Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mojave River Valley Museum celebrating area history with 50th anniversary barbecue

Mojave River Valley Museum celebrates its 50th anniversary.
Desert Dispatch

BARSTOW • Bootlegging was big business in the Mojave Desert during the Roaring ‘20s, according to Barstow author Cliff Walker.

The bootleggers wanted “to get far away from the sheriff and federal agents,” Walker said as he sat inside the Mojave River Valley Museum, reminiscing about the many chapters of Mojave Desert history.

“After World I, all the farmers and miners were laid off all over the place. There were marginal farms out here and we didn’t have to feed the (Europeans) anymore. So a lot of farmers were pushed off the lands,” Walker explained. “The syndicates from L.A. came out here to set up moonshine operations. Thousands of gallons of booze were made every day. Bootlegging was common thing in the desert. There were actually tunnels under the Mojave River going in where the booze was made.”

Walker should know all about it, because he wrote a book on bootlegging in the Mojave Desert. Bootlegging, however, is just one chapter of a long history blowing through the Mojave Desert. A lot of that history is captured inside the museum located at Barstow Road and Virginia Way in Barstow. The Mojave River Valley Museum Association is celebrating the museum’s 50th anniversary on Saturday with a barbecue, sourdough, Cowboy Coffee and, of course, a little moonshine.

“We will make moonshine using cabernet wine from Newberry and we are going to distill it with brandy and, or with Grappa,” Walker said. “We will give people a little cut of it. We are going to make some alcohol from whiskey grain. Dave Romero does it. And he doesn’t drink.”

Walker is on the board of trustees for the museum. Not only does he write books about the desert and its people, but he also knows a lot about the museum.

“We will be honoring the people who helped build the museum,” Walker said, talking about Saturday’s event. He mentioned Little Rainbow Girls, Lenwood Optimist Club and he recalls the Disabled American Veterans on West Main Street became one of the first organizations to donate with $100.

“People volunteered to do the labor for nothing, practically.”

He tried in vain to remember the name of the bricklayer from Hinkley who donated his time.

Walker said original plans called for a 30-by-30-foot outdoor building. But he said the fundraising went so well that the plans were changed to building a 20-by-20 enclosed building with a patio in 1967. The museum opened in 1968. As time went along, the patio was enclosed and other expansions were constructed.

Walker says there’s a need to raise more money for more expansion and add climate control to protect the old photos, law papers and Desert Dispatch editions that go as far back as 1910.

“As you can see, there is no wall space to put anything,” Walker said. “It’s so crowded. We need a better place for people to do research.”

The museum is free and open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The museum pays its bills by accepting donations and selling memberships, and some people have put the museum in their wills.

More money is also raised by selling “the best collection of Western books anywhere.” Walker also mentioned there is a good collection about women in the West.

“We write books too,” Walker said. “I have 12 books published. One of mine was written for the centennial. ‘The History of the Mojave Desert’ has been sold out for the past 20 years. So that’s not making any money for the museum, but it’s getting reprinted again.”

Patricia Schoffstall, who is the museum’s treasurer, authored the “ Mojave Desert Dictionary” which first came out in 2010. The second edition was published this year.

Walker said the books and the operation of the desert is done for one main reason.

“We’re doing this to save the heritage of the desert for the future.”

Saturday’s celebration will start with an open house from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It will feature some new displays, such as the “Old Spanish Trail Display.”

The barbecue will be held form 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Dana Park, with adults charged $9. The fee is $8 for seniors and children over 6 years old. Children under 6 are free with any paid dinner.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Motel operator driven to keep Route 66 culture alive and kicking

Long a fixture on Route 66, the Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino glows in the evening light as customers come and go in January. Route 66 continues to attract motorists and tourists from around the world who want to experience the legendary nostalgia of its roadside attractions. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Times

Kumar Patel grew up along Route 66, a highway long celebrated in literature, song and film. He was not impressed.

On his first long road trip, about six years ago, he found himself bored by the route's decaying monuments, mom-and-pop diners and dusty museums.

"I hated it," he said. "But I didn't understand it."

The journey to understanding started soon after that trip, when his mother started having health problems. She had been running the family's Wigwam Motel, a clutch of 20 tepee-shaped rooms on Route 66 in San Bernardino. She could no longer run it alone.

So at 26, Patel took over, giving up a career in accounting to run an aging tourist trap that struggled to cover its costs.

Now, as a 32-year-old entrepreneur, he stands out among the typical Route 66 merchants, who promote such roadside curiosities as a Paul Bunyon monument, a blue whale statue and the Petrified Forest National Park. Such sites now are operated and visited mostly by white, middle-aged travelers, whose numbers are dwindling.

Unless Patel and other Route 66 business owners can attract a younger and more diverse crowd, one that matches the evolving demographics of America, the shops and oddball attractions along the route will shut down for good.

"If it doesn't happen, we are not going to keep all of this alive," said Kevin Hansel, the caretaker of another struggling Route 66 business, Roy's Motel and Cafe in Amboy. "It will be history."

