Get your kicks on Route 66, in Arizona and California! (2nd of 2 Installments)

Rt. 66 ended at the ocean in Santa Monica, CA, just blocks from the Santa Monica Pier and Boat Harbor.

The Ocean Lodge, just three blocks off Rt. 66 as it ends in Santa Monica, CA, is typical of the style of motels one would find in the 1950s.
Vintage Aztec Hotel, with Mayan Revival architecture, circa 1925, is on Rt. 66 as it passes through Monrovia, CA.

 

Old gas station is preserved on Shamrock in Monrovia, CA.

Only the huge signs remain from the Foothills Drive-in Theater in Azusa; now part of parking for Azusa Pacific University students.
The Glendora, CA McDonalds picks up on the Rt. 66 theme with ’57 T-bird tables, old jukebox and Rt. 66 signs!
The El Garces Hotel was once one of the iconic Harvey House Hotels, in Seligman, AZ.
Rt. 66 guidepost sign in Williams, AZ, reflects the historic essence of the old road.
Shops along Rt. 66 in Williams, AZ, are themed to the “Mother Road”!

“Get your kicks on Route 66” went the lyrics of the 1946 hit, recorded by the King Cole Trio. It celebrated the historic Route 66, which began in 1926 when the Bureau of Public Roads created the first Federal Highway, by linking existing local, state and national roads. 

The result was a meandering 2,400 mile highway that began in Chicago, IL and crossed Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and ended in Santa Monica, CA. Aggressively promoted by the US 66 Highway Association as  “the shortest, best and most scenic route from Chicago through St. Louis to Los Angeles”, travelers poured westward!  

Last week, we shared towns and businesses along the Oklahoma and Texas portions of the highway; today we tour Arizona and California Route 66. Though World War II caused a dramatic downturn in travelers along Route 66, traffic increased dramatically at war’s end. Auto ownership grew from 25.8 million at war’s end, to 52.1 million by 1955.

With more and more families headed west on Route 66, California, 5.68 million people in 1930, mushroomed to 20 million by 1970. Arizona with 435,000 residents in 1930 blossomed to 1.78 million by 1970; many of the new residents arrived by the increasingly popular “Mother Road”, Route 66!

Construction of a new, Federal four-lane highway system in 1956 that would become today’s Interstate system resulted in new Interstates (I-55, I-44, I-40, I-15 and I-10) which would steadily replace Route 66 over almost 30 years.  In 1985 Route 66 was decommissioned as a Federal Highway. Today, individual states and towns have elected to preserve and reinvigorate the old highway, and many stretches of 66 retain the nostalgia and appearance of times gone by.

A recent cross-country trip allowed us to drive the old highway from Oklahoma to California.  After a short detour off to Grand Canyon National Park, we turned south 55 miles to Williams, AZ, with a wonderfully re-created historic Route 66 right through the center of the town. Auto traffic on Route 66 steadily cut into railroad traffic – the Santa Fe once brought thousands of passengers into Williams from East and West and the Grand Canyon Railway took them to the Canyon rim. The Grand Canyon Railroad still runs, but now mostly caters to tourists who arrive by car who take a day trip on the historic railroad.

Seligman, AZ, is the next town west doing a good job preserving historic route 66. In front of the town’s lively Copper Cart/Route 66 Motoporium, we find a group of Japanese tourists lying down in the middle of the old highway, having their individual pictures taken! Though, once you get off Seligman’s main Route 66 drag, the town, both south and north, looks semi-deserted. The towns of Oatman and Kingman also offer Route 66 memories, just before entering California.

California’s desert area marks all their Route 66 historic stops on Interstate 40, beginning with Needles.  Needles has captured much of their historical essence, and a Chamber of Commerce rep offers us a brochure, highlighting the grand old El Garces Hotel (an old Harvey House Hotel), built in 1906, the Needles Theatre, circa 1930 and old Union 76 and Texaco gas stations.  Just behind the Route 66 Motel are the moldering remains of the old Carty’s Camp Motor Court, featured in the Grapes of Wrath movie.

We began our tour of Los Angeles  area’s Route 66 sites in Glendora. We found their McDonald’s ties into the Route 66 theme, with a 57 Thunderbird-themed set of tables, an old classic juke box with 50s and 60s hits, and plenty of historic route 66 signage throughout the restaurant.

Finding LA remnants of historic Route 55 is a bit more difficult as we follow the route, realizing quite a few of LA’s suburban towns have virtually rebuilt the commercial buildings on both sides of Route 66 – so it’s often difficult to identify old landmarks.

In Azusa, we found the old Foothills Drive-in Theater retro signage; while the iconic signs remain, the old theater property is now parking for Azusa Pacific College.  Across the street, the Stardust Motel, from the 50s, proudly carries on the old motor court tradition.

Trekking further west to Monrovia, we followed the 66 route up Shamrock and found a mostly preserved old gas station, dating to the 1940s. Back on Foothills Boulevard, we turned south on Myrtle to admire the classy, well preserved old downtown of Monrovia. Its lively old downtown spans about 15 blocks on Myrtle, with restaurants, pubs, bakeries, shops and an active farmers market on Friday evenings – offering a lovely vibe.

We stumbled upon the old Aztec Hotel on Foothill Boulevard in Monrovia, (built 1924, opened 1925), closed for renovations in 2012 with its future uncertain.  The Aztec is an historical landmark building, once a 44 room grand example of Mayan Revival architecture.  Designed by noted architect Robert Stacy-Judd, its unique architecture is worth a stop.

Moving further westward, we came to Pasadena, the old 66 route now on Colorado Boulevard. We found the old Angels Theater, repurposed to a new retail use and many other buildings dating to the 1920s. Nearby is the historic Pasadena Playhouse, built 1925, seating 688 and still hosting an active local arts and theater scene.

We now headed for the end of old Route 66, Santa Monica. Through Hollywood, and west, we followed Santa Monica Blvd. past classy old theaters and stopped at the Café 50’s – offering a great selection of old Americana breakfast and lunch specials – and then into Santa Monica.
Here we took in a variety of old historic buildings in the final 10 blocks, including the stately Mayfair Residences; here the city’s popular Third Street Promenade crossed the old Mother Road. Route 66 ended on Ocean Avenue – just two blocks from Santa Monica’s historic Pier.

Ocean Avenue still sports historic motels, like the Ocean Lodge, just a block from the Pier, where new arrivals, could, indeed, “get their kicks on Route 66”!

What to take: Camera and binoculars, good walking shoes and Route 66 notes or brochures.

For more info on Route 66: Overall historic Route 66: www.nps.gov/nr/travel/route66/; Arizona, www.aztr66.com; California, www.route66ca.org.

Next week, highlights of recent tour from Morro Bay up CA Hwy 1 to Big Sur.  For other inspirational destinations in CA, see my Record blog: blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valleytravel!

Happy travels in the West!

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