Tag Archives: Googie

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Fill ‘er up

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

Polly want a pit stop?

If you’re going to take a road trip, at some point you’re going to need to refuel. And nobody knows how to fill your tank like the folks on Route 66. Of course, since the route crosses a big swath of American oil country, you’ll know that the milk of the Mother Road is petroleum.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Cuba, Missouri

The thing is, though, the designers and architects and advertisers and engineers responsible for putting gas stations all along the route got into the spirit of 66 in their own unique ways. Forget what you know about ugly garages lining Interstate exits—many of Route 66’s filling stations are downright works of art.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Cuba, Missouri

And many of them look absolutely nothing like gas stations.

Interestingly, the Mother Road was built at a time when more and more Americans owned automobiles—all over the country there was an increasingly large demand for petrol. Filling stations moved into town centers and residential neighborhoods, and some oil companies wanted their fuel stops to blend in with the neighborhood architecture.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Since American architecture is highly regional in nature, many of these “camoflaged” filling stations took on the look of their local culture—Spanish-Mission-style canopies in California, limestone façades in the Ozarks, clapboard farmhouse lookalikes in the Plains, etc. And then, of course, architectural tastes changed over the years, so you’ll find examples from the Victorian era to midcentury pop-Googie, and everything in between. (Not to mention the tradition of kitschy filling stations shaped like random objects or weird ho-made roadside giants.) Finally, each oil company wanted to attract customers away from the others, so they relied on creating distinctive architectural styles as a form of branding. The result is a veritable encyclopedia of diverse and spectacular specimens—and Route 66 might just have the best collection of all.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Albuquerque, New Mexico

After a few hundred miles, we started getting really good at spotting the buildings that used to be filling stations (this is an obvious one, but many had been deeply camoflaged, or totally remade in some other image, or else fallen into ruin). And we also developed a knack for pegging which style belonged to which company (above is a classic 1930s Texaco design).

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Tulsa, Oklahoma

Then again, sometimes a building would throw us completely—the sealed-up garage bays hint at the Blue Dome’s history, but if I didn’t know better, I would have guessed this was once a Greek Orthodox church or something.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Spencer, Missouri

The filling stations of Route 66 also serve as markers of time’s passage, and the rise and fall of communities along the way. This one is all that remains of a ghost town in Missouri that fell into disuse when the highway changed its route. (I’m not talking about the advent of the Interstate, either, although that’s a common story—this place lost its prime spot decades before that, when the 66 alignment was simply moved to a spot further south.)

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Ranco Cucamonga, California

While many petroleum relics have faded into oblivion, others are being brought back, at least in some form or other. Above is one of the oldest specimens we found (it actually predates the birth of Route 66 by nearly a decade). While part of the structure has been torn down, at least the main part of the station is getting a lovely facelift.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Needles, California

It’s not just the oldest samples being preserved, either. This guy is only a little over fifty years old, but it, too, has been returned to its former glory.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Normal, Illinois

For many old stations, however, the opposite is true. Countless specimens either sit empty, their original purpose unknown to the average passerby—or else they get cannibalized and transformed into some other creature, usually without any fanfare.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Hydro, Oklahoma

These stories of disrepair and restoration interest me greatly, of course, but what really gets me is the story of each place: the whys and wherefores of each station, and the tastes and quirks of the people who either built or ran them.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Cool Springs, Arizona

After all, Route 66 crosses through some seriously unpopulated territory. Many of these old filling stations were the only game in town—or in the most remote corners, something closer to the last chance for salvation.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Commerce, Oklahoma

While others, meanwhile, live on in notoriety, attracting tourists to the spots where blood was shed or infamous characters once stood.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Odell, Illinois

Still, most tell the story of perfectly ordinary people running perfectly ordinary businesses along one of the backbones of American travel and commerce. They might be extraordinary today, but usually that’s boils down to having somehow lasted long enough to stand out amongst more modern surroundings.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Shamrock, Texas

I’m glad, at least, that I’m obviously not the only one who has noticed these things—that there is an army of conservators and historians and artists and boosters out there, preserving as many of these old filling stations as possible, and documenting the ones that can’t be saved.

