Several years after Route 66 was published, I took a trip to Springfield, Missouri. I was astounded by what the book had wrought: Route 66 mailbox covers, Route 66 yard signs. Finally, I found a squashed penny with a Route 66 highway sign stamp on it.
That did it. I decided to write the book on architecture. Susan Croce Kelly and I decided not to write on architecture in Route 66 because the story of how the highway came together and how people invented roadside tourism was more important at that moment. Remember Route 66 was the first book published on the history of the road. Even, twenty years after publication, it is the most serious history of the road.
Now was the time to write the book on architecture of the roadside buildings. I wrote the first chapter and submitted it to the University of Oklahoma Press, which told me to go ahead and gave me an advance.
I reviewed the tapes of our conversations for Route 66 and interviewed new people, went back and reinterviewed some people I interviewed for the first book. This time I did most of the interviews by telephone, using YAHOO! People Search to locate my subjects. This meant that I was not tied to the road. Again, people on the roadside helped me out, locating people for me. And, I found if I had a name and a place I could find almost anybody.
I selected the photographs from the 2,000 images I already had, and traveled and made new photographs to fill in the blanks.
I learned that the roadside architecture of the 1930s and 1940s was very regional; that motel owners drew their models from regional houses; that restaurant owners were very progressive and used the Streamline Modern to convey cleanliness.
In 1946 Bill Henry was a shipping clerk for the Crane Company, a manufacturer of plumbing fixtures in Chicago. That summer he hauled a wooden trailer to the corner of Ogden and Austen in suburban Cicero, outfitted it with a kitchen, and started hawking kosher hot dogs on evenings after work. . By 1950 his hot dogs were so successful that Henry quit his job at Crane and expanded. He built a six-stool, red brick diner with two walk-up windows a half block up Ogden. When McDonald’s opened a red and white striped pavilion one a mile down Ogden from Henry’s Hot Dog, Bill Henry decided he wanted a building just like it. So, Bill overlaid the brick with blue and white ceramic tile stripes, mounted a sign of his own design--a giant hot dog with fries and an arrow pointing to the stand, and admonished passers-by to come in and enjoy his hot dogs and french fries in portions so large that “It’s a meal in itself.
At Rolla, 66 plunged into the Ozarks and into a vernacular architecture that was unique to the region. Here proprietors built stone cottages and log cabins using the local materials--oak logs cut from the forests and warm, rusty, Ozark sandstone cut from the hills. Slabstone or “giraffe-stone” construction was developed in the Teens and the Twenties in Thayer, Missouri near the Arkansas border, and carried north to Rolla. “Rock men” set flat slabs of sandstone on a concrete foundation and laid up stone as a veneer over a wood frame or a concrete wall. In Ozark lingo, they “rocked” the building. Boyhood friends C.T. Lierman and William Jaques, the sons of coal miners, grew up in Lexington, Missouri, and followed their fathers into the mines. In 1928 they migrated to Rolla where they opened an ice and wood yard in a wooden shack on U.S. 66. When they need something bigger and wanted something fancier, the partners hired their neighbor Vernon Prewett to “rock” them a building. Prewett gave them Streamline Moderne with teeth.
Maurice Colpitts, a plumbing inspector for the city of Tulsa, hired a contractor to build the Shady Rest in 1936. The contractor may have built the little 10 x 12 foot 9 inch clapboard shacks at the Shady Rest from a prefabricated kit purchased at the local lumber store or from a cabin design published in Popular Mechanics in 1935. The article laid out a set of plans and specifications for a 10 x 12 foot frame cabin, finished with the sheathing of the owner’s choice--clapboard, log siding, or stucco--on the outside and fiber board on the inside. Standardized barn windows in the walls provided cross ventilation. It was big enough to accommodate two people in a standard double bed.
“I never want to look at that white stripe down that highway again.” As newlyweds Mickey and Milton Stroud left their home in Waco, Texas and traveled U.S. 66, working as the substitute managers at the Park Plaza Courts, a small chain with motels in St. Louis, Tulsa, Amarillo, Raton, New Mexico, and Flagstaff, Arizona. They traveled from from court to court, monitoring the desks and the switchboards, fixing the plumbing, and cleaning the rooms while the resident managers took their two week vacations. Milton’s father, Milton, Sr. and his uncle, Lemuel, started Park Plaza Courts at the suggestion of Lee Torrence, owner of the Alamo Plaza chain. Torrence gave them the use of his architect and his design for the Alamo Plaza, and helped them learn the business. When they started building motels, Lemuel supervised construction at each site. Milton stayed in Waco and managed the business. They built their first Park Plaza Court in Tulsa in 1942. When they finished it, first Lemuel, then Milton, Sr. managed the motel in order to learn the business. They continued, building motels in Amarillo, Raton, Flagstaff, and finally, St. Louis in 1948, all but Raton on U.S. 66. A salesman taking the four-day drive from St. Louis to Flagstaff via Raton could stay in Park Plaza Courts all the way.
Before 1934 Harvey Wornstaff ran a gas station at the east end of the Swinging Bridge at Bridgeport. When the Oklahoma Highway Department rerouted 66 across the new bridge, the citizens of Bridgeport got in a dispute about the future of their town. Bridgeport had no future. The fight ended in a draw. Half the town moved to Hinton; the other half to new 66 where they established a roadside stringtown they named Bridgeport. It stretched for a mile along 66, all little gas stations, motels, cafes, food stands, and a dance hall. Dale Lee had a gas station and repair shop; Jack Hind a gas station and hamburger stand; Velma and Ray Yount a gas station and lunch room; Nancy Rose a grocery with pumps; Happy Jack the dance hall, and so on, all competing for the dollars that came down 66. Harvey Wornstaff had a gas station, restaurant, and motel. He named it after himself, and housed the restaurant, the gas station, and his living quarters in the low stucco building. To the east, he built little square cabins for overnight guests.
If someone you love loves road trips or has traveled Route 66, or wants to travel Route 66, or is an armchair
traveler and enjoys a good read, Along Route 66 is a great read-aloud guide book.
For color images of Route 66 go to my website quintascott.com.
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