Santa Monica Lookout
The End of the Mother Road in Santa Monica
By Jason Islas
March 13, 2013 -- Starting in Chicago, Illinois, the world-famous 2,451-mile highway known as Route 66 winds through six states, until it finally comes to an end, overlooking the Pacific Ocean at the iconic Santa Monica Pier.
The view from the Palisades bluffs where Ocean Avenue meets Santa Monica Boulevard is a picturesque end to what John Steinbeck dubbed the Mother Road in Grapes of Wrath. It's fitting that the ocean and the vibrant sounds of the playground on the Pier would greet travelers who followed a road that, for generations, had been traversed by those in the search of a better life, self-discovery or just a good time.
Except that the famous view of the beach at the end of the road -- which officially opened on November 11, 1926 -- isn't actually at the end of Route 66.
“The Pier was never the official end,” said Dan Rice, past president of the California Historic Route 66 Association. “But the spiritual ending was still over at the Pier.”
Then where exactly is the official end of Route 66 end? It depends on who you ask.
In 1926, when the U.S. government opened the first paved highway connecting Chicago to Los Angeles, travelers along Route 66 would find themselves deposited in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles at Seventh Street and Broadway, the first official end of Route 66.
“They connected all the major cities' Main Streets, like a connect-the-dot puzzle,” said Rice, who is also the proprietor of "66 -- to -- Cali" on the Santa Monica Pier.
At the time, Santa Monica was starting to bourgeon into something more than just a weekend getaway spot for Los Angelenos. In 1921, the Douglas Aircraft Company (later McDonnel Douglas) built its first plant in the bayside city. And by the end of the decade, the population had more than doubled.
By 1936, the route had become more than just a road for the thousands of starving farmers and their families who fled westward along Route 66 away from their homes in Oklahoma and the cataclysmic drought that had destroyed their crops. It was a lifeline that connected them to the promise of fertile lands and new lives in California.
As more and more people were moving to California to escape the ravages of the Great Depression, Route 66 was extended all the way west to the intersection of Olympic and Lincoln Boulevards, the second official terminus of the route.
According to Federal highway regulations at the time, Rice said, the end of one highway had to connect to another, so when Route 66 was extended from Downtown L.A. to the coast, it joined Highway 1 (also known as the Pacific Coast Highway).
To this day, Rice said, people are confused when they learn where the route actually ends. That confusion is only compounded by the fact that, for the filming of a movie in 1935, a sign was placed at Santa Monica Boulevard and Ocean Avenue that reads: “Santa Monica, 66, End of the Trail.”
The Lincoln and Olympic intersection was only one of four official ends the route has had over the course of its life.
When Interstate 10 was completed in the 1960s, Federal officials dubbed Arroyo Park Way and Colorado in Pasadena the new terminus.
Later, in 1975, the end was pushed farther east, in to Arizona and in 1985, the Federal government officially decomissioned the whole road.
Though it was never officially the end of the route, for many, the Santa Monica Pier offers a more satisfying conclusion to the cross-country journey, said Rice, who has traveled the road 27 times.
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