As automobiles began to populate the American landscape, the need for a system of interstate highways became a necessity.
One major inroad towards that goal was realized on November 11, 1926 when one of the first U.S. highways, Route 66, was established. Cyrus Avery, an Oklahoma businessman, was an early champion of the route and proposed that the number 60 be assigned to name it. But because the number was also favored for another highway, Avery settled on “66” as he thought it would be an easy number to remember.
The road originally ran from Chicago to Los Angeles and passed through Monrovia. Arriving in town along Huntington Drive, the route initially turned right on Shamrock Avenue, then left on Foothill Boulevard, returning to Huntington via Santa Anita. After 1933 it simply continued straight on Huntington.
Today a vintage gas station on Shamrock near Recreation Park is one of the remaining structures that greeted travelers to Monrovia. Also still standing from those early days is Harding Court (at Foothill and California), just one of many motor courts that lined the Route 66 highway along its 2448 mile stretch (when it opened, only 800 of those miles were paved.
It wasn’t until 1937 that the entire length was paved). , which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, is an example of the numerous and unique structures that could be found all along this historic route.
As a major east-west artery of transportation, the highway was a favorite route of farmers (derogatorily named “okies”) from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, and Texas who sought to escape the harsh “dust bowl” conditions in those states during the depression years of the 1930s. The increased traffic along the road helped spawn a growth spurt of small businesses which catered to those early travelers.
In early 1991 the City of Monrovia became the first town in California to place signs along the historic route. Twelve signs were erected on Huntington Drive between Mountain and Fifth Avenues, and they can still be seen today, although somewhat faded due to exposure to the sun. Sadly, no signage exists that celebrates the fact that Route 66 once passed through the town along Shamrock and Foothill.
And last year Glendora changed the name of Alosta Avenue to Route 66, partly in recognition of the fact that the highway passed through the town and partly to help improve business along that stretch of road.
Route 66 was removed from the United States highway system in 1985 because the expansion of the interstate highways made travel quicker and more efficient. As a result many businesses were forced to close as travelers bypassed to smaller towns in favor of reaching their destination in a shorter time. But many people today still have fond memories of their days traveling on the “Mother Road.”
On October 4, 2012, at 7:00 p.m. in the Monrovia Library Community Room, the Monrovia Historic Preservation Group will host a talk by Duarte resident and author Claudia Heller on the history of Route 66. The event is open to the public.