That history started in the 1920s, when the road was built to handle a surge in automobile ownership and a push by business owners to link the small towns and merchants of the Midwest to big cities. Route 66 became the nation's main east-west artery.

In his novel "The Grapes of Wrath," John Steinbeck called it the "mother road" because it beckoned and delivered the refugees from the Dust Bowl exodus to jobs in California in the 1930s. Bobby Troup penned his biggest hit song, "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66," in 1946.

But by the 1950s, the narrow, slow-moving route was replaced in pieces by multilane, interstate freeways, designed for high-speed travel. Federal workers removed the freeway markers and decommissioned Route 66 in 1985, effectively killing business for the jukebox-blasting diners and neon-rimmed motels.

Today, with the future of the Wigwam at stake, Patel has immersed himself in that history, driving Route 66 himself, stopping to chat with his fellow shopkeepers and travelers. He set out on a search for insight into how to promote his business but ended up with a more personal appreciation of the route's culture.

"That's what grew on me: The people who shared with me their stories of the road," he said.

When the Wigwam Motel went on sale in 2003 for nearly $1 million, Patel's father, an Indian immigrant who ran another small hotel in San Bernardino, saw it as a good investment. It has yet to pay off.

Like many Route 66 businesses, the Wigwam struggles to squeeze out enough money to pay for improvements. It took five years to save up to renovate the pool area. Last year, Patel was finally able to afford a full-time maid for the motel. Before then, Patel and his mother cleaned and changed sheets while selling souvenirs and booking rooms.

"We still run it on a thin line," he said.

With the Wigwam's success tied to Route 66, Patel has become a tireless promoter of its culture. He sees that as a way to keep the history of Route 66 alive and fill his motel rooms.

He set out recently on a drive to show off some of its peculiar attractions along California's stretch of the 2,400-mile highway that runs from Chicago to Santa Monica. He started from a rundown roadside hotel in Needles, in the Mojave Desert near the Arizona border.

Stars twinkled in the darkness. The only sound was the hum of big rigs bouncing off the blacktop. The best way to experience the road, he said, is by driving east to west. It's the way the Dust Bowl refugees saw it and later Midwesterners, heading for vacations in Los Angeles.

"On Route 66 you find real people, real food," Patel said.

He rattled off history and trivia as the car zipped past telephone poles on National Trails Highway — the name now given to the portion of Route 66 that runs through much of the Mojave Desert.

A downed palo verde tree about half a mile outside of Amboy is called the "Shoe Tree" because it toppled under the weight of hundreds of shoes tossed on the branches by visitors. It's a tradition that locals say was started by an arguing couple and continues today.

"The purists love this stuff because they don't want to see things that are renewed," Patel said. "They want to see the original stuff."

Take tiny Amboy (population 17), once a bustling pit stop. Today, the only commerce happens at Roy's Motel and Cafe. The cafe sells only soft drinks and snacks. The motel is closed because of a lack of water. The drop-off in business no longer makes it practical to ship in water by train. The ground has long been saturated with salt, making well water undrinkable.

Kevin Hansel, the caretaker, dreams of the day someone drills a well deep enough to reach drinkable water.

"Once we get the water, we can open the restaurant and the bungalows," he said.

As Patel visited, about a dozen Volkswagen vans pulled in under the cafe's giant boomerang-shaped sign. The VW road warriors were meeting at Roy's before driving east to Lake Havasu.

Among them was retired welder Joe Stack, 71, of Costa Mesa. He has been taking this road trip for 10 years. When Stack's daughter was a girl, she rode shotgun in his van.

But she is now 22 and not interested in the retro architecture of Route 66.

"Young kids don't want to come out here," he said, squinting in the morning sun. "Young kids are on a computer wearing their thumbs out."


Route 66 travelers today have a median age of 55 and 97% are white, according to a 2011 study by David Listokin, a Rutgers University economics professor. Only 11% of the travelers on the road are ages 20 to 39, according to the study.

A few months ago, Listokin read the highlights of his study to a group of Route 66 business owners who met at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim to discuss the road's future. Patel was there — among the few people in the room under age 40.

Patel stood at the front of the brightly colored Magic Kingdom Ballroom, urging his fellow Route 66 merchants to reach out to young travelers, the way he has done.

He hosted hip-hop, end-of-summer festivals at the Wigwam Motel, with DJs and strobe lights. During a recent Christmas, he threw a doughnut party and decorated the tepee-shaped motel rooms to look like Christmas trees. He's volunteered his motel as a stop for a classic car show to raise money to restore a historic gas station in Rancho Cucamonga.

His work has won him the respect of older Route 66 advocates.

"We absolutely need that kind of thing that he is doing," said Linda Fitzpatrick, 73, who is leading a campaign to restore the Needles Theater, a 1930s-era Masonic temple that was converted to a movie house.


Back on the road, just outside Barstow, Patel pulled up to an attraction known as "Bottle Tree Ranch."

The forest of metal trees, adorned with colored bottles, was built by Elmer Long, a 67-year-old retired cement worker who, with his long white beard and floppy hat, looks like a '49er-era gold prospector.

