The Architectural Styles Along Route 66 – Exploring Iconic Designs and Landmarks

Traveling along the historical Route 66 provides a unique glimpse into the architectural evolution in the United States from the early 20th century to the present day.

As we embark on this journey, we encounter a range of architectural styles that reflect the changing tastes and technological advancements throughout the decades.

This fascinating trip showcases the key aspects of American design, as seen through the various buildings, bridges, and roadside establishments that have defined the iconic highway.

Numerous buildings along Route 66 exhibit significant styles, such as the Art Deco movement, roadside diners, and mid-century modern motels. For instance, the book “Hip to the Trip” shows the influence of Mary Colter and Charles Lummis, who built pueblo-style buildings along the highway.

Additionally, we come across various bridge styles and types, considered important historical features and further add to the visual narrative of this American roadway.

Throughout this article, we will delve deeper into the various architectural styles found on Route 66, highlighting how these designs have shaped the identity of this iconic highway. From Art Deco masterpieces to humble roadside eateries, the architectural tapestry of Route 66 remains an enduring symbol of America’s drive towards modernity and progress.

The Beginnings and Development of Route 66

We can trace the origins of Route 66 back to the early 1920s when the need for a national highway system became apparent.

Recognizing the importance of such a system, an ambitious entrepreneur and highway advocate from Tulsa, Cyrus Avery, played a vital role in developing and promoting Route 66.

With his vision and dedication, Route 66 would eventually become a symbol of the American landscape and an essential artery of commerce.

Stretching across eight states, Route 66 begins in Chicago, Illinois, and traverses through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and finally, California.

Connecting such a diverse range of urban and rural areas revolutionized transportation and provided new opportunities for economic growth and tourism. St. Louis became one of the primary cities along Route 66, promoting its prevalence in Missouri and providing a critical east-west connection between the Midwest and western states.

One of the factors that contributed to the success of Route 66 was its unique and eclectic mix of architectural styles along the roadside. It became a canvas for innovative designs that showcased regional styles and introduced travelers to the culture and heritage of each state.

For example, travelers could experience Pueblo- and Spanish Colonial-Revival-style architecture in New Mexico. As the highway expanded and gained popularity, more buildings and establishments, such as motels, gas stations, and restaurants, began to line the “Mother Road,” further enriching its architectural diversity.

Ultimately, the development and growth of Route 66 significantly impacted the American landscape, fostering growth in commerce, automobile culture, and tourism.

The road, which started as a simple wagon trail, eventually transformed into a symbol of American progress and ingenuity. Today, Route 66 remains an iconic part of American history, and the architectural styles along its path continue to attract visitors and celebrate the diversity within its eight-state corridor.

Architectural Landscapes Along the Route

Route 66, stretching from Chicago to Santa Fe, is an iconic American landscape rich with diverse architectural styles. As we explore the various buildings and landmarks along this historic highway, we discover a mix of motels, drive-ins, and structures reflecting American architecture’s evolution over the decades.

One of the most famous landmarks along the route is the Willis Tower in Chicago. Formerly known as the Sears Tower, this skyscraper is an excellent example of modernist architecture, with its minimalist design and bold geometric shapes.

This architectural style dominated the American landscape during the mid-20th century, and the Willis Tower remains a prominent symbol of the urban development along Route 66.

Moving farther west, we come across the iconic Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. Eero Saarinen designed this stainless steel monument to illustrate the mid-century modern style perfectly. The arch, which symbolizes the westward expansion of the United States, represents the optimism and technology-focused mindset that defined the era.

As we continue along Route 66, the architectural landscape transitions to include a variety of roadside novelties, such as drive-in theaters and quirky motels. An excellent example is the 66 Drive-In, a nostalgic symbol of American car culture. The distinct design of these theaters, characterized by large outdoor screens and elaborate signage, helped create a unique atmosphere for moviegoers in the mid-20th century.

Another famous example of roadside architecture along Route 66 is the Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico. This classic motor court features the so-called “Googie” architectural style, characterized by its futuristic-looking design elements often inspired by the Space Age.

With its angled rooflines, large windows, and eye-catching neon signage, the Blue Swallow Motel perfectly represents the Atomic Age’s influence on the built environment along this iconic highway.

