What Tulsa needs to do for Route 66

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The City of Tulsa is asking for public to submit ideas for Route 66-themed artwork to be placed at the Admiral and Mingo traffic circle.

Tulsa is considering installation of new public art in the Traffic Circle at the intersection of East Admiral Place and North Mingo Road, on the original 1926 to 1932 alignment of Historic Route 66. This was the original site of a tourist court operated by Cyrus Avery, the "Father of Route 66". Mouse over the postcard to see more about the tourist court.

What artistic concepts appeal to you: Serious or humorus? Historic or futuristic? Traditional or avant garde? Static or kinetic? Funky and eclectic?

Share ideas for public art that YOU think would advance Route 66 tourism in Tulsa to capture the imagination of Route 66 enthusiasts. You may also attach a photo to further illustrate your idea.

Here is the comment I submitted:

What draws visitors from around the world to Route 66? It's the chance to relive the golden age of American auto travel through the buildings and businesses that line the old highway. Route 66 enthusiasts come to experience cafes, tourist courts, and gas stations, streamline Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern architecture, neon signs and landmark buildings, and to meet small-business owners like Dawn Welch in Stroud and Laurel Kane in Afton who have breathed life into these places that were long ago bypassed by the interstate. Route 66 thrills foreign visitors who want to connect to America's distinctive character -- the independence embodied by auto travel, small-business entrepreneurship, and wide-open spaces.

Spending money on some "iconic" piece of new art misses the point of Route 66. If we have money to spend to attract Route 66 enthusiasts to Tulsa, it would be better spent on funding the preservation and restoration of historic buildings and signage. The federal Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program helped restore dozens of historic sites along the highway, including the Vickery Service Station at 6th and Elgin, for a mere $10 million. By comparison, the $15 million Tulsa County voters set aside for Route 66 in Vision 2025 has done little to promote preservation, while neon signs continue to be replaced with backlit plastic and historic buildings are bulldozed.

We already have a piece of "iconic" Route 66 art at Cyrus Avery Plaza. The historic Meadow Gold sign and the Warehouse Market tower are iconic as well. Our city's Route 66 efforts should be concentrated on (1) protecting and restoring the historic resources that attract Route 66 travelers; (2) developing material to promote those historic resources to be available online and brochures at tourist sites, welcome centers, and accommodations along the full length of Route 66; (3) providing directional signage and interpretive signage to make it easier for visitors to get on 66 and then back to the interstate, find the most interesting sections of the road through Tulsa, and know what they're looking at when they get there. Sites that are in the spirit of Route 66 but not right on the highway -- e.g., the Golden Driller, the Admiral Twin Drive-In, neon signs like Sheridan Lanes and Moody's Jewelry -- should be included as landmarks of interest for the visitor.

Much could be accomplished with the existing hotel/motel tax money which is earmarked for tourism development. The city should consider special historic preservation zoning districts to discourage demolition and to ensure that new construction is in keeping with the historic character of different portions of the route.

UPDATE 2015/11/03:

Swa Frantzen is a Route 66 enthusiast and pioneer of the World-Wide Web, a Belgian who established a website devoted to the highway in 1994. Frantzen gave a talk last week at the Miles of Possibility conference, explaining how Europeans view Route 66 and what cities can do to better attract foreign Route 66 enthusiasts. Authenticity, not streetscaping or museums, is what these visitors are seeking:

Authenticity is valued by Europeans, and that includes so-called eyesore properties, Frantzen said. Historic sites shouldn't be "overly restored," and streetscaping and beautification efforts aren't deemed authentic by Europeans.

"It doesn't have to be pretty, clean, cheerful, slick and freshly painted," he said. "Don't be so quick to repaint it."

Originality also is valued by European travelers. Frantzen says efforts by towns to set up a Route 66 museum, a welcome gateway, murals on every wall and painted water towers are too common.

With historic preservation, Frantzen says a mantra of "preserve if you can, restore if you have to" should be adopted. Restoration, he said, should be done carefully, or else you irreversibly lose the property's originality.

I suspect city officials resort to streetscaping, museums, and gateways because they involve new construction, and so they can follow the familiar pattern of municipal contracting. (New construction also means bigger budgets and bigger contracts for friends in the business.) Preservation grants to building owners are not as familiar, but the National Park Service's Route 66 Corridor program has demonstrated a workable pattern that produced excellent results.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 6, 2015 6:09 PM.

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