Santa Monica Boulevard is the final stretch of America's Main Street, the historic Route 66 that connected people along a route that began in Chicago and meandered across America.
In 1926 the U.S. government established Route 66 as the flagship project in the emerging federal highway system. From the moment of its inception Route 66 captured the minds of entrepreneurs, travelers, dreamers and those who were merely desperate for a better life. It was a completely paved avenue to the west, to the Golden State, and to a land of opportunity. In its day it was the longest highway in the world. For the first time in history people could easily travel, in relative comfort, to places far from home.
John Steinbeck's epic novel "The Grapes of Wrath" called Route 66 "The Mother Road". It was the escape route for thousands of farm workers and land owners fleeing the dust bowl that plagued the Midwest and in particular Oklahoma. Steinbeck was the first to see the road as a cultural icon. For him the route was a metaphor representing man's desperate journey. It was a road along which could be found moments of great humanity.
After World War II, Route 66 was an artery for thousands of GIs looking for work in Southern California. The government was pumping billions of dollars and creating new industries and Route 66 was how much of the work force arrived. As the automobile culture grew so did the opportunity for roadside entrepreneurs. Route 66 gave birth to a truly American mix of art and business in the form of themed motels, gas stations, and roadside diners. From Chicago to Los Angeles travelers could enjoy the local flavor of creative businesses that saw Route 66 as a great opportunity.
Growth paved the road for more growth. Highways were replaced by freeways. Route 66 finally gave way to an interstate. But like many American icons, Route 66 lives on in the collective imagination of our social consciousness. The act of looking down the road towards a better future is the bedrock of the American Dream. Today numerous communities along the 2,500 mile route are fighting to preserve the legacy of this iconic stretch of American history. Once again the Mother Road is the inspiration for creative people looking for not only a brighter future but also a rich connection to the past.