I know that these days, oil companies have fallen out of public favor (heaven knows I have my own beef with the oil industry)—regardless of their nostalgia, these places are also reminders of American excess and the damaging effects of fossil fuels. Yet however we may be careening toward Peak Oil, these relics still have a place on the Mother Road—the path that might just traverse this country’s Peak History.

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Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Tucumcari tonite

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

Most of the must-see treasures of Route 66 are individual landmarks or legends: Meramec Caverns, the Oatman burros, the Gemini Giant. But one of the most important stops along the way is an entire town. Welcome to Tucumcari: Googie oasis of yore, midcentury Cibola of 2000 motel rooms.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Today’s Tucumcari is somewhere halfway between worlds, simultaneously a time machine and a crumbling architectural ruin. To me it felt the way it would to visit Pompeii, only to find the city still inhabited. This is the place where, much like the stretch of 66 through Albuquerque, you can find rusted neon masterpieces everywhere you look—

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

—except here, the neon is equally likely to mark a still-operating motel as a defunct one.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Yet while the town’s pulse still keeps a beat, that mythical number of motel rooms has diminished somewhat.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I’m sure the motels aren’t the only ones—for every business still standing, I had to wonder how many had disappeared.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Still, Tucumcari seems to take pride in its place along Route 66. Take the famous Tee Pee Curios (no, I didn’t misspell my sketch; the building uses both spellings at once!), which remains one of the most documented attractions of the Mother Road.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Sadly, I didn’t get inside, as we rolled in to town too late the night before, and we had to leave before it opened for the day. Still, it was good to see the place in such fine fettle, new coat of paint and all.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

But that’s okay: the real gem of Tucumcari, and perhaps the crown jewel of all of Route 66, was where I got to devote my time. The Blue Swallow is the perfect symbol of Tucumcari: still alive, still authentic, still beautiful.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The night we spent at the Blue Swallow was the one we’d been looking forward to the most on that trip, because we just needed proof that there were still places like this left on the planet. As soon as we crossed the threshold to our room, we knew the place was in good hands.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

It was like stepping into 1939. The place was meticulously authentic (not to mention spotlessly clean and bright). Whatever wasn’t actually original to the room (and almost all of it was) was carefully restored to the correct period—right down to the 1939 Bell rotary-dial phones. Heck, even the price of the room was a total throwback.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

For me, at least, the Blue Swallow was incredibly comfortable. Maybe it’s because I live in an old house with old furnishings and old fixtures, but I just felt right at home. Anyway, this is the sort of thing I want on a road trip like this. I would have been incredibly sad if we’d opened that door to find the plaster replaced with drywall or a huge flat-screen TV taking up one wall. As it was, I nearly cried from relief to find things just as they were from the beginning.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Places like the Blue Swallow and towns like Tucumcari are an endangered species. American culture, in general, prefers the new and novel to the historic—the freeway to the meandering path. That’s why it’s such a miracle that there’s any Route 66 left to enjoy at all. For every vintage motel that manages to keep thriving with each passing year, another closes its doors. And that’s why it’s going to take all of us to keep these places alive.

Still, whatever the future might hold, I’m glad to see there’s still a beating heart in Tucumcari tonite.

