Route 66 was dubbed as America’s “Mother Road,” by novelist John Steinbeck in 1939 and is an internationally recognized symbol of our nation’s romance with the open road, yet it was included on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual list of most endangered historic places. The legendary 2,400 mile roadway starts in Chicago and passes through Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, and California before terminating in Los Angeles. Despite being an international icon, many Chicagoans aren’t aware that Route 66 actually begins in Chicago at the familiar intersection of South Michigan Avenue and between Adams Street and Jackson Boulevard just south of the steps of the Art Institute at the South Garden near the Fountain of the Great Lakes sculpture by Lorado Taft.
In 1989, the National Park Service designated the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, but this designation is set to expire in 2019, and there is no option for extension this time. To meet this challenge, Illinois Representative Darin LaHood, (R-Peoria) is leading the effort for Congress to designate Route 66 a National Historic Trail. Representative LaHood’s bill has already passed the House, but needs the approval of the Senate and the signature of the President before the end of 2018. If this effort is successful, Route 66 would become the first National Trail from the 20th Century and be recognized alongside the Oregon Trail and the Lewis and Clark Trail.
“The threat to Route 66 has really been a slow burn. It has been tough for these smaller businesses all along Route 66, and over the years there have been different authentic elements that already have been lost. People have this vision of taking the iconic road trip along Route 66, and it would be a shame if they did only to find too many places were lost and can’t be revitalized,” according to Amy Webb, senior field director for the National Trust for Historic Preservation (Rosenberg-Douglas, Chicago Tribune, 6/26/18)
To support Route 66 becoming a National Historic Trail, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has set up an online petition at www.preserveroute66.org and included Route 66 as one of its 2018 11 most endangered.
Within Chicago, Preservation Chicago encourages the City of Chicago and Choose Chicago to increase their efforts to recognize, appreciate and protect the important historic significance of Route 66. Perhaps new signage with a more original appearance, many more signs along the historic route, and greater efforts around promoting tourism would help to raise the profile of a national icon in Chicago.
U.S. Route 66 on national list of 11 endangered historic places, Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas Chicago Tribune, 6/26/18
Discover America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places for 2018, National Trust for Historic Preservation, SavingPlaces.org, 6/26/18