Route 66: The Road and the Romance

Route 66: The Road and the Romance


The iconic highway is remembered at the Autry Museum with 250 extraordinary artifacts that trace its history and its impact on popular American culture.

Route 66 at the Autry Museum
Road sign, “East 66 / West 66,” Williams, Arizona, circa 1970s.
Collection of Steve Rider

Route 66 is the asphalt soul of America, a road with a dangerous past but an attractive personality that sucks people in. America was drawn to it, sang about it, prospered along its meandering from Chicago to LA and were killed along the way when their skin color was too dark

In a new exhibition, The Autry Museum next to Griffith Park is offering a real blast from the past. The Autry has gathered hundreds of items associated with Route 66.

Here’s a short list: A mint-condition 1960 Corvette flanked by an antique neon light motel sign, 10-foot-tall glass, gravity-fed gasoline pumps from the 1930s, first editions of “The Grapes of Wrath” and the movie trailer showing Oakies moving west in overloaded trucks along the blacktop.

For the free spirit in all of us, the Autry was able to procure the original scroll of Jack Kerouac’s novel “On the Road.” As he traveled 66, Kerouac wrote the entire book on one piece of paper, an exceedingly long scroll that is partially stretched out for several feet under a long Plexiglas box. However, the museum has transferred the entire likeness of the scroll onto a reading pad which allows people to scroll through the scroll.

To the Autry’s credit, the museum doesn’t gloss over the road’s sordid past. One corner of the exhibition shows the black American experience and how African-Americans made it to Los Angeles on “Bloody 66,” so called because of the discrimination and hatred they faced in the many states through which the road traveled. There are directories pointing out hotels, motels and restaurants where blacks were welcome. There also are signs that say “Colored” and “Whites Only.”

Visitors also can find racks of old postcards from mom-and-pop food stands and motels. One interesting display is about the old travel trailers people used to cross the country. The event shows how the interstate system that was started in the late 1950s killed the road and the myth.

There’s also the original “End of Route 66” T-shirt shack that was on the Santa Monica Pier. Not to worry. Dan Rice has a new shack on the Pier where he and his wife and son sell “Made in the U.S.A.” items only. The Rices even offer “Route 66” root beer and other soft drinks.

Don’t forget to check out the Autry’s main purpose, a museum of the West’s history in reality and in film.

The most vivid memories never lose their luster. But in case you want to buy a few, the Autry has the best museum gift shop in Los Angeles.

The Autry in Griffith Park is at 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles 90027 and is closed most Mondays and major holidays. Entrance is free on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and President’s Day. Phone: 323-667-2000. Adults $10, seniors $6, children 3-12 $4 and under 3 is free. T-Fr 10-4, Sat. Sun 10-5. Parking is free.

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