by Joe Sonderman, Arcadia Publishing
Book Review by Craig MacDonald
"Get your kicks on Route 66" was a hit song made famous by Nat King Cole. The route ran from Chicago to Santa Monica. In California, it went west from Santa Monica through Los Angeles and San Bernardino to Needles and the Arizona line. Millions of people traveled over it, following their dreams to "the Golden State."
Many came during the Great Depression (1930s) out of desperation, in search of work and a better life; others came during World War II to labor in Defense Plants; more than a million did military training in the Mojave Desert; still others abandoned harsh East & Mid-West Winters for warmer climates, and then there were the thousands who came, hoping to be discovered in Hollywood.
Historian Joe Sonderman, author of books on all the other Route 66 states, now presents his "California Dreamin'" work, exploring the people, places & history that made the route & its culture both unique and still popular to this day.
The vintage—many of them priceless—photos he has rounded up, especially the ones from his collection of old postcards, bring the route back to life by showing the fascinating and often creatively-designed motels, restaurants, attractions and gas stations along the way.
In 1897, California formed its first Highway Department but it wasn't until 1913-15 that the first paved section (of the future Route 66) was put in between Los Angeles & San Bernardino. In 1925, the US Government formed a committee to number federal highways. On Nov. 11, 1926, the federal system started & Route 66 was born. In 1928, the US 66 Highway Association started helping make it the most famous road in the world & even had a Transcontinental Footrace, along its nearly 2,500 miles.
The history associated with the people and places is incredible. Here are some amazing California tidbits that Sonderman came up with. They will whet your appetite by taking you back in time to another era of fun travel & adventure. You don't even have to pay for gas on this nostalgic trip over the Golden State's portion of the iconic road.
—An extinct volcano can be seen off Route 66 near Amboy (in the Mojave Desert, west of Needles). It has a 43-square-mile lava field that was used to test the Mars Rover & featured in the film, "Journey to the Center of the Earth."
—Roy Rogers Double R Ranch was off the route in Oro Grande. His famous museum moved to Branson, MO and was closed in 2010.
—In 1962, a truck slammed into the café at the Kleen Spot Motel in Victorville. The cook made the stunned driver a sandwich before shutting down the restaurant. (Talk about hospitality!)
—Elvis Presley stopped at the Summit Inn in Cajon Pass & was upset that none of his records were in the jukebox. He left the waitress a big tip anyway.
—There's a great photo of Richard & Maurice McDonald, who, in 1948, converted their barbecue restaurant into a hamburger stand on Route 66 in San Bernardino County. Milkshake Mixer salesman Ray Kroc was so impressed with their success selling burgers using an assembly line technique that he became partners with them and started franchising McDonalds.
—In 1924, Lionel Sternberger, a 16-year-old fry cook in his father's Rite Spot Restaurant of Pasadena, invented the cheeseburger by dropping a slab of cheese on a burger. He & his dad, Herman, loved the special taste & the rest is history.
—Thirteen years later, Glenn Bell learned how to make hand shell tacos at the Mitla Café in San Bernardino. Glenn would open his first Taco Bell in Downey in 1962.
—Frank Redford, who grew up in a Sioux Reservation, created the highly successful Wigwam Motel on the San Bernardino-Rialto line. Guests stayed in individual wigwams.
—The old Kaiser Steel Plant in Fontana closed in 1983 & much of it was dismantled and re-erected in China. But the plant was used in such films as "Terminator" and "Independence Day."
—The oldest restaurant on Route 66 was the Mountain View Inn, which was part of a stage stop built in 1849. It was known far and wide for its opossum dishes.
—The "Fantasy Island" TV show was filmed in the LA County Arboretum & Botanical Garden.
—At the Mother Goose Pantry, a 2-story restaurant in Pasadena, waitresses had to be less than 5-foot-2 and weigh 112 pounds or less. A mechanical goose circled the huge shoe designed by Walter C. Folland.
—Pasadena City Hall (built in 1927) has been featured in films, such as Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator," "Beverly Hills Cop" and the TV show, "Big Bang Theory."
—The 1940 Arroyo Seco Parkway, connecting Pasadena and LA, was the first Freeway in the West. The California Governor said "it would forever remove the creeping, fuming parade of choked up traffic between the two cities." (Oh, yeah?)
—Barney's Beanery came to West Hollywood in 1927 & became a favorite of Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe. It was seen in the TV series, "Columbo" and "Pulp Fiction."
—Humorist Will Rogers made his last public appearance at San Bernardino's California Theater on June 28, 1935. He died soon after in a plane crash.
I'm sure many readers will want to check out some of the mementos left behind on the incredible Route 66. Thanks to the author and publisher for keeping its wonderful memories alive.
(The reviewer has enjoyed several portions of Route 66, which eventually was replaced by several Interstates, such as 40, 15, 10 & 210.)