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Route 66, Historic Cars, and Mid-Century Modern Attractions

POSTED BY Drew Meyers COMMENTS

route_66_mapPhoto credit: oldeamericaantiques.com

Route 66 is a historic highway running from Chicago all the way to Los Angeles. Opened in 1926 and decommissioned in 1985, its name is a significant reminder of the mid century era. There’s no shortage of significant cultural references. The Grapes of Wrath took place along the “Mother Road” (aka Route 66). There’s a song called Route 66 by John Mayer, as well as a Route 66 television series that aired between 1960 and 1964 (Wikipedia).

When most people hear “Route 66”, two things come to mind:

The open road.

The freedom that came with cars — and the road trips that went with it. Growing up, we took a trip 2 or 3 summers in a row. The allure was freedom…to go anywhere, anytime. With Henry Ford and America bringing the automobile to the mass market, it’s no surprise a “road trip” across the open highway doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world like it does in the United States. Route 66 was one our countries first true highways enabling (fairly) easy passage across large swaths of open land.

Historic cars.

A son of a man with a deep love for classic and antique cars, and having grown up ripping apart and rebuilding cars, I realize I have a greater appreciation for historic cars than the average Millennial. For me, Route 66 triggers thoughts of the many classic and antique cars my dad has owned over the years. Cars I’ve seen at car shows such as Beach Baron’s yearly Rod Run in Ocean Park. Baby boomers no doubt think back to the cars they owned in their youth (my dad sent me a list of about 25 cars when I informed him I was writing this piece). His personal favorite is by far and away the Corvette — he is the proud owner of a ’66 Vette (pictured below) & previously owned a ’65.

1966 Chevrolet Corvette

Many of the on screen gems we showcased last week could be seen on Route 66 back in the day.

While on the subject of cars, mid century enthusiasts may enjoy watching the teaser for the “American Dreaming: Detroit’s golden age of auto design“:

Detroit inspired the nation with its innovative and beautiful auto designs of the 1950s and 60s. But most of those designs were never released by the automakers. Like most of the early-stage artwork created by Detroit’s design studios, they’ve been destroyed. The car companies routinely shredded early sketches for fear they would fall into the wrong hands. But some of them did make their way out of the design studios of Ford, GM, Chrysler, Studebaker, Packard and AMC. Filmmakers of the upcoming documentary “American Dreaming” talked to some of the artists who influenced mid-century American design and shaped the way we remember the golden era of the automobile.

You can learn more about that here. (we’re hoping to cover this project in more detail at a future date).

Route 66 and Mid Century Attractions

The Mid-century architecture movement and Route 66 go hand in hand. It’s well documented Frank Lloyd Wright (and his apprentices) traveled Route 66 for his yearly pilgrimage from Wisconsin to Arizona (Curbed has a fantastic read). Below are a few attractions seen on the route…

Cadillac Ranch
Amarillo, TX
cadillac-ranch                                            Photo credit: bender16v.com

Cadillac Ranch is a public art installation and sculpture in Amarillo, Texas, USA. It was created in 1974 by Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels, who were a part of the art group Ant Farm. It consists of what were (when originally installed during 1974) either older running used or junk Cadillac automobiles, representing a number of evolutions of the car line (most notably the birth and death of the defining feature of mid twentieth century Cadillacs: the tailfins) from 1949 to 1963, half-buried nose-first in the ground, at an angle corresponding to that of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.[1] (Wikipedia)

Muffler Man
Springfield, Illinois

lauterbach-tire-man-springfield-illinois-01                                             Photo credit: route66guide.com

Muffler Men (or Muffler Man) are large moulded fiberglass sculptures that are placed as advertising icons, roadside attractions or for decorative purposes, predominantly in the United States. Standing approximately 18–25 feet tall,[1] the first figure was a Paul Bunyan character designed to hold an axe.[2] Derivatives of that figure were widely used to hold full-sized car mufflers, tires, or other items promoting various roadside businesses. (Wikipedia)

Mr D’Z Diner
Kingman, Arizona

mr-dzs-route-66-diner                                                      Photo credit: blog.grandcanyonplaza.com

Inspired by the everyday family cooking that we grew up with, you’ll feel at home while savoring a great meal in our casual and relaxed dining room.  Experience our inventive cuisine, full breakfast served open to close, great Burgers, plus lunch and dinner entres…. attentive service, and a friendly atmosphere; come see what makes us one of the most popular restaurants on Route 66.  (Mr D’Z Diner)

Wigwam Motel
Holbrook, Arizona

wigwam-motel                                              Photo credit: loc.gov

The Wigwam Motels, also known as the “Wigwam Villages“, is a motel chain in the United States built during the 1930s and 1940s. The rooms are built in the form of tipis, mistakenly referred to as wigwams.[3] It originally had seven different locations: two locations in Kentucky and one each in Alabama, Florida, Arizona, Louisiana, and California.

They are very distinctive historic landmarks. Two of the three surviving motels are located on historic U.S. Route 66: in Holbrook, Arizona, and on the city boundary between Rialto and San Bernardino, California. All three of the surviving motels are listed on the National Register of Historic Places: the Wigwam Motel in Cave City, Kentucky, was listed in 1988 under the official designation of Wigwam Village #2; the Wigwam Motel in Arizona was listed as Wigwam Village #6 in 2002; and the Wigwam Motel in California was listed in 2012 as Wigwam Village #7. (Wikipedia)

I think it’s safe to say, without Route 66 and the corresponding culture, landscapes, and resulting cultural norms that come from it — mid-century architecture progression would have taken a different path. We are fortunate that so many of these relics of a bygone era are still being lovingly preserved and maintained so that new generations can indulge in the essence that made that moment in time so special. America’s nostalgia for the open road lives on through these tokens of time’s past on a highway that is synonymous with the freedom and optimism that defined a generation of Americans in the Mid-Twentieth Century.

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