Issue: Summer 2013

Get Your Kicks: Route 66 Revisited

by Scott Martin

You’ve probably been able to “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” in Hollywood, but didn’t even know it. Yes, our very own stretch of 3½ miles along Santa Monica Boulevard was once part of the legendary Route 66 that ran 2500 miles from Chicago, Illinois all the way to Santa Monica, California. Now fragmented and convoluted, you can still see local remnants today if you look closely… a Route 66 street sign by the Formosa Café or a commemorative Route 66 Plaque on the outside of the Linoleum City building.

Composer Bobby Troupe ("Get Your Kicks on Route 66")

Designated a National Highway on November 11, 1926, Route 66 has been the subject of folklore, books, romance, song and legend ever since. Despite the fact that it was officially decommissioned on June 27, 1985, the name lives on and is celebrated for the significant role the long-stretching road played in our nation’s history as well as helping in the development of many regional and local economies. None more than in Hollywood, where many of our most important early moviemakers came west to avoid Thomas Edison’s merciless enforcement of his motion picture patents. Although before the inception of the actual highway, their emigration led the way for hundreds of thousands more to arrive at the Entertainment Capital of the World well into the 1960s.

Another 200,000 used Route US66 during the 1930s to escape Dust Bowl conditions in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado and New Mexico. They came in search of dreams, in search of work, to support their families and create new homes in the promised land of the West. The haunting photos of Dorothea Lange still inspire when you look into those travelers’ eyes. The families drove in everything that would carry them, mostly in rickety 1920’s cars and trucks, but some lucky ones in later 1930’s models. The road became the focal point of one family’s arduous travels from Oklahoma in John Steinbeck’s Nobel Peace Prize winning book, The Grapes of Wrath which spurred further songs by both Woody Guthrie and Bruce Springsteen.

Known alternatively as the “Mother Road”, “Main Street America” and ‘Will Rogers Highway” the most recent route as Route 66 came through the Arroyo Parkway from Pasadena, onto Sunset Boulevard, then straight down Santa Monica Boulevard to the city of Santa Monica. For any history buffs, Arroyo Parkway was the first freeway in Los Angeles, later named the Pasadena Freeway, which has since gone back to “Arroyo Parkway” and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

The song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” written in 1946 by Bobby Troup has become one of the most iconic and enduring elements of Route 66 by including the names of all but one of the cities which the route followed. It was not used as the theme song of the television show but has been covered by over 50 artists including Nat King Cole, Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones, Depeche Mode and John Mayer.

The Route 66 television show, starring Martin Milner (who beat out Robert Redford for the role) and George Maharis has spawned on-going yearly car rally’s and doubled the sales of the Corvette its first season. Running from 1960 to 1964, the program featured two socially conscious men cruising the USA along Route 66 coping with shifting relationships and lifestyles. The adventurous show with some themes taken from Jack Kerouac’s book On The Road was shot in 40 states but several of the episodes were filmed locally in Hollywood and Los Angeles.

It is interesting to note that the “Golden Age of Hollywood” was considered to have started in 1927, the year that “The Jazz Singer” was released and the year after Route 66 was launched. The film and automobile businesses seemed to develop and grow in many similar ways and along the same timelines. Early director Cecil B. DeMille remarked, “The American love of motion and speed was embodied in the two industries.” Although the “Golden Age” supposedly ended in 1963 and Route 66 was not de-commissioned until 1985, Hollywood, the auto business and Route 66 continued to grow in parallel during all those years and Santa Monica Boulevard has continued to be one of the major lifelines connecting business and personal traffic through the region. Of course, you can find much auto-related business on the thoroughfare to this day, including auto and motorcycle dealerships, auto body shops, gas stations and insurance agencies.

Local Route 66, or Santa Monica Boulevard, is currently a diverse four-lane street featuring every type of commercial and retail enterprise, located in a combination of old and newer storefronts, converted warehouses, strip malls, brick and deco buildings and modern structures. Looking beyond the facades of the street business can be compelling. Although much of the history of the buildings has been lost, many of the spaces have been passed down from generation to generation. The mom and pop businesses continue to be the lifeblood of the community and many families depend on them.

The Hollywood portion of the corridor “officially” begins on the East side at Uni Discounts Swap Meet and is bordered on the West by Formosa Avenue (and the original Samuel Goldwyn Studios). The historic Formosa Café located there is now part of the West Hollywood Gateway complex. The Trolley Car-turned-lounge has been owned by the same family since it opened in the 1930’s and was frequented by most Hollywood aristocracy of the 40’s and 50’s.

A thriving entertainment community continues to flourish along “Theatre Row” and different portions of the boulevard. The Gardenia Supper Club and Cabaret has been providing live entertainment since 1982, The Virgil continues to feature DJ’s and live acts, and Hudson Theatre offers a live concert on the “Route 66 Music Tour”. The historic Circus and Arena clubs are available for filming.

Although the original Hollywood Hotel stood farther north at Hollywood and Highland, it played a huge part in the development of the city so it is fitting that the relocated structure has become Hollywood’s “official” Route 66 hotel. Its director, Jeff Zarrinnam, is very active in the Route 66 Business Improvement District, which seeks to create an alliance of property owners along Santa Monica Boulevard.

Other notable locations along the 3 ½ mile route, some with a relatively long Hollywood history, include the Eastman Kodak Building, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church established in 1912, Paramount Recording Studios and Nadine’s Music. Restaurants along the boulevard tend to be more of the mom-and-pop variety, but there are several newer eateries in the West Hollywood Gateway complex including Baja Fresh and Jersey Mike’s.

The next time you’re ready to take the old convertible out for a drive, throw Depeche Mode’s “Route 66” on your iTunes, crank it up and cruise from Pasadena down the Arroyo Parkway to Sunset Boulevard, turn onto Santa Monica Boulevard and drive West through Hollywood. After stopping to eat and shop, continue on the scenic route through West Hollywood and Beverly Hills to the City of Santa Monica. The old Route 66 finds its end before reaching the sea at a commemorative Will Rogers plaque at Ocean and Santa Monica Boulevards, but many celebrate its final stop at the Santa Monica Pier. You’ll be satisfied to know that you’ve made a close new old friend that you didn’t even know was there… the famous Route 66. DH

A car lover, Los Angeles native, Scott Martin's career has ranged from the music business to the auto industry.  Now an independent autobroker, his photos and articles appear in numerous specialty publications.