Mother Road may lead tourists to downtown Joliet
July 27, 2012 8:20PM
Minooka resident Ron Blazekovich (left) and Channahon resident Rick Arambasich (center) share a laugh with Joliet Mayor Tom Giarrante (right) before a ribbon cutting to mark the renaming of the Joliet Restaurant to The Joliet Route 66 Diner as part of a Destination Marketing program for downtown Joliet Thursday, July 26, 2012, at 22 W. Clinton in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 15, 2013 1:47PM
Joliet is lucky to have Route 66 cutting right through the heart of the city’s downtown. It’s just one more tourist draw to try to entice people to restaurants, the Rialto Square Theatre or to other city attractions.
I attended a ribbon cutting on Thursday for a rebranding of the Joliet Restaurant into the Joliet Route 66 Diner. It was a creative marketing idea by Tom Mahalik, vice president of the City Center Partnership.
As it turns out, Route 66 epitomizes a trend in America to preserve its heritage but then to use that preservation for “heritage tourism,” according to a 2011 Route 66 Economic Impact Study conducted by Rutgers. So Joliet is wise to try to capitalize on this phenomenon.
Other interesting Route 66 facts in the Rutgers study included:
The 2,448-mile road was commissioned in 1926. Only 800 miles were paved. Route 66 originally terminated in Los Angeles but was extended to the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica in 1935.
From 1936 to 1938, an estimated 210,000 Midwesterners fled the Dust Bowl by traveling west on Route 66 to California.
In 1956, Congress approved the Interstate Highway System, which would lead to the demise of Route 66 as a main east/west artery.
By 1984 all of Route 66 had been replaced by Interstates 55, 44, 40, 15 and 10. In 1985, the road was decommissioned. In the late 1980s, Route 66 preservation associations begin to form, including one in Illinois in 1989.
In the late 1990s, Route 66 was declared a State Heritage Tourism Project in Illinois.
And finally, in 2001, the National Park Service Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program was established.
One side note in the Rutgers study is the mode of transportation people have used to travel Route 66. They have jogged it, walked it and driven it, and one man from France tried walking it on stilts.
Route 66 may be world renowned, but for local Joliet kids growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, the road (now called Route 53) was just a local highway for cruising, said Ron Blazekovich, whose cherry-red 1962 Olds 442 was one of three vintage cars parked outside of the Route 66 Diner for Thursday’s ribbon cutting.
“We’d put 100 miles on the car and never leave town,” he said. “We would race from light to light. The police never bothered us back then.”
Blazekovich said he wasn’t alone. Mayor Tom Giarrante was quite a gearhead back in the day, too, Blazekovich tattled.
“He had a ’62 Chevy that ran good,” Blazekovich said of Giarrante, who grew up just a few doors down on the 600 block of Des Plaines Street.
“You could eat off of that thing,” Giarrante boasted about his car.
So it seems the Mother Road has something to offer to each generation. And today in Joliet, it’s a way to kickstart the local economy.
If you want more information on Route 66, including a chance to buy the “EZ66” guide book, visit the Route 66 Welcome Center at 204 N. Ottawa St. or visit www.illinoisroute 66.org.