In 1926, when a new highway called US Highway 66 opened between Illinois and California, few could have imagined its future cultural significance. Touted as the “shortest, best and most scenic route” from Chicago to Los Angeles, it soon took on additional significance.
A little more than a decade after its opening, Route 66 was immortalized in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath as “the main road, the road of flight,” a reference to the thousands of people who traveled this route during the Great Depression. Twenty years after it opened, Nat King Cole had a hit in 1946 with “Get Your Kicks on Route 66”; in the 1960s, there was even an eponymous television show.
In the 1980s, however, the choice of wider, higher-speed interstate highways began to be favored. Route 66 was decommissioned in 1985. Since then, the highway has been subject to preservation efforts. Route 66, in the words of Congress, “has become a symbol of the American people’s heritage of travel and their legacy of seeking a better life.”
There is a particular nostalgia surrounding Route 66. It evokes gleaming cars and old-school diners, roadside attractions and kitschy road signs. The latter is the subject of the new book ‘Route 66 Then and Now’, by Joe Sonderman. Packed with images of faded signs, restored neon and painted murals, the book is a tribute to the markers that guided decades of travelers on their way across America.
‘Route 66 Then and Now’ revisits some of these bizarre (and not-so-bizarre) structures to see what’s left before time takes its toll. Some, such as the Magnolia Service Station in Kansas, have been preserved on the National Historic Register; others, such as the Aztec Motel in Albuquerque, are still doing a thriving business; while others have simpy vanished from the landscape.
Starting in Chicago, ‘Route 66 Then and Now’ takes in the motels, cafes, gas stations, roadside attractions and key towns and sites along the route. From the Blue Whale in Catoosa, past Angel Delgadillo’s store in Seligman, Arizona, to the end point in Santa Monica, Route 66 historian Joe Sonderman takes readers on the 2,500-mile trip, illustrated by his fabulous postcard collection.
These are some of the pictures. Click and drag to be able to see both images