Framework

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June 28, 1977: Under heavy clouds, a car and trailer zip along a stretch of Route 66, converted to Interstate 40, near Sayre, Okla. This photo was published on Page One of the July 24, 1977, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Bill Varie / Los Angeles Times

June 28, 1977: The old Route 66 now serves as a frontage road, right, that parallels Interstate 55, south of Springfield, Ill.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Bill Varie / Los Angeles Times

June 28, 1977: Frank Marten, 64, of Haywood, Ill., stands along old Route 66 - now a frontage road. His family has owned land along Route 66 for more than 50 years.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Bill Varie / Los Angeles Times

July 19, 1977: David Muniz, 17, hawks watermelons from a truck on Route 66 in Gallup, N.M. He's selling melons to help pay for college.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Bill Varie / Los Angeles Times

July 19, 1977: Cars on Interstate 44, left, near Lebanon, Mo., whiz by an old 66 Motel sign. The weather-beaten Route 66, right, is now a frontage road. This photo was published in the July 24, 1977, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Bill Varie / Los Angeles Times

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When Route 66 was fading away

By 1977, most of old U.S 66 was replaced by the post-World War II interstate system. Some sections become frontage roads, others abandoned. Route 66 signs were being removed.

Los Angeles Times staff photographer Bill Varie and staff writer Michael Seiler traveled parts of Route 66 for a July 24, 1977, Los Angeles Times article. Here are excerpts from Seiler’s lengthy page one article:

Steinbeck called it “the mother road, the road of flight” and all of us have traveled down it.

The shorter, less important highways feed into it, and beginning with the Depression and the Dust Bowl, it was our route west to California.

We loaded our Model A’s, our Country Squires and our VW Beetles and, from Dubuque and Dayton, McAlister and Muskogee, we found U.S. 66 and rode it to Los Angeles.

Metaphorically, anyway, we have all driven 66 and, as such, it has a special place in that vague concept called our National Consciousness.

First, John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” celebrated it. Then the song “Route 66” immortalized Gallup, Tucumcari and other unlikely places. Finally, there was the television show of the same name about two young drifters in a Corvette.

Stirling Silliphant, who created the show, perhaps came as close as anyone to describing the mystique of U.S. 66 when he was asked why he chose “Route 66” as the title:

“It just seemed to be right. We shot just a couple of dozen of the shows along Route 66 but it was a symbolic title…. It’s an expression of going somewhere … the best known American highway, cutting across America. It’s a backbone of America.”

Silliphant’s “backbone of America” is still there, stretching more than 2,000 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles, but it’s getting more difficult to find. In fact between Chicago and Joplin, Mo., 600 miles away, there’s only one U.S. 66 sign.

It’s not much of a sign at that. It appears above an overpass between Chicago and the industrial suburb of Cicero, no doubt an oversight on the part of the Illinois Department of Transportation, which has removed all the other U.S. 66 markers in the state.

They’ve been replaced with I-55 signs–a process that has occurred to a lesser degree, all across the route of what used to be U.S. 66. U.S. 66 simply doesn’t exist anymore as a major cross-country highway.

Along many stretches, what used to be U.S. 66 has been widened, repaved and cut off from access roads. It’s I-55 now, or I-44, or I-40, or I-15 or I-10. Nobody’s going to write songs about I-15, are they? …

According to the Federal Highway Administration, of the 2,131 miles of highway between Chicago and Los Angeles, all but 384 of them are completed and up to interstate standards. …

U.S. 66, before the signs were taken down in California last year, followed Foothill Blvd. through the San Gabriel Valley, went down Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena, across on Huntington Drive to Sunset and Santa Monica Blvds., and finally to the sea. …

On June 27, 1985, U.S. 66 was officially removed from the U.S. highway system. It had been entirely replaced by the interstate highway system. But many sections of the road were saved. Portions of the old road are now designated a National Scenic Byway under the name “Historic Route 66.”

June 28, 1977: Miles of empty rolling hills are crossed by old Route 66 west of Springfield, Mo. The route designation had been changed to Missouri 266. This photo was published in the July 24, 1977 Los Angeles Times.

June 28, 1977: Miles of empty rolling hills are crossed by old Route 66 west of Springfield, Mo. The route designation had been changed to Missouri 266. Credit: Bill Varie/Los Angeles Times.

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