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A chat with Jerry McClanahan November 19, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Art, Books, History, People.
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Route 66 Author & Artist Jerry McClanahan

KC Keefer adds to his “Genuine Route 66 Life” video series with a talk with Route 66 artist, author and researcher Jerry McClanahan at his studio in Chandler, Oklahoma.

McClanahan has been traveling regularly on Route 66 for more than 30 years, and his memories of the Mother Road date back even further.

Novice motorists — and even experienced ones — are urged to buy his guidebook, “Route 66: EZ Guide for Travelers.” And he keeps up with changes on the road through his website as well.

(Image of Jerry McClanahan by RoadTripMemories via Flickr)

Indian tribes will launch Route 66 tourism project November 10, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Events, History.
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A Native American tourism group and the National Park Service will meet in New Mexico later this month to formally launch the “American Indians and Route 66″ project, reported Indian Country Today.

The initial meeting of the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association is set for Route 66 Casino west of Albuquerque.

Tribal lands and tribes are located along the entire length of Route 66 from Chicago to California, yet very few tribal connections and stories have been documented to date. AIANTA received a grant from NPS to coordinate this project, which is intended to produce an American Indians and Route 66 Guidebook, sharing the history of tribal homelands and tribes along the route while encouraging tourists to visit these tribal destinations.

“With more than 27 federally recognized tribes along Route 66, we are thrilled that we will finally be able to share these under-told histories connected to the famous highway,” said Virginia Salazar-Halfmoon, AIANTA’s Public Lands Partnership Coordinator and Route 66 Project Coordinator. “We hope that with this project we can provide tangible connections with Tribes along Route 66 and encourage people to visit and learn about the history and connections of tribal nations along the route.”

The project will also include entry of cultural attractions, Indian-owned destinations and accommodations on AIANTA’s Indian Country destinations website, which is currently in its development stage. […]

The guidebook will provide travelers with educational information about sites of significance and share compelling historic information that will attract travelers to destinations identified by tribes along Route 66.

The Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program announced in July the awarding of a $24,000 grant for such a project.

I’m glad to see this. American Indians played a vital part in the rise of Southwest tourism and culture, even before U.S. 66 came into being. Their story has long been overlooked or ignored.

UPDATE: Apologies for the coding issues that showed earlier on this story today. A former advertising partner made changes in how content was delivered, and it was messing up links in stories.

(Image near Grants, New Mexico, by Pam Morris via Flickr)

Website needs more data on New Deal projects November 6, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, Preservation, Web sites.
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Route 66 Interpretive Center

The good news is someone has put together an interactive map of New Deal sites that were built beginning in the 1930s and are still standing.

The bad news is the listings on the map are incomplete. Carthage, Missouri, for instance, has a few such sites that aren’t listed. However, you can offer listings to the map of sites in your town, including on Route 66.

Even so, the Living New Deal map lists more than 7,000 sites, which shows you how massive of an impact the Works Progress Administration, Civilian Conservation Corps, Public Works Administration, Federal Art Project and others made on the country even now. The federal programs were enacted to help prop up the country during the throes of the Great Depression.

Using the map, you’ll find dozens of such projects on Route 66, including the Old National Guard Armory in Chandler, Oklahoma, that eventually was converted into the Route 66 Interpretive Center.

Others include the distinctive Ackley Park Baseball Stadium in Elk City, Oklahoma; New Mexico State Fairgrounds Buildings in Albuquerque; Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California; Arroyo Seco Parkway in Los Angeles; the Illinois State Armory in Springfield; and dozens of schools, post offices and murals.

If you notice something missing, you can check the online submission form here.

(Hat tip: Michelle Hansford, Powers Museum in Carthage, Missouri; image of the Route 66 Interpretive Center in Chandler, Oklahoma, by Charlie Chapman 75 via Flickr)

A chat with Rock Cafe’s Dawn Welch November 4, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, People, Restaurants.
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KC Keefer, continuing with his Genuine Route 66 Life video series, talks to Dawn Welch, longtime owner of the historic Rock Cafe in Stroud, Oklahoma.

Welch talks about the Route 66 restaurant’s up-and-down history, including her role in the Disney-Pixar “Cars” movie and the restaurant nearly being destroyed by fire in 2008.

More can be read here. And one of my favorites is a video by the Chickasaw Nation.

