Today, Route 66 is yet another decommissioned U.S. highway, mostly crumbling, partly inaccessible. Yet the 2,400 miles winding from Chicago to Los Angeles once connected hundreds of the West’s small towns, opening them to travelers like never before. What brought the decline of “America’s Main Street”?
On view through January 4 at L.A.’s Autry Museum, the exhibit Route 66: the Road and the Romance reveals a complicated story with extraordinary objects, from Kerouac’s original On The Road scroll to a jukebox filled with 120 renditions of “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66.”
Born in 1926 out of the Good Roads Movement (a push for improved national highways championed by bicyclists and city boosters), Route 66 was among the original highways of the U.S. system. “Highways in the early 20th century were designed to connect urban and rural communities, and break the monopoly of the railroads,” says Jeffrey Richardson, Gamble Curator of Western History, Popular Culture, and Firearms at the Autry. “With its strange, sickle-cut path, Route 66 did just that.”