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Journey to Help Make Route 66 a National Trail Ends in Santa Monica This Week


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Editor's note: A previous version of this article stated that Route 66 ended at Santa Monica Boulevard and Ocean Avenue. It ended at Olympic Boulevard (Route 66) and the junction of Hwy 1 (Lincoln Boulevard).

August 1, 2018 -- A nearly 2,500-mile journey to help make Route 66 a National Historic Trail will end Friday at a drive-in diner in Santa Monica blocks from the end of America's most storied highway.

The Airstream trailer that made the "epic" month-long journey from Chicago will be stationed at Mel's Drive-In on Lincoln and Olympic, where a celebration will be held from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at what was once the old Penguin Coffee Shop.

Penguin Cafe in Santa Monica
The Penguin Coffee Shop (Photo Courtesy of Santa Monica Librrary Image Archives )

During the trip -- sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation -- the 27-foot trailer became a "mobile museum of Route 66 souvenirs, postcards, photos and memorabilia," organizers said.

National Geographic chronicled the journey, which provided "a passenger-side view of the people, places, and stories that make it an icon of the American landscape."

In Santa Monica, the magazine's writer and photographer will "reflect on their experiences," organizers said. "And of course, there will be plenty of Route 66 swag to spare!"

The road trip is the centerpiece of the National Trust's campaign "to help preserve the 'Main Street of America'" and earn the coveted National Historic Trail designation from Congress.

“Driving Route 66 is the quintessential American road trip,” said Amy Webb, the Trust's senior field director. “It is the most iconic, culturally-celebrated, and internationally-recognized stretch of highway in America.

"By promoting this authentic experience, we can help preserve a beloved icon and at the same time, revive local economies in rural communities.”

If the campaign is successful, Route 66 would become the 20th National Historic Trail in the U.S. ("Federal Funding Could be Headed to Route 66 After 'Most Endangered' Designation," July 13, 2018).

The designation would make it eligible for federal funds to promote and upkeep the road and the sites that border it, Trust officials said.

Among the other trails that have won the designation are the Santa Fe and Lewis & Clark Trails.

Mel's diner -- formerly the Penguin Coffee Shop-- is a fitting place to end the journey, preservation officials said ("Restaurant Returning to Santa Monica’s Old Penguin Coffee Shop Location," September 23, 2016) .

The building is a "stone's throw" from the end of Route 66 at Olympic Boulevard (Route 66) and the junction of Hwy 1 (Lincoln Boulevard) and exemplifies the architecture in vogue when the road became the main highway for vacationers heading to Los Angeles.

"After spending the last 25 years entombed beneath a dull drop ceiling and the beigest of beige drywall, Santa Monica's vintage 1959 Penguin coffee shop has been restored to its Googie architecture glory," preservation officials said.

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