Meadow Gold sign: Your tax dollars at work
The City Council last week voted to accept the donation of the huge neon Meadow Gold sign, which will be removed from its current location (to be torn down for yet another 11th Street car lot). The committee overseeing the $15 million in Vision 2025 funds allocated to Route 66 has recommended spending $30,000 toward the estimated $60,000 required to dismantle and restore the sign. Nearly $9,000 has been raised from individual contributions, and $15,000 in National Park Service grants, with more grant money being sought.
This is money well-spent.
Yes, you read that correctly. The voters approved money to make Tulsa's stretch of Route 66 more of a tourist draw. It certainly has that potential, as next week's International Route 66 Festival demonstrates. There is international interest in the old road. People make their way from Europe and Japan and drive the road from one end to the other, seeking out old diners, motels, tourist traps, and the scenery of the American west. A few years ago, a group of Norwegian motorcyclists spent the night in Tulsa during their run down Route 66. The oldest site on the web about Route 66 is based in Belgium. Here's one attempt at explaining the road's international appeal:
Chick Kirk, a volunteer with the California Route 66 Museum in Victorville, cited a fourth reason for the highway’s appeal, especially to foreigners:
“It symbolizes the American Way of Life.
“A nice young man from France told me that travel bureaus all over Europe have posters celebrating Route 66 as the authentic America — the U.S. equivalent of cobbled stones as opposed to the autobahn.”
Since the museum opened Oct. 25, 1995, visitors from 42 foreign countries have signed the guest book. Zimbabwe, Bulgaria, Pakistan, Zaire — all are represented. But most foreign pilgrims come from Japan or Western Europe.
“Three weeks ago,” Kirk said, “a Japanese man bought $500 worth of Route 66 mementos in our gift shop. When I asked him why, he said he’s building a gas station/soda fountain in Tokyo. Its theme: the American Way of Life.”
Museum volunteer Francy Williams recalled two men from the Netherlands who had biked all the way from Chicago to Victorville, “without a flat tire.”
According to Betty Halbe, a third volunteer, “Germans bring their cars over here, drive Route 66 and then ship their cars back home.”
For Route 66 cruisers, Tulsa could either be a brief pit stop or a place to spend a day or two exploring. The key is what we do with the historic assets that remain along the old highway. Buildings and businesses that might be considered hopelessly tacky in another context are exactly what Route 66 cruisers are hoping to find. Neon -- the bigger and gaudier the better -- is an important element of that. We need to take good care of what remains.
Back in 2000, I served on the research committee of the Convention and Tourism Task Force. The committee was stripped of most of its duties and reason to exist early on, when the Chamber Pots running the show realized the committee was full of arena skeptics. Toward the end of the task force's work, after another committee came up with a list of projects, our committee was given the job of figuring out how to pay for it. Bob Lemons, from the Mayor's office, warned us that we were not permitted to debate the merits of any of the projects. We were only allowed to decide which funding approach to recommend. The project description for a proposed Route 66 item (which was dropped from the final version) called for some of the funds to be used for "demolition and clearance," but no money at all to be spent on restoration and preservation. There was talk of turning Route 66 into a tree-lined boulevard, which would miss the whole point of Route 66. I'm pleased to see that the committee handling this Route 66 project is of a different mindset.