Route 66 still holds allure for travelers, industry

Mon Jun 18, 2012 9:26am EDT
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By Kevin Murphy

CARTHAGE, Missouri (Reuters) - Route 66 hasn't been a real highway for almost three decades.

The last section of the fabled U.S. route from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, was dropped as a federal highway in 1984. But its hold on travelers' imaginations has revived motels, diners, souvenir shops, gas stations and other buildings along the old route.

The enduring fascination, along with some federal grants, has helped Route 66 thrive, even as people old enough to remember its heyday die off.

"People are looking to see the real America, not Walt Disney's version," said Ron Hart, director and founder of the Route 66 Chamber of Commerce in Carthage, Missouri.

A Rutgers University study released in March estimated that people spend $132 million annually along old Route 66, which crosses eight states and is marked in some places by ceremonial signs.

Visitors encounter attractions like the Boots Motel, which Hart, as property manager, restored to its late 1940s glory ahead of its re-opening last month.

Built in 1939 and once visited by actor Clark Gable and singer Gene Autry, the Boots had fallen into disrepair and become a flophouse for drug addicts and illegal immigrants, Hart said.

Under its new owners, five rooms have been renovated and more are set to be redone. Guests are treated to touches like real keys, chrome light fixtures, chenille bedspreads, monogrammed towels, built-in dressers and an old radio tuned to a station that plays 1940s hits. No TVs in the rooms - just a non-working late 1940s model in the lobby. If you want ice, the staff brings it to your room.   Continued...

Expanded Disneyland California Adventure Park features signs from Route 66 as a theme in Cars Land at the park in Anaheim, California June 5, 2012. REUTERS/Alex Gallardo