A stone’s throw away from the smiling Penguin atop Mel’s Diner is a piece of unnoticed history– the endpoint (technically) of Route 66. This Friday, August 3, Mel’s will host a party-like celebration of the famous route with local and state groups in an attempt to educate and inspire people to sign a petition to bring a National Historic Trail designation for Route 66.

Currently, the route is protected under The National Park Service Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, a program which provides preservation planning, research, and educational initiatives among many more services. However, the program must be renewed every few years, currently set to terminate next year. A permanent designation would essentially operate as the current program, but perhaps bring more to the route and surrounding communities.

To raise awareness of the designation efforts, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is going on a road trip throughout the entirety of Route 66, stopping in various towns and cities, it’s last stop ending at the end of the route, At Mel’s in Santa Monica.

“The designation status would bring many things,” Andy Grabel, Associate Director of Public Affairs for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said. “National Awareness, being recognized by the government, and being in the national park system. It would have the opportunity to reach more people and increase the chance for private and federal dollars to come into these communities.”

The designation effort has support from the political world as well, with Grabel saying a bill has been passed by the House with bipartisan support.

“[Route 66] signifies our culture on the open road and the growth of American economy. The cultural significance — regardless of political preference — is recognized. This campaign is bringing this to a wider audience.”

Carol Lemlein, president of the Santa Monica Conservancy, applauds the designation effort.

“Its apart of our cultural heritage,” Lemlein said. She regards the route as a main vein of Americana; to hear her speak about it, you’d come away with the understanding that the route is irreplaceable, an artery of travel through big cities,  its asphalt capillaries stretching out into smaller communities.

She adds that people taking interstates as opposed to the route are causing communities around the route suffering, missing one-of-a-kind, interesting natural views, architecture, and towns that look like they’re from a bygone era.

“I think it represents a mode of travel of our past,” she said. “The family road trip certainly isn’t something that’s gone but nowadays people are on the Interstate. Back in the day people were interested in the scenic byways. There’s still an opportunity to do that on 66. If you take time to stop and explore you can see some interesting things.”

angel@smdp.com