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A visit to the Red Ball Bar and Grill November 26, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Restaurants.
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33 Baxter Springs KS - Red Ball Bar & Grill

Here’s a restaurant in Baxter Springs, Kansas, that escaped my notice — the Red Ball Bar and Grill, which uses the grille of an old truck as part of its grill.

KSN-TV in Joplin has the story:

Here’s a screen capture of the aforementioned grill:

The Red Ball occupies a building that was a grocery store during the 1920s.

It is at 539 W. Fifth St. in Baxter Springs (map here). It’s not on Route 66, but about three blocks south of the section of old Route 66 that goes through the countryside. Basically, westbound travelers would go straight instead of veering left at the fork in the road on the north side of town.

(Image of the Red Ball by John Hagstrom via Flickr)

According to the newspaper:

[Bill] Shea Jr. said last week that for-sale signs likely would go up soon as he begins to more actively market the property. He said he has not yet decided on an asking price.

“If someone comes along, we’ll work it out,” Shea said.

The museum, long operated by former gas-station operator and memorabilia collector Bill Shea, closed except for appointments in late 2012 after Shea became too frail and was moved into a nursing home. He died at age 91 about a year later.

Bill Shea Sr. started his career in the filling-station business after leaving the military in 1946 — the latter which included the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach. He owned Marathon and Texaco stations. Shea later converted a Marathon station on Route 66 into a museum of gas-station memorabilia that included a 1920s gas station moved from Middletown, Illinois. Shea greeted thousands of Route 66 travelers from dozens of countries at his museum.

Shea was inducted into the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame in 1993.

The city of Springfield has long talked about establishing a Route 66 visitors center, including the now-fading possibility of buying the decrepit Bel-Air Motel and converting it. But this opportunity may be better for all parties involved — if the city is wise enough to grab it. And there may be more urgency for Springfield to make a move — especially when Bloomington, Illinois, is building a Route 66 visitors center that’s slated to open in the spring.

UPDATE: Here’s a report by WICS-TV in Springfield:

(Image of Bill Shea’s museum by John Hagstrom via Flickr)

Joplin buys old Route 66 garage November 24, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Gas stations, Towns.
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The city of Joplin, Missouri, recently bought a long-abandoned 1920s garage building that it plans to convert into a Route 66 attraction — most likely a visitors center, reported the Joplin Globe.

Patrick Tuttle,  director of the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the newspaper the city had purchased the garage at 1109 Broadway (also known as Langston Hughes) and adjoining properties for $18,500 with motel-tax funds. A researcher determined the garage was an auto repair shop as far back as 1920.

Here’s a Google Street View image of the building:

Plans for the property are vague, mostly because it requires a lot of TLC:

Plans in the near term call for the lots to be cleared and cleaned of rubble and brush. A parking area could be established. There is a concrete floor where the office once stood that could be cleaned, repaired and converted into a sitting area for visitors, perhaps with a flower garden area planted at one side.

A concrete block wall on the side of the garage could become a canvas for a mural or a backdrop for artwork of some kind related to Route 66.

“We just have to explore our options,” Tuttle said.

Tuttle signaled that Joplin felt the need to up its game with Route 66 tourism, and cited the example of nearby Kansas.

“People travel Route 66 and they just fly through Joplin. They don’t have a lot of reasons to stop, other than food and gas. We want to give them more reasons to do so,” Tuttle said. “The more they stop in town, the more likely they are to hit our shops, hit our restaurants, hit our hotels, spend more time.

“You look at Cherokee County over in Kansas, 13 miles, the shortest distance (of the highway) of any through eight states, and they have several gift shops, several attractions. You look at Jasper County, there’s one visitor center and one gift shop, and we’ve got 50 miles of Route 66.”

Skylark Motel tower glows again November 23, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Events, Motels, Preservation, Signs.
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The former Skylark Motel tower on old Route 66 in St. Clair, Missouri, shined with the glow of neon again after a ceremony Saturday night at the building, which now serves as the VFW Post 2482.

According to a news release about the event, about 150 people attending cheered when the light switch was thrown about 5:20 p.m.

The most unique feature, not found anywhere else on Route 66, is the glass block tower illuminated by red, gold, blue and green neon tubing behind it. It is a gleaming, sparkling sight at night, visible from a long way off, that no Route 66 roadie should miss on their tour of the Mother Road.

In addition to the tower, there is red striping around the eaves of the building, the word “Skylark” on the west side in blue neon, and “VFW” in green on the east side of the building.

The VFW membership celebrated the event in grand style with a BBQ dinner after the ceremony, which featured a tribute to all the veterans that were present, and speakers from the VFW State Commander’s office, the local community and the Route 66 Association of Missouri. The celebration also included music, vintage cars on site, and a special t-shirt to commemorate the event.

The VFW Post received  a $22,000 cost-share grant from the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program for the restoration of its neon. The VFW also received help from the Neon Heritage Preservation Committee of the Route 66 Association of Missouri.

The Skylark opened in 1952 and operated as a motel for about 25 years. It eventually was purchased by the St. Clair VFW in 1993.

(Image of the Skylark Motel tower courtesy of Jim Thole)

A glimpse at the future Billboard Museum November 22, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Museums, Preservation, Signs.
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Rio Siesta Hotel

If you’re a longtime traveler on Route 66 who wonders what happened to the old neon sign for the Rio Siesta Motel in Clinton, Oklahoma, we have an answer.

It — along with several dozen other signs and billboards — are safely in a storage warehouse in the Oklahoma City area until the Billboard Museum eventually is built.

Former Oklahoma Route 66 Association president Kathy Anderson now is president of the Billboard Museum Association, which is based in the Route 66 town of Bethany, Oklahoma. Anderson said by email the group hasn’t yet settled on a location for the museum.

“We do know our preference is the greater OKC metro area, preferably on or very very close to 66,” she wrote.

A recent article in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s blog gives some details about what the museum will be like, when built:

The museum plan calls for a building to house the vintage pieces that will give a thorough history of sign-making as well as a driving loop to showcase examples of old advertising. […]

Among the recent pieces that the group has acquired are a sign from the Rio Siesta Motel along Route 66 in Oklahoma; a Ralph’s Drug Store sign from Oklahoma City dating back to 1947; and a Taft stadium sign from Oklahoma City. Located along historic Route 66, the stadium was completed in 1934 as a New Deal-era Works Progress Administration project.

The group also recently acquired a doctor’s buggy dating back to the early 1900s.

A photo from the museum group’s newsletter shows many of the signs in storage, including the Rio Siesta:

Jim Gleason, vice president of the group, told the National Trust he believes many people hold other signs in garages and warehouses who would be happy to donate them to the museum.

Memberships to the museum are here. The museum publishes a newsletter, and has a Facebook page.

(Image of the Rio Siesta Motel sign in 2008 by Kris via Flickr; image from the Billboard Museum warehouse courtesy of Kathy Anderson)