The story of U.S. Route 66, the federal highway from Chicago to the end of the continent at Santa Monica, could not be more entwined with the story of Los Angeles. Opened in 1926 as the inspiration of an Oklahoma booster, the highway carried many thousands of families (including mine) to new lives in California. Route 66 was the escape route from the Great Dustbowl and the racial repression of the South, as well as the trail on which legions of vacationing Americans discovered their own country.
The Autry National Center of the American West in Griffith Park opened an exhibit this month filled with archival treasures that bring the story to life. There are artworks from along Route 66 by Maynard Dixon (above), Jackson Pollock and Ed Ruscha. The exhibit has the handwritten page from "The Grapes of Wrath" manuscript that introduces the mother road, John Ford's Oscar for the film version, the Getty's beautiful print of Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother, a Woody Guthrie guitar, a Corvette, plus maps, road signs (including a full set of Burma Shave messages) and guidebooks, such as the Travel Guide of Negro Hotels and Guest Houses, put out by Afro-American Newspapers in 1942. Blacks traveling Route 66 were not allowed to patronize many establishments, and were advised to stay out of several dozen so-called "sundowner" towns at night. The guide was essential to the safety of traveling families.
One of the items that curator Jeffrey Richardson is most happy about displaying is Jack Kerouac's original manuscript for the book that became "On the Road," typed in one extended paragraph on a single long roll of paper. Route 66: The Road and the Romance will be on display until January 4, 2015.