Route 66: The Road and the Romance at The Autry Center

Author: Bill Dudley

Summertime is the perfect time to cruise all or part of the 2,448 miles of cars, asphalt, gravel,gas stations, diners,motels, billboards, armadillos, small towns, big cities, roadside attractions,semi buried Cadillacs, and neon lights that we call Route 66, also known affectionately as ‘America’s Highway.’

First paved in 1926 atop several stagecoach roads dating to the 1800’s, Route 66 has changed constantly.

The Mother Road covers 8 states and is the heart of America. The storied highway was officially decommissioned in 1985, but you’d never know it. John Lasseter’s 2006 animated film ‘Cars’ spearheaded renewed interest in the nearly 100 year old road.

Heading West from Chicago to our own Santa Monica, the ripped apart and rugged highway has inspired everyone from songwriters like Woody Guthrie, (“Dust Bowl Days”) and Bobby Troup (“Get Your Kicks On Route 66”) to authors John Steinbeck (Grapes Of Wrath), and Jack Kerouac (On The Road). Steinbeck’s outstanding 1939 novel about The Depression was made into one the greatest films of all time in 1940, directed by John Ford. Steven Spielberg announced he will soon attempt to remake that classic.

The Autry Center has assembled an excellent Route 66 exhibit  that includes much of what this fascinating highway has inspired since the very beginning. You will see the 120 foot long single typed ‘On The Road’ scroll penned by Kerouac in 1951 (released in 1957), that helped create what we call ” The Beat Generation.”

Woody Guthrie’s 1937 Martin guitar, a huge neon ‘Western Motel’ sign circa 1950, a vintage 1960 Corvette convertible resembling the one featured on the iconic Route 66 tv series of the 1960’s, a jukebox that features over 120 different versions of the Bobby Troup song, from Nat King Cole’s 1946 Jazz classic, to the rocking 1987 killer track by Depeche Mode.

I also saw something I have never seen before, a very early jukebox (Edison 1915 Multiphone) that plays 24 cylinders (not records) of music for 5 cents each.

A rare photo of black cowboy Bill Pickett (circa 1905) is also featured. Native American history, and clothing is an important part of The Autry exhibit.

I have travelled in all 8 states on Route 66. It seems Illinois, Arizona, and New Mexico have done the best  job of preserving the rich history of the legendary road.

Many parts of Route 66 in Illinois parallel century old railroad tracks flanked by equally ancient, crooked telephone polls sparkling with colored insulators atop. Some of my favorite stops are the 90 year old Ariston Cafe in Litchfield, Illinois, Henry’s Rabbit Ranch just down the road in Staunton, The Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico, what’s left of Twin Arrows, New Mexico, The Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo Texas, and Roy’s Cafe in Amboy, Calif.

In Arizona a well paved Historic Route 66 will take you to Angel’s Barber Shop in Seligman,where you can buy the famous 1940’s Life magazine photos taken there in 1947, the ghost town of Oatman atop a very winding section of the old road,and the Hackberry General Store, all of which are very rich in souvenir treasures.

I must (somewhat morbidly) admit that the long abandoned ruins of cars,trucks, gas stations,diners and motels that sprinkle the side of the road really intrigue me.

You can explore the many wonders of Route 66 at The Autry Center thru January 4th, 2015. If you can’t make it to the real road this year, please visit The Autry. It will take 2-3 hours, and believe me,you will want to. 4700 West Heritage way in Griffith Park.      (323) 667-2000

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