Get Your Kicks at LA's Autry Museum

RTE66_Web_2 You’ve heard of car shows, but how about a road show? One road that deserves its own display of history and memorabilia is venerable Route 66, also known as “America’s Main Street.” The Autry National Center of the American West in Los Angeles has opened just such a show, bringing, as the LA Times describes it, “the lure and allure of the highway” to a new generation. The exhibition, which opened last Sunday and will run through January 4, 2015, is entitled “Route 66: The Road and the Romance,” and it covers a lot of road. RS-043The exhibition is split into four sections, starting with the Roots of the Route, which explores how the industrial revolution created the need for a national system of roads to service both commerce and travel. Artifacts on display in this segment include an 1895 Columbia bicycle, a sign from the National Old Trails Road, and a mailbox from 1900 representing the Rural Free Delivery system. The next section is The Mother Road, which shows how important the highway was during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl era in providing mobility for millions of Americans seeking to stay one mile ahead of ruination. Icons from this era on display include photographs by Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, and Horace Bristol, and one of Woody Guthrie’s road-worn Martin Guitars. Closing out the section is a display on how important was the New Deal to the road’s expansion and maintenance, and how important it was as a military transport route during WWII. jack-kerouac-on-the-road-scrollAnother Roadside Attraction explores the road during the postwar boom, showing it as a  representation of freedom and exploration. One of the displays is Jack Kerouac’s original manuscript for On The Road which has never before been displayed in Los Angeles. You can also hear Bobby Troup’s immortalization of the highway in the song “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66″ which was a huge hit from the era. The last section is End of the Trail. By 1956, Route 66’s stretch of two-lane had been bypassed by the interstates and allure of air travel. This is the era when both the road, and the business and attractions it supported, fell into ruin. Many of those would close as America once again transitioned from one economy to another. The road itself would suffer as well. This is exemplified by pieces of asphalt from the original roadway, and photos from Ed Ruscha’s Twenty Six Gasoline Stations (1963). The 2006 Pixar movie Cars is also used as an example of how the road’s decline affected everything around it. Route 66 was officially decommissioned in 1985 The Autry wouldn’t close the road on Route 66’s rich history on such a sad note however, and the section ends not with that, but with “examples of the work of the National Park Service and preservationists to restore and revive the road’s rich history and heritage, an ongoing process initiated in 1999 with the enactment of the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program.” Western-Motel-Neon-SignRoute 66 is perhaps the most famous hunk of highway in the world, venerated in song, story, and of course, in the efforts of those to keep its memory alive. Today, more than 85% of 66’s original route remains drivable, and some businesses have remained viable catering to the nostalgia crowd. If you can’t get out to make the trek, the exhibition at the Autry will certainly give you a feel for what it must have been like over the course of its existence. Should you find yourself in LA between now and early January, or nearby – heck, there are plenty of freeways here after all – you might want to make a stop at the Autry to catch the exhibit. The Autry National Center of the American West is located at 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles, CA 90027. The museum is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM and 10 to 5 on Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $10 for adults, $6 for students and seniors 60+, $4 for children ages 3–12, and free for Autry members, veterans, and children age 2 and under. Admission is free on the second Tuesday of every month. Parking is free. See The Autry for more info. All images: The Autry      

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