 66. The reports, forms, maps, and photographs generated from these surveys are irreplaceable for local, state and tribal governments, property owners, researchers and others who can use this information to rank preservation needs, resources, and efforts. In 2002, The Texas Historical Commission completed a survey of historic Route 66 properties through Texas. The project will expand on that work by using those materials to add to its interactive educational Historic Texas Highways webpages. The project will include a re-survey and update of the 2002 historic property inventory. The Texas Route 66 webpages will make the survey information more accessible and engaging to the public by highlighting Route 66 buildings and history and encouraging preservation and heritage tourism along the route.
Online educational guide to Route 66 in California
Location: Route 66 through California
Applicant: California Historic Route 66 Association
NPS grant: $6,000
Cost-share match: $6,484
Historically, Route 66 travelers coming from the east often were wayfarers seeking a fresh start in a new land. For many, California was that new land, brimming with of promise and rumors of plenty. The road played a role in transforming the American West from a rural frontier to a pace-setting metropolitan region and tourist destination, and portions of the route continue to convey a sense of time and place of an earlier era of highway travel before interstate highways. To educate people about Route 66 in California, the California Historic Route 66 Association will create a comprehensive online educational resource. In partnership with the Bureau of Land Management, the association recently completed a Corridor Management Plan for portions of California Route 66 that will serve as a basis of content for the site. The site will include a map and information about the communities along the route, National Register-listed sites and other historic landmarks and points of interest, including the 127 timber bridges through the Mojave Desert. The site will serve as a permanent archive and offer a forum for public outreach and action across the California route. The goal is to encourage participation in preservation and promotion of the road and to increase heritage tourism and community and economic development.
Route 66 bridge assessment and prioritization project
Location: Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica
Applicant: University of Texas at El Paso
NPS grant: $7,550
Cost-share match: $24,784
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, there is a need for over $123 billion in investment to bring up the nation’s bridges to a reasonable standard. The bridges that carry traffic along Route 66 are no exception. In fact, the age and intrinsic historic value of these structures can sometimes confound the issue, making bridge preservation a bigger challenge. This funding shortfall also provides an opportunity to take a long-term view of bridge management that includes safety and preservation perspectives. Through this project, researchers from the Department of Civil Engineering at UTEP will develop and start a framework to rank bridges for preservation along the length of Route 66. The key challenge is developing a way to consider historical preservation and engineering decision-making on a level playing field. The result of the effort will be a readily accessible tool to leverage and support preservation efforts in the eight states through which Route 66 passes. In the long-term, this information can help advocates and decision-makers find opportunities to strategically prioritize historic preservation equally among the more common, safety-focused projects.
“The Women on the Mother Road” documentary film
Location: Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica
NPS grant: $25,000
Cost-share match: $25,000
“The Women on the Mother Road” documentary film will explore the vibrant and culturally significant Route 66 corridor from Chicago to Santa Monica from the voices and perspectives of women. Women’s voices tell stories of courage, overcoming injustices and displaying a resilience that offer much for audiences to reflect upon today. Connecting personal stories to place creates new meaning that invites audiences and potential travelers to go on their own Route 66 journeys with a deeper understanding and context in mind. Building upon oral histories collected during an earlier phase of the project (route66women.com), this phase will collect more stories and weave them into a narrative that tells the story of Route 66 from a female perspective. A rough-cut, full-hour long documentary intended for broadcast on PBS stations across the country will be produced. The full-length oral histories collected during the project also will be made available to libraries and archives along the Route 66 corridor as a contribution to public history.