(Image of Dawn Welch at the Rock Cafe in 2007 by Stephanie via Flickr)

Building in Springfield, Missouri, added to National Register November 2, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, Preservation.
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Downtown - Springfield, Missouri

The McDaniel Building in downtown Springfield, Missouri, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places effective Oct. 22, according to an email Friday from the National Park Service.

The six-story building, built in 1914, was around when Cyrus Avery and John Woodruff worked on details during meetings in Springfield about what became the fledgling U.S. Highway 66 during the early and mid-1920s.

The McDaniel building sits on 316 Park Central East, which is an alignment of Route 66 that goes through the downtown square.

The McDaniel had sat empty for years, but The Vecino Group development company became its savior early this year when it renovated the structure for student housing. The building now is known as The U.

(Image of the McDaniel Building in Springfield, Missouri, by Dustin Holmes via Flickr)

Woman documenting every building on Albuquerque’s Route 66 October 30, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, Photographs.
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An Italian woman who is a graduate student at the University of New Mexico is photographically documenting every building and landmark on Route 66 in Albuquerque, according to a story on the university’s news service.

Donatella Davanzo, a University of New Mexico graduate student, walks along some part of Route 66 in Albuquerque almost every day, photographing the buildings, the street and the fragments of history still visible along the roadside.

Officially she is the Route 66 Fellow for the Center for Southwest Research at the UNM Libraries. Her job is to photograph every building of every block of Route 66 through Albuquerque. She is capturing the route as it looks in 2013-14 to save the view for future generations.

She has already walked every block from Tramway to Atrisco along Central Ave. methodically working from the mountains to the valley and out onto the mesa. […]

Walking along the route, she thinks Albuquerque’s part of Route 66 is unique. “In Albuquerque you can watch the architecture of Route 66. This is special because you have Pueblo style, Spanish style and Mexican style that creates a fascinating mix. This is a very special part of Route 66.” […]

Davanzo is now photographing the north/south portion of Route 66. At one point in its history, it ran along 4th Street. She is currently working her way from downtown toward the northern end of Bernalillo County.

It’s quite a challenge, as Albuquerque’s Central Avenue (aka Route 66) alone is nearly 20 miles long. Her project undoubtedly will be important for future researchers of the road.

In an email, Davanzo said she has more than 7,500 images, and all of them will be uploaded to the university’s Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections sometime next year.

Until then, you can see samples of her work at this Flickr account.

(Image of El Don Motel sign in Albuquerque by Donatella Davanzo for UNM via Flickr)

Book review: “Father of Route 66: The Story of Cy Avery” October 28, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Books, Highways, History, People.
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Some may assume Cyrus Avery became known as “The Father of Route 66″ simply because he was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time when the highway became designated and federally certified in 1926.

But as Susan Croce Kelly’s well-researched new biography shows, Avery’s involvement in Route 66’s birth and its rise to worldwide fame was anything but an accident. The book — the first solely devoted to him — lays out convincingly how Avery’s talent, his background, his drive and his confidence all were crucial to the Mother Road eventually becoming a legend.

One section of “Father of Route 66″ (288 pages, hardback, University of Oklahoma Press, e-book available) signals Avery’s crucial role to the road. Shortly after the founding of the U.S. 66 Highway Association — for which Avery became vice president and, later, president — Avery started calling the highway the “Main Street of America.” Advocates for U.S. 40 and the Roosevelt-Midland Trail also used the nickname, and the Lincoln Highway probably had it, too. But because of Avery’s persistence, the “Main Street of America” tag stuck to 66.

Outside of Tulsa, Cyrus Avery probably would have been little more than a footnote in history books if Route 66 hadn’t started its revival during the early 1990s. By that time, Avery had died almost 30 years before, and he said his proudest accomplishment was not Route 66, but shepherding the building of a 50-mile pipeline from the Spavinaw Creek to give Tulsa a much more reliable water supply. And despite Avery’s growing posthumous stature — including an elaborate statue on Route 66 in his honor — even the biggest Route 66 experts were unsure where Avery was buried until I tracked it down a few years ago.

Croce Kelly was an ideal author to tackle a book on Avery’s life, as she and photographer Quinta Scott published the essential “Route 66: The Highway and Its People” in 1990. Still, she had a challenge: By the time she announced the project, Avery had been dead for a half-century. Save for grandchildren and a few other folks, barely any people remembered Avery when he was alive.

