Mid-Century Roadtrip: Route 66 Part 1
Labor Day weekend started off with the most beautiful weather here in St. Louis. Usually this early in September, the temperatures are still sky-high and the humidity even more so. Seizing the day (and getting away from our computers for awhile) my husband and I decided to drive a bit of the Mother Road and see how far we could get in a day. We live just off of one branch of Historic Route 66 (there are multiple branches through the St. Louis metropolitan region) and have often ogled the part of history that can can still be spotted along the route here in the city. Donning sunglasses and hats and opening the sunroof on Shirley (our cars are named Laverne and Shirley, natch), off we went to wherever our adventure would take us!
Route 66 through the city of St. Louis and into the inner suburbs ends at the ring road, Interstate 270. There are no parts of old Route 66 left between Sunset Hills and Allenton, so we had to drive out Interstate 44 for the first part of the journey. Our first stops were in Pacific, Missouri.
The Red Cedar Inn and Restaurant was built in 1936 just as Route 66 extended to Pacific. It was built by two brothers, James and Bill Smith, with timbers logged from their family farm. The restaurant was very popular with travelers along the highway and existed as a restaurant until 2005. From 2005 until recently, decedents of the family tried different options to stay in business. It was finally shuttered in 2010. For good or bad, the Red Cedar Inn now houses an HVAC contractor, so it is again in use.
The Beacon Motel was once located on the south side of Route 66 between Allenton and Pacific. The owners of a local Pacific car wash would frequently drive by the shuttered motel, watching the Beacon neon sign deteriorate. They rescued the sign and installed it in front of their business, restoring the sign and receiving accolades from the Route 66 Preservation Society of Missouri.
Villa Ridge was our next jump-out-and-look stop for the Gardenway Motel. The motel was built in 1945 at what was then the western terminus of Route 66. The hotel remained in operation (I remember it from my childhood) until 2014. The large Gardenway Motel sign (right) was erected when Interstate 44 was constructed, to lure travelers off the Interstate to stay for the night. Although only three years have passed since its closing, the buildings and signage have really been ravaged. It's a sad story.
Built in the 1940's the Sunset Motel (above, left) was a small motel of only twelve units. In 2009 the motel sign (porcelain with neon) was refurbished along with the Entrance and Exit signs with a grant from the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program. The original intent was to have both apartments and a few motel-style rooms for nightly guests. It appears to only be apartments at this time.
The Indian Harvest Trading Post (above, right) looks like a vintage stop along Route 66, but it is not. We stopped only to take the photo and, after reading the stories and reviews, were really glad we weren't accosted by the owners.
Old Route 66 has some beautiful architecture, but my favorite home was this private residence. Those splayed columns! The exposed beams! Be still my heart. It really is a beauty.
Along this part of the route is also St. Clair, Missouri, home of the Lewis Cafe. If you are touring the area, stop in for lunch. The food is delicious, and they make their own sausage and for dessert, pies! Come hungry.
Next was Cuba, Missouri, home of the refurbished Wagon Wheel Motel. Construction began in 1934 when the owners hired a stone mason to build their cabins, along with a service station and restaurant on the premises out of local Ozark limestone in a Tudor Revival style. It was originally called the Wagon Wheel Cabins, but was changed to the Wagon Wheel Motel in 1963 when the ownership changed hands. The motel was most recently purchased in 2009 and every unit lovingly restored.
The original Wagon Wheel Motel neon sign (below, left) was designed by the second owner who changed the name from "Cabins" to "Motel". The new owners added a second neon sign (below) on the east side of the property in 2013 so that visitors are greeted from both sides of the motel. The Wagon Wheel Motel is the oldest continuously operating motel on Route 66 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Route 66 meanders over Interstate 44 and over rivers and creeks. The most notable crossing is Devil's Elbow Bridge over the Big Piney River in Devil's Elbow, Missouri. The Devil's Elbow comes from how the river takes a "devil of an elbow" and the name was born. An old truss bridge, you have to be careful driving it so as not to be distracted by the majestic beauty of the area.
The Totem Pole Trading Post has been a Route 66 institution since 1933. (The sky was really THAT blue.)
Uranus, Missouri, is not a real town (it's a destination, as their marketing department exclaims) but was a kitchy stop which pairs with the vibe of the historic road. And who doesn't love a T-Rex with those cute, tiny little arms?
We almost drove by the Alpine Haus Motel in St. James, Missouri. It's in town, tucked in between strip malls. How that gigantic cantilever works, I'll never know. Like many other historic motels, it hangs on by being both motel and apartment building.
The stark juxtaposition of motels is at its peak in Lebanon, Missouri. On the north side of the road sits the Forest Manor hotel. Like the others, it appears to be an SRO.
The Munger Moss on the south side was built in 1945 and is still a popular stop on Route 66 today. The reception area beckoned us with the promise of a gift shop, and it delivers. Not only does the shop have a great number of Route 66 items, but we were also able to meet Ramona, the owner of this motel since 1971.
Just remember, places like Ramona and the Munger Moss, the amazing Wagon Wheel, Lewis Cafe and the Totem Pole are able to make it by people lodging, shopping or dining. Support these wonderful establishments!
Our last stop of the night was Conway, Missouri, home to the Rocking Chair restaurant. Their claim-to-fame are their cinnamon rolls which are - no joke - as big as your head. We opted for the buffet for dinner, so I will have to return to partake in the cinnamon rolls!
And return we will - another weekend we'll start where we left off. We also have to go east on Route 66, so stay tuned, and as soon as we road trip again, we'll tell you all about it right here!