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Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Running the Googie gauntlet

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

If you want to see a good concentration of neon signage you can visit the Miracle Mile in California, or you might try 11th Street in Tulsa. Or you just can head straight for the Googie Mecca. I gave you just a taste of it in last week’s installment, but I figured it was worth elaborating a bit.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

There are actually two Route Sixty-Sixes in Albuquerque, as the Mother Road’s path changed from a north-south route to an east-west one. (That’s a story in and of itself, which I’ll tell in a future post.) And both alignments of the old highway are absolutely crammed with vintage neon.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Central Avenue is the more recent incarnation of 66, cutting roughly a fifteen-mile neon swath through the heart of the city.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Googie beacons point the way from the eastern boundary…

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

…to the far western edge of town. At the peak of Route 66’s heyday in the mid-1950s, there were apparently 98 motels along Central Avenue—yet even in 2015 I lost count of how many old signs we passed.Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The Mother Road signage isn’t limited to lodging, either.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Many of the signs were in fine fettle, either newly restored or lovingly maintained. Still, we passed business after business that had very recently been shuttered for good—a reminder that the Route 66 Mom-n-Pop is an endangered species.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

About fifteen or twenty years ago, stretches of Central Avenue and its motel relics were plagued with the hallmarks of hard times: drugs, violent crime, human trafficking. Yet in recent years the remaining business owners have made an effort to clean up the thoroughfare and their properties, particularly from Nob Hill inward.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The contemporary result is example after gleaming example of gorgeous storefronts and restored midcentury typography.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I just couldn’t believe our luck—we’d hit the Googie jackpot.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

There wasn’t time to finish even a single sketch that day—it was all I could do to keep up by jotting down messy, temporary pencil scrawls. The “To Finish in the Studio Later” debt I incurred that day was enormous, and I’m still paying it off. I haven’t even showed you everything here—just my favorites (oh, that canary Cleaners storefront! A sketch will never do that beautiful, pristine façade the justice it deserves).

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

So, yeah. I loved Albuquerque already, for other reasons, but Route 66’s mark on the city pushed it into the stratosphere for me. The only downside is that now the bar has been raised a goodly height—and at least where old neon is concerned, it’ll be hard to find anywhere else that can hold a candle to the Q.

 

Sno-White sign sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Googie fairytale

I’m utterly amazed that this sign is still here; that I can refer to it in present tense, rather than with “Once upon a time.” I’m gobsmacked that it’s been so lovingly maintained; that (with the exception of switching from white to its current blue) the lettering is completely unchanged; that the façade is still white as the name suggests. I remember passing this sign a million times as a kid, and being attracted to it even then. I have a sneaking suspicion that this sign may be the reason I ended up becoming a lettering artist—that Sno-White taught me to love a slab serif and a good old-fashioned script.

Palm Springs sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Desert welcome

Well, since I posted my sketch of “The Palm Springs of Washington” the other day, I think it’s only fitting to show you the Palm Springs of…uh, Palm Springs. I have to admit, I don’t like this welcome sign quite as much as the charming ho-made white lie in Yakima, WA, but I guess the real Palm Springs requires a gateway with a little more polish and panache.

I was chatting with someone who grew up in Yakima the other day, and these signs came up in conversation. He said, “Maybe one day Palm Springs will call itself ‘The Yakima of California!'”

It could happen, right? Well, I can at least picture what the sign would look like…

Skylark motel signs sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Kitschy kitchenettes

Just like the neighboring town of Manitou Springs, Colorado Springs is filled with midcentury neon signs and fabulous Googie lettering. This sign is one of my very favorites. It’s been altered a bit over the years, but the fact that a relic like this still exists in a town that’s changing and expanding at a rapid pace—well, it feels like a bit of a miracle to me.

Elephant Carwash sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Pink pachyderm

If the Yoken’s whale is the queen of the east coast’s Route 1, then the Elephant Carwash sign surely must rule Highway 99 in the west. The restaurant inside the Space Needle can eat its heart out—this jumbo gal is my favorite spinning landmark in the Emerald City.

Elephant Carwash sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Silver Spur sign sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Spurred to sketch

I really have no idea why this sign isn’t where it’s supposed to be (in Durango, CO), and why we stumbled upon it at Hole n’ the Rock instead. But since Durango wasn’t on the list for that trip, and I never would have made this sketch otherwise, you won’t find me complaining!