DOWNTOWN — It seems locals and tourists alike will now be officially “getting their kicks” all the way down to the Santa Monica Pier.
After years of being dubbed the unofficial end of the famous Route 66, the pier will be officially named the western end of the historic route by the Route 66 Alliance on Wednesday, the 83rd anniversary of the highway’s inception.
The event will begin at 9 a.m. with a procession of 66 vintage cars and motorbikes that will begin at Santa Monica and Lincoln boulevards and end at the pier. People will meet up with the motorcade and a ceremony will follow with live music featuring the unveiling of the long-lost Route 66 “End of the Trail Sign.”
Although its true origin is unknown, many believe the sign, which marked the unofficial end to the highway, was placed at Santa Monica Boulevard and Ocean Avenue overlooking the Pacific Ocean as a prop for a movie shoot, said Dan Rice, CEO and founder of the 66-to-Cali apparel shack on the pier.
Approximately 50 years ago, the sign mysteriously vanished, only adding to the folklore, mystery, and public appeal that has shrouded the entire highway.
The highway was eventually dedicated to Will Rogers in 1952, with City Hall placing a commemorative plaque at the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Ocean Avenue, further solidifying the location as the unofficial terminus of Route 66.
The Route 66 Alliance, an organization that aims to preserve and promote the highway, has worked closely with the Santa Monica Pier Restoration Corp., and 66-to-Cali, to lead the effort in naming the pier as the official terminus.
“There has been a question over the years, especially foreign tourists, as to where to end [their] trip. [They ask,] ‘Where do I go?’ ” said Jim Conkle, chairman of the Route 66 Alliance and one of the planned speakers at Wednesday’s event.
Conkle feels that the new official end is solely for the benefit and convenience of the tourists.
“We aren’t trying to rewrite the history books. The accepted end or beginning is going to be the Santa Monica Pier; it gives a tourist and tour groups a place to start and finish,” said Conkle.
Rich in history
Often referred to as “America’s Main Street,” Route 66 officially opened in 1926 and spanned from Chicago to Los Angeles. Unlike many of the highways at that time, the non-linear setup of Route 66 connected rural towns to metropolitan areas. Farmers in the smaller regions of the Midwest were now able to transport and sell their goods to the bigger, more populated cities.
John Steinbeck famously referred to the highway as the “Mother Road” in his 1939 classic “The Grapes of Wrath,” highlighting the over 200,000 people who traveled to California to find work during the Great Depression.
During World War II, the highway served as a vital means of mobilization for the military.
With the institution of the Interstate Highway System through the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 under President Eisenhower, Route 66 became increasingly obsolete. In 1985, Route 66 was removed from the highway system.
Since the termination of the highway, there has been some controversy surrounding the historical ending of Route 66. Before it became discontinued, the highway officially had two endings. It first terminated in Downtown Los Angeles, but was later moved to the intersection of Olympic and Lincoln boulevards, a segment of Highway 1 in 1936 to comply with federal regulations.
Conkle feels the new ending will allow tourists a more scenic and fulfilling end to their 2,500 mile journey across the highway.
“If you go to Olympic and Lincoln, would you not go a mile away and see the Pacific Ocean?” said Conkle.
Conkle recognizes the new terminus doesn’t change the official historical end of the route, so no city codes or regulations had to be dealt with in the official naming of the pier.
Even after its formal removal, the history and the tradition of the highway continues to attract locals and tourists from all across the world
Route 66 has significantly helped the local economy and has drawn a large amount of tourists for years, said Alison Best, vice president of sales and services for the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“Any given week you can go to the visitor center on Ocean where there is a Route 66 sign, and there are so many people who request to take a picture,” said Best. “The [new terminus] creates an end, brings people to the pier, and lets [tourists] get out of their car and experience the beach and pier. ”
For Rice, who has traveled along the highway throughout his life, it is an old-school lifestyle of the people along Route 66 that has continued to intrigue him.
“I’ve made so many friends on Route 66,” he said. “These people seem to be taught in the decency and the kindness of 50 years ago. Their interest in you as a person was beyond any place you could find. I just fell in love with the people.”