Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program announces grants for 2016

The Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, under the auspices of the National Park Service, announced its cost-share grants for 2016.

This year, the program awarded eight cost-share grants totaling more than $103,000 — mostly for renovations or preservation of historic Route 66 properties.

Since 2001, the program has awarded 122 projects $1.9 million with $3.1 million in cost-share match, totaling $5 million in public-private investment.

Here are the 2016 cost-share grant winners:

Navajo County Historic Courthouse

Historic Navajo County Courthouse roof preservation plan
Location: Holbrook, Arizona
Recipient: Navajo County
NPS grant: $7,000; cost-share match: $7,000
The Navajo County Courthouse was built in 1898, when Arizona was still a territory of the United States. It is one of only two courthouses in the state of Arizona built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. It stood as a landmark on historic Route 66 for many decades. Today it serves as an official Arizona Information Center and houses the Navajo County Historical Society’s Museum, depicting early life and culture in the Holbrook area. The courthouse is the heart of community events and has traditionally hosted summer American Indian dances for residents and Route 66 travelers. The courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. In 2012, a Historic Structures Report identified threats to the stability of the building. Among the highest priorities was the roof, which still has its original wood shingles now covered by asbestos tiles. NPS grant funds will aid in developing a roof repair or replacement plan that will preserve the historic integrity and appearance of the building.

Rialto Square Theatre, Joliet, IL

Rialto Square Theatre marquee restoration project
Location: Joliet, Illinois
Applicant: Rialto Square Theatre Foundation
NPS grant: $27,855; cost-share match: $27,855
The Rialto Square Theatre was built on an original alignment of Route 66 in May 1926, just six months before the National Highway Act of Nov. 11, 1926, ushered the Mother Road into existence. These two entities –- (1) an ornate vaudeville stage and movie palace dispensing “talkies” to a gleeful American public, and (2) a national highway designed to accommodate the new automobile fad –- would become important elements of U.S. culture from those days forward. Known as the Jewel of Joliet, the theater was constructed to spare no expense. The building’s style was an eclectic mix of Greek and Roman Neoclassical Rococo, Italian Renaissance nd Art Deco, among others. Every detail of the theater was more ostentatious than the next, and it was touted as “one of the world’s wonder theatres.” By the 1970s, both Route 66 and the Rialto had fallen into disrepair, as Route 66 was bypassed and by the Interstate Highway System. By 1978, the Rialto was targeted for demolition to make way for a parking lot. In response, the Will County Cultural Arts Association was created to save the theater from the wrecking ball. It listed the property on the National Register of Historic Places, and by the 1980s restored the theater to operating condition. The theater has served as a matinee and community center since, welcoming over 100,000 visitors a year. Watching over Route 66 for nearly a century is the Rialto’s distinctive, seven-story vertical neon sign and marquee, which have heralded films and events to residents and travelers alike. Grant funds will help with the restoration of the marquee to its 1926 appearance.

The Mill, Lincoln, IL, by Brian Marsh

The Mill on Route 66 accessibility project
Location: Lincoln, Illinois
Recipient: Route 66 Heritage Foundation of Logan County
NPS grant: $10,720; cost-share match: $12,000
The Mill restaurant is a prime example of early American roadside architecture and is one of the few buildings from the era still standing. The restaurant opened on Route 66 in 1929 under the name of the Blue Mill. The eatery was built by local contractors in the shape of a small Dutch windmill with sails on the front. It was white with blue trim, with continuously turning sails decorated with lights. In 1945, an army barrack from Camp Ellis was attached to the back of the building to accommodate a restaurant, bar and dance hall. It was then the entire building was painted red and renamed The Mill. One of the restaurant’s claims to fame was its fried schnitzel. The Mill also offered a display of strange objects to attract and entertain customers: a mechanical leg kicked its way through a hole in the ceiling; four life-sized figures, a suit of armor, and a 20-pound stuffed catfish were on display; and a basket above the bathroom door would blast a loud siren throughout the restaurant when opened. The Mill closed in 1996 and stood deteriorating for many years. In 2006, the Route 66 Heritage Foundation of Logan County was created to promote and preserve the Mill and other Route 66 sites in Logan County. The foundation worked with the City of Lincoln to save the building from the wrecking ball and gain title to the property. The foundation has worked to restore the National Register-eligible property to a museum and visitor center since. A NPS grant in 2008 helped with structural repairs. The current grant will offer accessibility to the building, including an entrance and bathroom. The original basket and loud siren that once adorned the bathroom door also will be restored.

Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket sign

Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket neon sign restoration project
Location: Hinsdale, Illinois
Recipient: Private Owner
NPS grant: $17,300; cost-share match: $17,300
The Chicken Basket began in the 1930s as a lunch counter attached to a service station in then-rural Hinsdale. This mix and match of functions was typical for Route 66 establishments operating on thin profit margins that required them to be creative in attracting customers. Legend has it in the late 1930s, two local farm women offered a deal to original owner Irv Kolarik, who was looking to expand his menu. They would reveal their excellent fried chicken recipe to Kolarik and his customers if he would promise to buy the chickens from them. To sweeten the deal, the women offered to teach him how to fry the chicken. Soon, the service station was history and the Chicken Basket was born. The restaurant we see today was built in 1946 next to the original site of the 1930s station. The one-story brick building was constructed in a no-nonsense, utilitarian commercial style of the immediate postwar period. Overall, the restaurant retains much of its original 1946 appearance and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The restaurant has a flat, steel roof that did double duty in the 1950s. To attract customers, Kolarik flooded the roof in winter and hired youths to ice skate on top of the building. The restaurant flourished, but like many other successful businesses along Route 66, the Chicken Basket faced a serious challenge with the coming of the interstate in 1962. But in 1963, Delbert “Dell” Rhea, a savvy Chicago businessman, bought the restaurant and turned things around through aggressive advertising for Chicago’s expanding suburban population and Route 66 travelers. Today, the restaurant continues to flourish. NPS grant funds will help with restoration of the neon sign.

Sprague Super Service station, Normal, IL

Sprague’s Super Service rehabilitation project
Location: Normal, Illinois
Recipient: Private Owner
NPS grant: $15,699; cost-share match: $15,699
The brainchild of William W. Sprague, the two-story, Tudor Revival style Sprague’s Super Service on Route 66 was a combination cafe, filling station and service station built toward the beginning of the Depression to give service and food to travelers. The second story provided housing for Sprague and the service-station attendant. Sprague’s Super Service is an excellent model of preservation through partnership. In 2003, the current owner began the preservation process by listing the property on the National Register of Historic Places. The owner then applied for grant funds from the Route 66 Corridor Preservation program to develop a preservation plan and to address urgent needs or repairs. With the preservation plan in hand, the owner appealled to the City of Normal for more funds to aid with repairs to the roof and heating system. Because of this positive track record, the owner next applied for and received more grant funds for heating and air-conditioning work from the Illinois State Tourism Department. In addition, the owner arranged for volunteer work days at the station involving the Illinois Route 66 Association. In 2011, the building was designated as a local landmark by the Town of Normal, and in 2016, the town voted to acquire the property to secure its preservation and protection. Now known as Ryburn Place, the goal is to open the property as a Route 66 visitor center. Following a preservation plan prepared in 2009, a new roof and bathrooms have been installed, and the historic, wood frame windows and doors have been rehabilitated. The NPS grant will help repair and stabilize the exterior stucco and masonry and rehabilitate the last of the windows.

