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Route 66 in St. Louis

When I began searching out the alignments of Route 66 in St. Louis in 1978, every bridge across the Mississippi  seemed to have carried the old road.

In 1926 when the highway was designated the old McKinley Bridge, that bridge that carried both cars and trains on the same level, first carried Route 66 across the Mississippi to Salisbury Street From there the highway went out Natural Bridge to Prairie and crossed Fairgrounds Park to Vanderventer. Vanderventer carried it to Clayton Avenue, which took it through Forest Park to Skinker at HiPoint. Skinker bled into McCausland, which carried it to Manchester Road and out to Pond, Missouri, where it hitched up with the Old State Road, Missouri 100, which is the only road going west from St. Louis that does not cross a river.

Rick Dinkela has Route 66 crossing the MacArthur Bridge, also known as the free bridge, and going west along Chouteau to Manchester and out the state road in 1927

Chain of Rocks Bridge with a bend

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The Scott brothers started planning the Chain of Rocks Bridge at the extreme northern end of St. Louis and completed the Chain of Rocks Bridge in 1929, but neither Missouri nor Illinois put the bridge on their official maps. The brothers paved an additional 600 feet of roadway to connect their bridge to Lindberg Blvd., which became the 66-Bypass, but it was a long time before the bridge carried 66 across the river officially.

The brothers sold the bridge to Madison, Illinois, which got it on the official maps and turned it into a golden goose for the city.

When it did, the Chain of Rocks Bridge dumped travelers out onto Riverview Blvd., which carried people to West Florissant, which bled into Twelfth Street. That alignment probably hitched up with the Chouteau-Manchester alignment until 1933, when the State of Missouri moved Route 66 off the ridge road that carried the Old State Road and moved it down into the Meramec Valley and built a new Route 66 that picked up the Old State Road at Grey Summit.

After that Twelfth Street, which became Gravois Blvd, which became Chippewa, which became Watson carried the road out to the new Route 66 in the Meramec Valley.  This was City 66 and crossed every major north-south-east-west street in St. Louis.

So after 1933, City 66 followed West Florissant, Twelfth, etc; Lindberg was the 66 Bypass to Watson; Kingshighway, which ends at West Florissant, was also a 66 Bypass and carried the traveler to Chippewa and west.

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Route 66 Photographs: Redesigned Web Site

Detail of the Index Page of AlongRoute66.com

I have just finished redesigning the Black and White Photographs from Route 66 half of AlongRoute66.com.

Have a look and let me know what you think.

The Riviera Roadhouse

Riviera Roadhouse, Gardner, Illinois

Riviera Roadhouse, 1926

Gardner

I am late to this reporting. On June 8, 2010 the Riviera Road House in Gardner, Illinios burned to the ground.

In 1996 Burt Parkinson, the newspaper editor in Gardner, told me the little of what I know about the Riviera:

In 1926 Jim Girot quit the coal mine in South Wilmington, and opened the Riviera, a roadhouse, on U.S. 66 two miles north of Gardner. It was rumored that Jim offered gambling at the Riviera. Actually, Jim offered a little bit of everything: a little bit of gambling, a little bit of booze, and a little bit of prostitution. He cobbled it together from a little bit of everything: part of a church, part of a school, part of a tin store, and part of the payroll office from the mine where he had dug coal. The final assemblage was several typical Illinois buildings patched together, similar to the late nineteenth century or early twentieth century houses that lined the streets of towns served by 66 in Illinois.

The Riviera went through several owners after Jim Girot. When Bob and Peggy Kraft decided to quit in 2008, that wasn’t the end of the Riviera, but it was the beginning of the end.

Bob Keller leased the building from the Krafts and fought with the fire officials in Gardner over fire safety in the building and fought with the Illinois Route 66 Association over access to the old streetcar diner behind the Riviera. Even without all the fights, restaurant work is hard work and Keller finally backed out of his lease with the Krafts and left the restaurant empty.

