Downtown Needles, CA: Public learned about historic Route 66 during California Historic Route 66 Association’s Route 66 Information Fair.
The California Historic Route 66 Association held a Route 66 Information Fair on Saturday, February 2nd, 2019 inside the El Garces Harvey House, also known as the El Garces Train Depot, in Downtown Needles, California.
The public got to check out the different displays informing the public of the history of Route 66, what are the different sites to see along Route 66 and how to preserve Route 66 so that future generations to enjoy and learn this part of American history.
Route 66 (also known as U.S. 66 or U.S. Route 66), also known as the Will Rogers Highway, the Main Street of America or the Mother Road, was one of the original highways in the United States highway system. U.S. 66 was established on Thursday, November 11th, 1926, with road signs erected the following year. The highway, which became one of the most famous roads in the United States, originally ran from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending in Santa Monica, California, covering a total of 2,448 miles (3,940 km).
U.S. 66 was recognized in popular culture by both the hit song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” and the Route 66 television show in the 1960’s. In John Steinbeck’s classic-American novel, The Grapes of Wrath (1939), the road, “Highway 66”, was turned into a powerful symbol of escape and loss.
U.S. 66 served as a primary route for those who migrated west, especially during the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s, and the road supported the economies of the communities through which it passed.
People doing business along the route became prosperous due to the growing popularity of the highway, and those same people later fought to keep the highway alive in the face of the growing threat of being bypassed by the new interstate highway system.
U.S. 66 underwent many improvements and realignments over its lifetime, but was officially removed from the United States highway system in 1985 after U.S. 66 had been replaced in its entirety by segments of the interstate highway system.
After Route 66 was decommissioned, federal and state agencies, private organizations, and numerous members of public realized that remnants of the road were quickly disappearing, and that the remaining significant structures, features, and artifacts associated with the road should be preserved.
In 1990, the United States Congress passed Public Law 101-400, the Route 66 Study Act of 1990. The act recognized that Route 66 “has become a symbol of the American people’s heritage of travel and their legacy of seeking a better life.”
The legislation resulted in the National Park Service conducting the Route 66 Special Resource Study to evaluate the significance of Route 66 in American history, and to identify options for its preservation, interpretation, and use. This study led to enactment of Public Law 106-45, and the creation of the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program.
In 1999, New Mexican lawmakers Senator Pete Domenici and Representative Heather Wilson pushed a Route 66 preservation bill through United States Congress. The $10 million proposal, which was signed by United States President Bill Clinton, helped preserve and restore pieces of the route.
Portions of U.S. 66 that passed through Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, and Arizona have been communally designated a National Scenic Byway of the name “Historic Route 66”, returning the name to some maps.
Several states have adopted significant bypassed sections of the former U.S. 66 into their state road networks as State Route 66.
The public also got to be entered into a raffle for free T-shirts that have the famous Charlie Brown character Spike who lives in Needles, California desert, and take a guided tour of the El Garces Harvey House (Known today as the El Garces Train Depot for Amtrak service).
Early in the 1900’s, when trains were the principal means of personal transportation, depots gave travelers a first impression of their local destinations and provided for the security and comfort of the railroad’s clientele. Design and materials were important to both surrounding communities and railroad companies.
After the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Depot at Needles burned in 1906, the railroad spared no expense on its new facility. Built to suggest a Greek temple and opened in 1908 to great adulation, El Garces was a freight and passenger depot with hotel and restaurant amenities. The depot took its name from missionary Father Francisco Garces, known as the first European to cross the Mojave Desert.
The beauty of the El Garces welcomed people large Mexican Fan Palms native to the site surrounded the two-story building with its distinctive symmetrical facade, and architect Francis S. Wilson included interior open-air loggias upstairs and down. Tuscan columns placed in pairs supported these walkways well the interior ceilings were ornamental and intricate egg-and-dart detailing edged the woodwork.
The depot was manage by the Fred Harvey Company. Fred Harvey managed a large line of cafes and hotels along the Atcheson, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. Motorists also availed themselves of Harvey establishments, including El Garces, after the construction and marking of the National Old Trails Highway during the 1910’s. This highway often ran parallel to the railroad, providing a continuous automobile route between St. Louis and Los Angeles.
Whether traveling on the Atcheson, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad or along Route 66, patrons appreciated the quality of service that Harvey establishments provided. A Harvey-run restaurant or hotel often had the nicest dining facilities and friendliest service in town. El Garces was known for linen and silver, distinctive china, and fresh flowers that it provided daily for guests. The lunchroom had two horseshoe-shaped counters and could serve 140 people. According to the Harvey Girls, who traveled the country to work for the company, El Garces was a crown jewel in the enterprise. An assignment to the Grand Canyon, to Las Vegas, or to El Garces was “like going to Europe.” Community members also used the facilities for private dinners, banquets, and special occasions.
Though motorists and railroad passengers alike made El Garces a popular destination through the end of World War II, the waning popularity of railroad passenger service in favor of automobile travel took a toll on Harvey Houses. Automobile travel was accessible to people with a wider range of incomes, who often could afford to travel but not to dine or stay at a place as opulent as El Garces.
El Garces closed as a Harvey House in the fall of 1949, at which time the building was partitioned and used as Santa Fe Railway offices, but in 1988, the Santa Fe Railroad moved to another facility and closed the building.
Abandoned, El Garces was under threat of destruction until a local group formed in 1993 as the Friends of El Garces. The group petitioned the City of Needles to purchase the station, an effort that succeeded in 1999. The National Park Service recognized the building’s significance in 2002, by listing it in the National Register of Historic Places. Tours as well as community events and private parties have been held at the El Garces during the day well during the overnight hours, Amtrak’s Southwest Chief passenger train service continues to service the community daily from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California.
The City of Needles along with other local groups and organizations continue to work on ways to keep the history of both Route 66 and the El Garces alive and to bring more people in to enjoy these important parts of transportation and traveling history that help grow America.
** Pictures from ZachNews: **