Construction of the interestate highway system and subsequent bypass of Route 66 decimated the historic business districts of communities along the highway corridor from Chicago to San Bernardino, California. Author Joe Sonderman in Route 66 In Arizona, noted that in Holbrook, Arizona, after completion of the bypass in 1981, “…45 businesses closed within a year.” This story of decline was told in the animated film Cars released n 2006. Needles, California was one of those communities that was dramtically transformed with the completion of I40.
But there is ample evidence that a rennaisance is dawning in this dustry desrt crossroads on the banks of the Colorado River. Shortly before her election as mayor this past fall, Janert Jernigan in a published interview said, “And I want to maintain and help support the businesses here, especially the downtown. We have to protect that.” She also said that maintaining the integrity of the downtown area including Santa Fe Park and the El Garces, and attracting additional small businesses, were additional priorities.
That pledge and her vision for the future were made manifest in the annual Route 66 Info Fair that took place at the historic El Garces on February 11. Also on display were the passion of volunteers and community organizers such as Judy Coffman Thornton and her husband Mike. Initially launched by the California Historic Route 66 Association the fair is growing in size and scope.
The speed with which initial details were released for the third annual Route 66 Info Fair in 2024 is another example of Jernigan’s visionary leadership. Scheduled for February 10, initial plans are for displays from Route 66 vendors and businesses, tours of the historic El Garces complex, presentations by a variety of authors, historians, and lecturers, an art show in the west end of the El Garces and a craft fair in the Santa Fe Park.
Displays, presentations and exhibits at the 2022 Route 66 Info Fair mirrored the rich diversity of the evolving Route 66 renaissance. Wade Bray of SRO Productions shared videos from the AAA Route 66 Road Fest in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and answered questions about the 2023 event scheduled for June 23-25. Si Garcia Sr. of the Fort Mohave Indian Tribe shared traditional bird songs. Historic reenactor Debbie Miller Marschke portrayed Olive Oatman and shared Oatman’s amazing story.
There were programs about Edsel Ford’s trip along the National Old Trails Road in the summer of 1915, and African American dude ranches in Victorville during the era of segregation. Mike Thornton, the guide at the El Garces, brought the story of the historic hotel complex to life as he shared his passion for the property as well as stories about his familes long association with the railroad and Needles.
The Jim Hinckley’s America table was a virtual Route 66 travel planning center. Visitors guides provided by the City of Tucumcari and OKlahoma Route 66 Association, and brochures from Atlanta, Illinois, Cuba, Missouri, Amarillo, Texas and other communities were available. Author Jim Hinckley assisted with Route 66 travel planning and answered questions. He also deomonstrated the narrated self guided Kingman, Arizona historic district walking tour developed by Kingman Main Street that was unveiled during National Road Trip Day festivities in 2022.
If you are making plans for a Route 66 odyssey, include Needles as a stop. As the renaissance on the river gains steam Needles is being transformed into a destination.