Affectionately called “The Mother Road,” Route 66 is known for quirky roadside attractions and unique mom-and-pop motels, constructed between the late 1920 and late 1950s and often clad in neon. In recent years, Route 66 motels in hot real-estate markets have been torn down at record rates, while in cold real-estate markets, motels languish and are being reclaimed by the forces of nature.
Stretching more than 2,000 miles from Lake Michigan to the Santa Monica Pier and passing through the states of Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, Route 66 reflects the 20th century evolution of transportation and tourism in the United States. In its early years, the highway facilitated large-scale settlement of the west, saw the desperate migration of Dust Bowl refugees and World War II troop movements, and played a major role in the advent of car culture and automobile tourism. In the postwar era, Route 66 symbolized unprecedented freedom and mobility for every citizen who could afford to own and operate a car. The development of the interstate highway system brought the glory days of Route 66 to an end, and one by one, communities were bypassed and lost their economic lifeline. The final decommissioning of Route 66 in 1985, coincided with a renewed appreciation for this American icon, and recognition that the remaining significant structures, features, and artifacts associated with the road should be preserved.
Over the past decade, private property owners, nonprofit organizations, and local state, federal and tribal governments have worked together to identify, prioritize, and address Route 66 preservation needs. Included in these efforts through an Act of Congress in 1999, the National Park Service was directed to administer the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program that works with partners in preserving and continuing the use of the most representative and significant historic properties along the route.
Many historic Route 66 motels are threatened by the compound forces of long-term deferred maintenance and obsolescence while others fall to the lure of cash to demolish and convert valuable real estate into upscale developments. Motels in expanding urban areas are subject to development pressures associated with sprawl.
Local governments need to develop policies and financial incentives to support motel properties and businesses. Some historic motels have been successfully rehabilitated and maintained in their original use. The Munger Moss in Lebanon, Missouri, and the Blue Swallow in Tucumcari, New Mexico are examples of motels that cater to a growing base of heritage tourists looking for an authentic Route 66 experience. These motels offer models of “best practices” that others can emulate. Most importantly, the traveling public from the United States and abroad can directly support the heritage of Route 66 by patronizing its historic motels and related roadside attractions.
What you can do
- Get off the Interstate and stay in a vintage Route 66 motel.
- Learn more about the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program.
- If you see a neglected Route 66 motel, contact local official about what might be done to encourage continued or adaptive use of the motel.
- Support our efforts to save these 11 Most Endangered sites and others like them throughout the country.
[Reprinted from the National Trust Website, August, 2007]