As Route 66 Turns 80, Restoration Efforts Thrive

Saturday, November 11th 2006, 2:06 pm

By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Eighty years later, people are still getting their kicks on Route 66.

Old U.S. Highway 66 marked its 80th anniversary on Saturday, and even though the roadway has fallen into disrepair in some places, efforts are under way to preserve the spirit of the blacktop ribbon that novelist John Steinbeck once called the Mother Road.

The National Park Service has a Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, and this week in Oklahoma City, representatives from the eight states the highway crosses, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, met and visited two restoration projects that are being funded with federal cost-share grants.

One of those properties is Owl Court in Oklahoma City, which likely started in the early 1930s as a gas station. By the 1940s, it included a garage, cafe, motel rooms and a managerial residence.

John Dunning said he bought the property to keep it from becoming a parking lot. He's been renovating it for three years, with the intention of opening small motel rooms. That plan made him eligible for $10,000 in Park Service grants, but he must match that amount with money, materials or labor.

Another Oklahoma City property on the highway undergoing renovation is the Tower Theatre. The preservation committee approved funding to help repair the theatre's neon marquee.

Those attending this week's meeting wanted to see examples of how other Route 66 properties might be restored, said Michael Taylor, a representative of the federal Route 66 preservation program.

The idea of the grant program is to assist current owners of Route 66 properties in restoring buildings that might not be eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, Taylor said.

The grants say, ``This is an important property on Route 66. This is a stamp of approval,'' Taylor said.

He added that the highway now appeals primarily to those in an older generation and to foreign tourists.

Its spirit has lived on through the years in the song ``Route 66'' and in reruns of the 1960s TV show ``Route 66.''

The song, with the lyrics, ``Won't you get hip to this timely tip, when you make that California trip, get your kicks on Route 66,'' has been recorded by everyone from Nat ``King'' Cole to the Rolling Stones.

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