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Route 66 Historic Building Surveys

(Released: March, 2003)

Many of you have been hearing about the “brick and mortar” cost-share projects that the National Park Service’s Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program has been funding over the past two years. In addition to these exciting projects, the Program has also been able to fund historic building inventories/surveys conducted by the State Historic Preservation Offices of Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, and New Mexico.

These projects were awarded funds during the fiscal year 2001 cycle, and they have just recently been completed. The surveys were carried out by architectural historians in consultation with the respective state Route 66 Associations and by researching documents that provide information on the road’s history. From this research, a historic context was prepared, which provides a description of Route 66 and its significance to each respective state. These contexts will be posted on our website within the next couple of months. The surveys also involved getting out on the road, where extant Route 66 properties were identified and photographed. For each property, an inventory form was completed that described architectural type, condition, and integrity. Each state survey was as comprehensive as possible, given the time and funding made available for the projects. The surveys recorded properties directly associated with Route 66, such as roadbeds, bridges, gasoline/service stations, restaurants/cafes, motels/tourist courts, recreation travel stops, and roadside parks/markers.

If you like numbers, the following figures will give you an idea of the breadth and types of historic properties recorded:

In Oklahoma, more than 350 miles of roadbed were investigated. Approximately 47 properties have been determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Sixteen properties are already listed on the National Register because of their association with Route 66. The Oklahoma Route 66 Association, through the State Historic Preservation Office, also conducted a roadbed survey of all road alignments and integral structures (e.g., bridges, culverts, guard rails). About 114 properties were inventoried, 24 of which are recommended for nomination to the National Register.

In Texas, 178 miles of Route 66 were surveyed, and 657 properties were identified, 345 of which are in Amarillo. Of the 657 properties surveyed, 38% are vacant, the majority of them outside Amarillo. Approximately 115 are gas stations, 57 are food-related, 85 are lodging-related, and 349 are general commercial buildings. Of the 657 properties surveyed, 358 (55%) were constructed after 1949. It is being recommended that 24 of these properties and one district (Glenrio) be determined eligible for the National Register.

New Mexico updated a survey conducted in the early 1990s. Approximately 532 properties were checked for condition and integrity. About 39 have been demolished since the 1991 survey, representing 7% of the previously surveyed properties. Thirty-five properties are already on the National Register, including five road alignments. Seventy-five additional resources were added to the inventory during the re-survey. The preliminary recommendations are that 37 additional properties be determined eligible for nomination to the National Register.

Missouri updated and expanded on a survey that had been conducted in 1992. A total of 348 properties have been recorded, of which 50 have been determined eligible for nomination to the National Register (one of which is the Steak n’ Shake in Springfield!). The survey project also produced National Register nominations for the Big Chief Restaurant in Pond, the Red Cedar Inn in Pacific, the Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, the Rock Fountain Motor Court in Springfield, and the 66 Drive-In in Carthage.

The short but highly significant stretch of Route 66 in Kansas yielded over 100 historic properties associated with the historic road. National Register nominations were prepared for three of these properties, including the Williams’ Store in Riverton, the Baxter Springs Independent Oil and Gas Company Station in Baxter Springs, and the Route 66 Historic District east of Galena.

So what does all this mean? The surveys provide base-line information that will help us in determining what the most significant and representative historic properties are along Route 66. Over the next few years, we can use this information to guide us in determining preservation priorities along the historic road, as well as to pursue the preparation of National Register nominations with owners of properties that have expressed an interest in doing so. As discussed in an earlier column, listing on the National Register of Historic Places honors the property by recognizing its importance to the community, state, or nation. It does not impose any responsibilities upon the private property owner for maintenance or restoration. Benefits include the potential to obtain Federal historic preservation funding, when funds are available. National Register income-producing properties can also apply for Federal investment tax credits for rehabilitation, as well as state tax credits in select states. The survey work can also help us with looking at trends in what is happening with the historic properties out on the road: Why have 7% of the historic Route 66 properties in New Mexico been destroyed since the first survey was conducted 12 years ago? We can’t save everything, nor do we want to. But are there ways to provide incentives for property owners in urban areas to rehabilitate many of the old gas stations, vintage motels, and classic cafes before the bulldozers move in for redevelopment? Or, for vacant rural historic properties that have been cut off from federal highway traffic for 50 years, are there ways to revive them to profit from heritage tourism, which pays the bills for many businesses on Route 66?

If you want to learn more about the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, and link to information on such topics as the National Register, projects awarded funds, or the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Preservation, please visit our web site at www.cr.nps.gov/rt66.

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