Offbeat L.A.: Get Your Kicks! The Route 66 exhibit at the Autry Museum

Original Route 66 sign (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Original Route 66 sign (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Originally published June 10, 2014 at The Los Angeles Beat

The song "Route 66" was recorded by Nat King Cole in 1946 (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

The song “Route 66” was recorded by Nat King Cole in 1946 (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)


“If you ever plan to motor west
Travel my way,
Take the highway that’s the best
Get your kicks on Route 66

It winds from Chicago to LA
More than two thousand miles all the way,
Get your kicks on Route 66…” -written by Bobby Troup, 1946


Route 66 stretched across these states (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Route 66 stretched across these states (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)


First created in 1926 and soon coming to symbolize adventure and freedom, the 2,448-mile stretch of Route 66 became a romantic cornerstone of the American dream that lives on in our collective hearts to this day. It is the stuff of hopes, of escape, of wanting to be anywhere, anywhere other than where we are at this moment… a lust for forward movement and expansion. Traversing through eight states and winding up in the dreamland of sunny California, it finally dead ends in Santa Monica near the churning blue waters of the Pacific.


Route 66 in pop culture (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Route 66 in pop culture (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Since it is both mythic and historical and so connected with being the throbbing vein, the main artery that once brought the population west, it is only fitting that The Autry Museum would present an exhibit honoring this road of hard truth and folklore. On view from June 8th to January 5, 2015 the Autry exhibits Route 66: The Road and Romance, a collection of over 250 items of memorabilia and artifacts connected to this highway of dreams. It documents the history of the road, from the hardscrabble Okies fleeing the depression era dust bowl searching for an easier life in California, to the Route’s eventual hip status in pop culture and road trip coolness.

Keroac's 120-foot long fever dream (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Keroac’s 120-foot long fever dream (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

“… the people are in flight, and they come into 66 from the tributary side roads, from the wagon tracks and the rutted country roads. 66 is the mother road, the road of flight.” -John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

Here you will see the original 1938 pencil-written manuscript for Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, one of Woody Guthrie’s well-strummed guitars, travel souvenirs from along the highway, road signs, kitschy ephemera and the amazing 1951 original manuscript for Jack Keroac’s On the Road. This last piece is worth the price of admission alone, vividly expressing Keroac’s amphetamine fueled road fever. It is typed, single spaced, on 8 long rolls of tracing paper that the author fed through his typewriter over the three weeks he took writing the book. Taped together afterward, it makes up a magnificent single roll over 120 feet long.

Route 66 car culture (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Route 66 car culture (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

The demise of Route 66 was, not surprisingly, linked to progress… Bigger, better, faster. The construction of interstate bypasses had a huge impact on tourism along the old highway. The last stretch of crumbling Route 66 was finally bypassed in 1984. Although it is still possible to drive the full route, it had become somewhat of a ghost highway. Luckily the strong pull of romance and nostalgia that got travelers interested in the first place has kept younger generations fascinated. In 1999 the federal government passed legislation to preserve Route 66, making it now as popular a tourist destination as it ever was.

Woody Guthrie's guitar (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Woody Guthrie’s guitar (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Given that, it is with even more of a sense of vibrancy that this worthwhile Autry exhibit is finally realized. Make sure you see it and maybe it will inspire you to take a little road trip of your own. But whatever you do “don’t forget Winona. Kingman, Barstow, San Bernadino…”

The Autry Museum: 4700 Western Heritage Way; Los Angeles, CA 90027.

About Nikki Kreuzer

Nikki Kreuzer has been a Los Angeles resident for more than half of her life. When not working her day job in the film & TV industry, she spends her time over many obsessions, mainly music, art and exploring the oddities of the city she adores. So far she has written 100 Offbeat L.A. articles, which she started in 2013 while writing for The Los Angeles Beat. She has also been published in the LA Weekly,, Twist Magazine, Strobe and Not For Hire. Nikki is also is a mosaic artist, working actor and published photographer. As part of the band Nikki & Candy, she plays bass, sings and is co-writer. Find Nikki & Candy music on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube and other music sites. Nikki is currently working on her first novel. Please "like" the Offbeat L.A. Facebook page! For more Offbeat L.A. photos & adventures follow @Lunabeat on Instagram.
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