Fortunately, the Oklahoma State University-Tulsa owned a substantial archive of Avery’s papers, and the man himself was so much in the public eye that plenty of material was found in the Tulsa World and other newspaper databases. Croce Kelly unearthed a lot of verified material about Avery and weaved it into the smooth and easy-reading narrative in “Father of Route 66.” In the occasions Croce Kelly speculates about what happened during a point Avery’s history, at least it’s well-informed speculation.

Avery was born in Stevensville, Pennsylvania, but in his early teens moved 1,200 miles to northeast Oklahoma in a covered wagon when his father sought new opportunities after a deep recession in 1873. (Croce Kelly argues convincingly that Avery’s arduous journey helped convince him early about the importance of good roads.) The family settled in a dilapidated former homestead of Confederate Army general and Cherokee Indian Stand Watie.

Avery earned a bachelor’s degree at a teachers college but soon found himself adept in buying and selling real estate in Oklahoma — especially in the Tulsa area. His real-estate business put him in touch with many influential people in the state and gave him a sense of what the region needed to thrive.

One of Avery’s gifts was his ability to relate to anyone. It was said he could converse just as amiably with an oil tycoon as with a blue-collar worker or a small child.

He also proved to be an engaging public speaker. The Commercial Club — a forerunner to the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce — quickly grasped his speechmaking skills and made Avery its primary public face. Avery also owned a farm on the edge of town where he often invited out-of-town guests for a meal and a few whiskeys to sell an idea or talk over how to improve Tulsa.

One of those passions on how to improve the city was to shore up its chronically muddy highways and streets. He proved to be an ideal advocate in the better-roads movement that was burgeoning nationwide. He brought the first split-log drags to Oklahoma in 1907 and paid several Tulsa County farmers $1 a mile to grade the roads after each rain. He directed the planting of sweet clover near the roads to better hold together the soil and reduce erosion; that clover still can be seen growing near Tulsa County’s rural roads.

During the early teens, he became a booster of the Ozark Trail — a predecessor of U.S. 66. Avery successfully lobbied in 1916 for a bond issue to build the 11th Street Bridge over the Arkansas River. The bridge later carried Route 66 and stands today. He advocated for the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916. Through it all, it seemed he attended dozens — perhaps hundreds — of meetings over the decades on how to improve roads in the nation and his adopted home base of Tulsa County.

During the 1920s, Avery overhauled the Oklahoma State Highway Department by eschewing cronyism and hiring qualified employees to improve roads. (He later was fired, but Avery had the last laugh when that governor was impeached and removed from office for incompetence.)

The irony about his “Father of Route 66″ tag was that infighting between states in early 1926 nearly sunk the landmark agreement that produced numbered federal highways. Kentucky officials quarreled over the placement of U.S. 60, which Avery wanted for his Chicago-to-Los Angeles highway. Aware a landmark roads agreement was in peril, Avery compromised and accepted U.S. 66 for his road instead. Avery might have made that decision pragmatically for the greater good, but one also suspects he saw the marketing potential for “66” was well.

Avery’s involvement in improving Tulsa wasn’t limited to roads. In addition to that water line, he shepherded the development of Tulsa International Airport and the enormous Mohawk Park. He served as president of the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce for a time. Although he nearly was financially ruined by the Great Depression, he remained active in local boosterism well into his late 80s.

And Avery seemed like a genuinely good guy. He ran Red Cross relief efforts for thousands of homeless Greenwood residents after the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. Avery also repeatedly was on the right side of history in clashes with the Ku Klux Klan, which ran much of the state at the time. Despite being offered a proposal from the Oklahoma Legislature that would have improved roads, he turned it down because the same bill would have prohibited black people from voting. Avery occasionally was accused of corruption, but those allegations never were credible. The only obvious direct benefit from his better-roads efforts was his building a gas station, motel and the Old English Inn cafe on a busy Admiral Place street in Tulsa, which later became Route 66.

Thanks to popular culture — Bobby Troup’s perennially covered “Route 66,” the “Route 66″ television drama and now Disney-Pixar’s “Cars” movie — and Route 66’s own colorful history, the Main Street of America has arguably become the world’s most famous highway. And, as “Father of Route 66″ shows, that highway was very fortunate to have Cyrus Avery as its early champion to lay the foundation of its rise.

Highly recommended.

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