Old Riverton Store

Nelson’s Old Riverton Store floor restoration project
Location: Riverton, Kansas
Recipient: Private Owner
NPS grant: $6,356; cost-share match: $6,356
The Williams’ Store was built in March 1925 and sold everything from gasoline to groceries to general merchandise. Patrons could buy shoes, clothes and food staples such as ice, milk, eggs, bread, fresh meat, canned food, penny candy, and bulk foods such as lard, peanut butter, and vinegar. They also served hot food including chili, barbecued beef and venison. Signs on the building from this time read, Y Not Eat/Williams Bar-B-Q and General Merchandise. By 1926, Route 66 passed in front of its door, and according to a past owner, “Travelers stopped to enjoy a slice of cold watermelon and our fairly famous barbecue sandwich, or to fill an ice chest with drinks or a thermos with coffee. It was a pit stop with a graveled parking area and out back a familiar white closet with a half-moon cut out of its door. Two closets, in fact! The store front had red and green neon tube lighting around it, front and side, to piece the early darkness of a cold, snowy night, where not only available maps, but owners, clerks, and customers who could direct you correctly to almost anywhere.” Now known as Nelson’s Old Riverton Store the property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2005, an NPS grant assisted with much needed roof and electrical repairs. Current NPS grant funds will help with restoration of the severely deteriorated wood floor.

Donut Drive-In, St. Louis

Donut Drive-In exterior sign restoration project
Location: St. Louis
Recipient: Private Owner
NPS grant: $6,300; cost-share match: $6,300
The Donut Drive-In was constructed in 1952 on the classic corner known as “the wedge” on Route 66 at Chippewa Street and Watson Road. With the doughnut shop’s location on the storied Route 66, the Donut Drive-In capitalized on the rising automobile culture. Its name may suggest a link with other drive-in businesses beginning to appear at that time, including restaurants, theaters and banks. However, for the Donut Drive-In, the phrase simply meant that customers could drive their cars into the wedge and park in the relatively new convenience of a parking lot. There was never a drive-up window as one might presume from the name. Eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the simple concrete block building is highlighted by a spectacular, free-standing neon sign that was restored to operating condition in 2008. The sign is adorned with a vertical row of nine neon doughnuts. As sections of the neon turn on and off, the doughnuts appear to drop down the vertical length of the sign. The property also has three other fluorescent signs mounted on the front and sides of the building. The NPS grant will help restore the fluorescent signs to operating condition and to their historic appearance, including their original script.

Western Host Motel, Grants, NM

Western Host Motel door rehabilitation project
Location: Grants, New Mexico
Recipient: Private Owner
NPS grant: $12,500; cost-share match: $12,500
The historic Western Host Motel was built in the late 1950s and is an excellent example of a motor inn. Motor inns developed in response to the increasing number of automobile travelers, which in turn produced demands for more motel rooms. Motor inns were larger and more luxurious than the earlier motor courts and often were complexes of two- or three-story buildings organized around a parking lot or courtyard. Interior spaces such as coffee shops turned into full-fledged restaurants often with cocktail lounge, banquet rooms and meeting spaces. Registration desks became lobbies often with a magazine counter and gift shop. Sleeping rooms were larger and usually featured air conditioning and a television set, according to “The Motel in America” book. The Western Host boasts 50 rooms with many original features including the windows, decorative railing, bathroom tile and fixtures and some furniture. Once a haven for travelers and for miners who worked in the nearby uranium mines, the new owners are working to restore the motel and restaurant to operating condition. With a new roof in place, the NPS grant will help with the rehabilitation of over 50 doors on the property. Next phases will include restoration of the original windows, restaurant, guest rooms, neon and parking lot.

(Images of the Navajo County Historic Courthouse by Jimmy Emerson, DVM; Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet, Illinois, by Ronnie Dyrcz; The Mill by Brian Marsh; Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket sign by S Jones; Sprague Super Service station in Normal, Illinois, by Teemu008; Nelson’s Old Riverton Store via Facebook; Donut Drive-In by Thomas Hawk; vintage postcard image of Western Host Motel via

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