Western Trips

Western Trips

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Historic Route 66 Landmarks

Route 66 has changed through the years and in many stretches it's disappeared entirely. Route 66 through New Mexico, Arizona and California have largely been replaced by Interstate 40 and Interstate 15. The western road traveler can still  find portions of the old Mother Road in these states. You just need to look for them. Many landmarks remain and fortunately the signage on the Interstates are pretty good in pointing them out.

route 66 hotel in Flagstaff
The Downtowner, Flagstaff Arizona
During the heyday of Route 66 travel, motels sprang up right and left. Prior to the Interstate Highway System, Route 66 was the main artery into the southwest and into California. Thousands of people traveled the Mother Road to California during the Great Depression as was chronicled in John Steinbeck's 1939 novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Route 66 was the trail out of the Dust Bowl of the 1930's and hopefully to a new start and employment in California.

Surviving Landmarks Along Today's Route 66

Some of the Route 66 landmarks still remaining include bridges, abandoned service stations, movie theaters, restaurants and of course motels. What has happened for the most part is that where the Interstate highway has replaced Route 66, the historic road still travels through the center of many towns along the way. The Interstate may run either north or south of town but a segment of the Mother Road still passes directly through the town itself. This applies to towns and cities all along Interstate 40 from Oklahoma all the way to the West Coast. When you exit the Interstates and take a short drive through many of these towns there is quite a lot of old history to explore.

monte vista hotel in flagstaff
Old Town Flagstaff and Monte Vista Hotel
Hotels and Motels

Flagstaff Arizona has some good Route 66 landmarks such as the Monte Vista Hotel. The Monte Vista Hotel sits one block north of Route 66 in the center of town and was built in 1926. The hotel became a very popular hotel to stay at in Flagstaff. Over the years their guest list was a who's who of the early to mid 1900's. The hotel claims that their guest list included everyone from banks robbers to Hollywood celebrities. The Monte Vista Hotel remains popular today featuring great rooms and plenty of history. The hotel is also just a short walk to the historic Flagstaff train station which is served daily by Amtrak's Southwest Chief running between Chicago and Los Angeles.

Flagstaff's Du Beau Motel was built in 1929 by A.E. Du Beau from Los Angeles. When the motel opened along Route 66 rooms rented at a range of $2.50 to $5.00 per night. Du Beau created his motel to cater to the "better class of tourist" and even featured in room baths and toilets, carpeting, double beds. There were also heated garage space available for your car. Today, the DuBeau serves visitors to Flagstaff as an International Youth Hostel. Another site is the Downtowner Hotel in Flagstaff which today serves as a Grand Canyon International Youth Hostel similar to the Du Beau.

winslow arizona la posada
Interior of La Posada, Winslow AZ
Going east from Flagstaff, there is a luxury hotel, La Posada, directly on old Route 66 in Winslow Arizona. The La Posada was originally built by Fred Harvey and the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. This Route 66 landmark was originally built next to the Winslow train station in 1929. Winslow was chosen as an ideal site for another Harvey House because it's location is about a days drive or less to many northern Arizona tourists attractions including the Navajo Reservation just to the north. The La Posada Harvey House was situated where it could attract guests from both the railroad line and Route 66. The railroad operated the hotel for twenty-seven years and then closed it to the public in 1957. With the AT & SF pulling out of the area, the hotel's future was in doubt. Many people who wanted to preserve it's history feared that it might fall victim to the wrecking ball. The National Trust for Historic Preservation heard about the situation and got involved. Fortunately, the La Posada Hotel was purchased by a small group that restored the hotel to it's grand condition. The hotel is very popular today. If you travel on Interstate 40, you will enjoy stopping at Winslow and visiting and/or lodging at the historic hotel.

Please also see our Western Trips photo articles about Route 66 in Tucumcari New Mexico and  the La Posada Hotel in Winslow Arizona. Another interesting photo article is Western Trips visit to the Roger Miller Museum on Route 66 in Erick Oklahoma honoring the singer/songwriter.

kimo theater in albuquerque new mexico
Kimo Theater, Downtown Albuquerque NM

At about the time that Route 66 was built in the late 1920's, the movie theater boom was in full swing. A few interesting ones include the Kimo Theater on old Route 66 in downtown Albuquerque New Mexico. The Kimo's art deco style is very unique. The Kimo design  is actually Art Deco blended in to the Southwest style. Many believe that the Kimo Theater is Albuquerque's most popular landmark. The city purchased the theater in 1977 to keep it from being demolished. There have been several renovations and today the Kimo Theater is open showing films, featuring live plays and is also used for various private and civic functions.

Amarillo Texas also has a very famous old movie theater. The Paramount Theater was located in the southern section of downtown Amarillo about one block off old Route 66. The Paramount Theater was constructed in 1932. Like many theaters built in this era, The Paramount Theater included a wide-set staircase with covered with maroon carpeting as it curved to the upper balcony seating area. The theater had a capacity of 1,200 beneath a blue sunburst design on the ceiling. The one large movie screen was set behind heavily draped curtains and gold framing. When the theater opened for business during the Great Depression, admission was around fifteen cents. The Paramount Theater building is still alive with it's marquee and definitely worth a drive by when passing through downtown Amarillo. Today the handsome structure serves as an office building.

If you happen to travel through Grants New Mexico there is an old rundown theater that was built during the Great Depression in 1937 and resides on old Route 66. Grants is about 79 miles west of Albuquerque via Interstate 40. The Lux Theater was capable of seating a bit over 500 people. Much of the structure which is situated in a strip of three buildings is now boarded up but the marquee and old neon tubing remains. The theater was built when a great many people traveled Route 66, many heading to California looking for employment.

rio puerco bridge route 66
Rio Puerco Bridge

There is one preserved old Route 66 landmark bridge which is located just west of Albuquerque along Interstate 40. The Rio Puerco Bridge was constructed in 1933 as part of the Federal Government's program  to use emergency money for highway construction. This particular stretch of highway which is still preserved next to the bridge became a part of the official Route 66 alignment in 1937. The bridge design is a common one for the era. The bridge also had to be strong enough to endure possible flooding which had occurred several times. The bridge went under renovation in 1957 which included the addition of guard rails to help protect the trusses.

The Route 66 landmarks shown above are of course just a few of the hundreds out there. If your trip includes Interstate 40 from Oklahoma westward, you'll pass many towns that were at one time directly on the Mother Road and chances are you'll find historic landmarks or old structures dating from the era in most of them. Many times you'll see them highlighted on billboards and other times by exiting the Interstate and simply driving through town.

(Photos from authors private collection)

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