However, the Riviera lives on. It  has its own Facebook page. Willem Bor has photographs of his model of the Riviera on his Facebook page.

 

Bill’s Station Phelps, Missouri

Bill's Station, Phelps, Missouri

Thirty years ago, when I was first exploring the idea of writing a book on U.S. Highway 66, I made this photograph of Bill’s Station in Phelps, Missouri. The old station sits on one of those sections of the road, which at the time, could be considered a Route 66 museum. Between Springfield and Carthage I-44 had completely abandoned U.S. 66, stripping away the economic viability of the business in between.

When I wrote Along Route 66, I learned what I could about Bill’s Station. And all I could learn was Bill’s last name: Bill Tiller.  He built this little building, finished it in stucco, and added a wooden lean-to at the rear. Bill may have had a canopy over service area which may have met a bad end. The little mansard roof supported by steel poles must have been added to the front later. A few steps to the east he built a small, wooden garage. And the stucco building to the rear may have been a small motel.

Bill's Station, 2010

Rich Dinkela, who had been documenting what is left of the roadside buildings, posted this image, along with my image on my facebook page. Bill’s Station is well on its way to disintegrating.

Rich’s image brings to mind Alan Weisman’s great book, The World without Us, in which he examines what is happening in built places we humans have abandoned. What he wants to understand is what would happen if humans no longer roamed the earth. Nature, he concludes, would take it all back. This is what is happening to Bill’s Station.

I suspect what is happening to Bill’s is happening to many of the wood frame and stucco buildings that line this section of the old highway. Nature–wind, rain, and vegetation–is taking them back, bit by little bit.

The Blvd. in Duarte

The Blvd Cafe, Duarte, California

I did not realize that when I started this blog that I would be marking the passing to the architectural landmarks along Route 66 between Chicago and Los Angeles, landmarks I spent 20 years documenting. But as my husband said a year ago as we drove through Miami, Oklahoma, where Route 66 has been franchised into oblivion: “Someday soon all that will be left of Route 66 are your photographs.”

An article in the Thanksgiving Day issue of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reintroduced me to Susie Tomasian.

Susie and her husband Tommy came to Foothill Boulevard and opened the BLVD in 1946, at a time when many ex-GIs were opening businesses along this American highway and others and at a time when Americans were traveling for fun. The BLVD was a place where you could pull in, have a burger at the service counter in the open-air lean, and get on your way. Or, if you wanted something at tad more elegant, you could sit down in the restaurant in the little stucco house that serviced as the back wall of the lean-to.

When Susan Croce Kelly and I were interviewing people, along Foothill for Route 66: The Highway and Its People in June 1982, we pulled up to the BLVD and were lucky enough to find Susie behind the counter. By 1998, when I returned to Duarte to work on Along Route 66: The Architecture of America’s Highway, many of the small businesses Susan and I found in 1982 had given way to franchises and strip malls and the occasional big box store with a massive parking lot. I don’t remember if the BLVD had survived or not, but I do remember Susie and her burgers and her genuine warmth.

Susie Tomasian, The BLVD, 1982

The Diamonds, aka Tri-County Truck Stop

Tri-County Truck Stop, Villa Ridge, Missouri

When I was a little kid, the round-fronted facade of the Diamonds on Route 66 at Villa Ridge, Missouri intrigued me. When I decided to write a book on the architecture of the American roadside as built along U.S. Highway 66, the Diamonds, now the Tri-County Truck Stop, was the landmark that stood out in my mind. How grateful I was to find it still standing, as I drove 50 miles west of St. Louis to see if there were enough roadside buildings to even write a book on Route 66 architecture. That was 1980.