Finally, as we reach the end of the route in Albuquerque, New Mexico, we encounter the influences of Spanish and Native American architectural traditions. Combining these diverse styles creates a unique experience as we explore the numerous adobe structures and Spanish mission-style churches that mark the city’s landscape.

In summary, the architectural landscape of Route 66 tells the story of America’s evolving culture and history, from the towering skyscrapers of Chicago to the distinctive motels and drive-ins that epitomize the American road trip experience.

As we travel along this historic route, we are surrounded by diverse styles and structures, each contributing to our collective understanding of the American landscape.

Heritage and Influence on American Culture

When exploring the architectural styles along Route 66, we can’t help but notice the rich cultural heritage that shaped its development. This famous highway, often called the “Mother Road,” played a significant role in American history, particularly during the Great Depression, World War II, and the post-war era.

One aspect of Route 66’s cultural impact is the rise of heritage tourism. Many travelers are drawn to its diverse architectural styles that reflect the influences of Native American and Spanish Pueblo Revival design. Some noteworthy examples of these styles are in New Mexico and Arizona, where they blended Native and New World elements to create a unique regional identity.

The turbulent times of the Great Depression inspired authors like John Steinbeck to pen his masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath, which follows the story of the “Okies” migrating from the Dust Bowl states to California in search of a better life.

This era is also marked by the hardships faced by thousands of Americans during the Trail of Tears, where Native Americans were forcibly relocated from their ancestral lands. Route 66 witnessed these painful journeys, leaving an indelible mark on the American cultural landscape.

Over the years, Route 66 has been a source of fascination and nostalgia and has permeated American popular culture, as seen in numerous songs, movies, and television shows. Its contribution to our shared cultural heritage is evident in the iconic neon signs, roadside attractions, and classic diners that still capture our imagination today.

Influenced by the events of World War II, many small towns along Route 66 flourished due to the demand for goods and services related to the war effort. One example is the town of Gallup, New Mexico, which experienced economic growth due to its proximity to military bases.

Moreover, Route 66 played a significant role in facilitating troop movements, effectively shaping the development of the surrounding landscapes.

As advocacy efforts have grown in recent years, communities have invested in protecting and preserving Route 66’s architectural and cultural history. By restoring unique buildings and landscapes, we can ensure that future generations can experience the rich traditions and history that Route 66 offers.

In conclusion, the architectural styles along Route 66 reflect a diverse and vibrant cultural heritage. By preserving these architectural treasures and highlighting their historical significance, we are keeping the spirit of Route 66 alive for generations to come.

Current Status and Preservation Efforts

Since the decommissioning of Route 66 in 1985, the National Park Service has actively preserved the historic highway. Through the creation of the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, efforts have been made to identify, prioritize, and preserve the significant architectural styles and historic sites along the 2,448-mile road.

In recent years, there has been a push to designate Route 66 as a National Historic Trail. This designation would provide additional protection, recognition, and opportunities for funding preservation projects.

A diverse range of architectural styles can be found along Route 66, reflecting the many communities, cultures, and periods of commerce that shaped the corridor. As we work to preserve these important sites, we acknowledge the importance of the road’s history and its impact on American culture.

One notable preservation effort has been the Road Ahead Partnership, a collaboration among stakeholders seeking to coordinate economic development, promotion, and preservation efforts along Route 66.

This organization focuses on supporting the continued vitality and use of the corridor, encouraging tourism, and generating economic opportunities for communities along the route.

Some of the key locations along Route 66 that showcase diverse architectural styles and represent the rich history of the highway include:

  • Santa Monica Pier: The western terminus of Route 66, the iconic Santa Monica Pier, is an example of early 20th-century amusement park architecture.
  • Motels and roadside attractions: The eclectic mix of motels, service stations, and roadside attractions along the route reflect various architectural styles, from the mid-century modern motels to art deco gas stations.
  • Historic bridges: Route 66 features numerous historic bridges, some dating back to the 1920s, offering a glimpse of the engineering prowess of the time.

As we progress with preservation efforts, it’s essential to honor the diverse cultural, architectural, and historical significance that Route 66 holds. By recognizing the unique sites and architectural styles along this storied highway, we can ensure its legacy is maintained and celebrated for generations.