When I learned that that the Tri-County had an all-you-can eat Alaskan crab dinner every Friday night, I organized a group of friends to go. One brought along Susan Croce Kelly, who understood all my chatter about Route 66. Several, weeks later I invited her to work with me on a book on the old highway. Together, we produced Route 66: The Highway and its People from the University of Oklahoma Press. Susan wrote the text to the book, a text drawn from oral histories we did together, using the buildings to identify our informants. I would identify a building, we would go in and ask for the original owner. If it was not the person behind the counter, we learned we could find him or her some where nearby. We were careful to talk to people who had come to the roadside between 1926, when Congress passed the highway act that funded the federal highway system and 1956 when Congress passed the Interstate Highway Act that funded the roads that replace Route 66 and the other federal highways. These were the people who invented American roadside tourism. And, we were very lucky, because so many were still around to tell their stories.

Route 66 is the definitive book on the old highway, from its routing as the only diagonal federal highway to its replacement by the interstates.

The other day I drove past the Tri-County and found it shuttered, bordered up. New, fancier trucks stops have sprung up closer to the I-44-Missouri 100 interchange.

Below is the caption to the photograph at appears in Along Route 66, the book on the architecture from the University of Oklahoma Press.

The Diamonds, 1948-1973

Villa Ridge, Missouri

Spencer Groff housed the first Diamonds in a wooden building at the Y where U.S. 66 split from the Old State Road, picked up the Old Wire Road, and headed west. After it burned in 1948, he teamed up with Louis Eckelkamp to build a second Diamonds. While Eckelkamp lured families into the Gardenway Motel with a homey American Colonial architecture, Groff and Eckelkamp projected an aura efficiency to travelers and truckers with a Streamline Moderne architecture at the Diamonds. The great curved front of the beige brick restaurant overlooked the intersection of the Old State Road and the Old Wire Road. While families were welcome at the Diamonds, Groff and Eckelkamp isolated them from the truckers a separate dining room. They provided truckers with sleeping rooms and showers on the second floor. They directed civilians to the Gardenway

The Diamonds was one of the rare businesses to survive the coming of the interstates. When I-44 replaced 66 in 1973, Groff and Eckelkamp took their sign in the shape of a diamond, moved to the interchange at Gray Summit and built a motel and restaurant that catered to tourists. The Tri-County Truck Stop, which had lost its building to I-44 in Sullivan, twenty miles west of Villa Ridge, took over the building, and mounted a sign that stretched the length of the roof line.[Endnote #11] Photograph, 1980.

 

Along Route 66–Central Oklahoma

Last fall I returned to eastern Oklahoma for the first time in a dozen years. Back in the eighties and nineties, when I was cruising Route 66 for two books, Along Route 66 and Route 66, I was concentrating on the architecture of the roadside businesses and the people inside them. I hardly noticed the landscape, until a last trip in the mid-eighties. And I was working in black and white, not in color. I was cued into form, not color.

Last fall, the landscape along Route 66 blew me away.

Edna Prokupt's Bus Stop, Luther, Oklahoma

I passed through Luther, hoping to see Edna Prokupt’s tiny gas station and bus stop, a giraffe stone building in red rock. It was gone. So was the bridge across Wildhorse Creek, replaced by a low modern bridge, the kind that doesn’t allow the driver to see the stream.

Wildhorse Creek at Luther

The creek cut through green fields of winter wheat, its banks pink, but not deep red.

South Canadian River near Geary

West of Oklahoma City the South Canadian River is redder, but the winter wheat, now in the spring twenty years ago is just as green. The South Canadian has been eroding the bank and moving closer and closer to old Route 66.

North of 66 at Okeene

North of 66 at Okeene, an anvil cloud rises over the more winter wheat in the fertile agricultural belt that is central Oklahoma.

Erosion channel near Elk City

At Elk City, the sandstone hills are startling red. The red dirt comes from the underlying Permian formation, filled with iron oxide, which extends from the Kansas border to the Red River.

So when you drive Route 66, pay attention to the landscape from the  Illinois prairies, to the Ozark forests and streams, to the red hills and streams of Oklahoma.