During the busy summer months, he said, his bottle trees draw as many as 1,000 visitors a day. But most of the visitors are international travelers. Each day, visitors leave Long a few dollars in a tip can.

"To them, the U.S. is a magical place," he said, as traffic rushes past his ramshackle home.

The sky began to dim as Patel pulled up to the Wigwam Motel. His mother, who still helps Patel with the business, told him that two motel guests — young ones — were finishing a long road trip.

At the door of one of the tepees, Patel introduced himself to Emily Mills, 28, and her sister Anna, 25, from North Carolina. Emily Mills was starting a new job managing a Culver City restaurant. For the move west, the sisters decided on a Route 66 road trip.

They hit all the big stops, including the Cadillac Ranch, west of Amarillo, Texas, where junk Cadillacs have been thrust nose first into the earth. A few miles south of the ranch, the sisters stopped to see the statue of a giant pair of legs, more than 20 feet tall.

The Mills sisters also spent the night in another Wigwam Motel, in Holbrook, Ariz. — one of seven built across the country by architect Frank Redford. Only two Wigwams remain on Route 66.

"We wanted to tell our friends we slept in a wigwam and saw a giant pair of legs," Emily Mills said as the sun set behind her tepee.

Guests like the Mills sisters are a good sign for the Wigwam, Patel said. Most Route 66 travelers zip through San Bernardino to reach the end of the route in Santa Monica, 78 miles away.

Patel can't yet say when — or if — the Wigwam will ever become the moneymaker Patel's father envisioned. But now he's grown attached to the road, and sees himself as more than just a motel operator. Patel has become a curator of the Route 66 legend, a proud member of its cast of characters.

Friday, May 9, 2014

BLM and Needles open new Route 66 rest area

Photo of the ribbon cutting event on May 9th for a new Route 66 rest area (from right to left): Dr Edward Paget, Mayor of Needles; Mike Ahrens, BLM Needles Field Manager, Teri Raml, BLM California Desert District Manager, Randy Banis, Desert Advisory Council Chairman. (Steve Razo, BLM)

BLM California

The Bureau of Land Management, Needles Field Office, and the City of Needles, opened a new Route 66 rest area for travelers along the historic byway today. This new roadside attraction is located right off the 5 Mile Road exit (Exit 148) between Needles and Topock.

The Desert Advisory Council joined in the ribbon cutting as part of a scheduled field tour. A Corridor Management Plan for Route 66 between Needles and Barstow is currently underway. Details can be found at:

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Oasis in a Desert Ghost Town

The town of Nipton has a rich history, bustling from the late 19th to mid-20th centuries along with the mining industry. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

by Rick Paulas

The stretch of I-15 between Las Vegas and Los Angeles is a road paved with poor decisions. Every year, 8 million people make the drive, meaning that every Sunday afternoon there's roughly 153,000 people crammed into two lanes of highway. These people are tired, hungover, and reeking of stale Axe body spray. As you'd imagine, it's not very pleasant.

Yet just outside the border town of Primm, Nevada is an exit for Nipton Road. If you peel away from the crowd and head east for 15 minutes, straight into a desert landscape that seems to be void of any life apart from the occasional lizard sunning itself on the pavement, is the sleepy town of Nipton, California. It has a population of 60 and a "center of town" consisting of a general store, a cafe, and a one-story motel.

It also has quite possibly the best food in the desert.

Pull into the empty dirt lot outside of the El Oasis Cafe and it may seem abandoned. But walk to the side entrance and pull open the wooden door, and it's like you entered the best basement crash pad ever.

A pool table sits in the middle of the one-room seating area, a nearby broken-in couch providing a landing pad for whoever's next. Photos hang from the wall detailing stories from the desert's lush history. And tucked away in the corner is a glowing foil-laden box that wouldn't be out of place in the background of an Ed Wood film. Gather up enough nerve to look inside and you'll see a canopy of potted leafy green plants. This is the restaurant's "emergency indoor herb garden," in case the owners need to pluck something extra special for a dish.

Already, you get the sense this place is different.

Peek through the side windows and you'll see a small garden shielded from the harsh sun. Inside are plants growing tomatoes, cilantro, basil, spinach, lettuce, and kale. Even aloe vera, strawberries, onion and garlic once found a home inside of the garden. "We are still in the learning process about what will make it here," says Fernando Gamez, who has run the restaurant with his wife Susan since late 2012. "Our goal is to strictly grow non-GMO and organics."

Suddenly you understand why El Oasis is the perfect name for the cafe.

The cafe is the culmination of a lifelong dream. While living in the town's nearby RV park, Fernando and his wife used to host outdoor cookouts for neighbors. "Everyone encouraged me to open up a restaurant," he says. When word got out that the cafe was looking for someone to take over, they jumped at the possibility. And now they cater to everyone stopping through their tiny hamlet, a roster that includes tourists to the nearby Mojave National Preserve, Vegas revelers, nature lovers, stranded visitors needing a place to stay, and even video gamers. "Incredibly, there's been a few visiting families that have stayed here because the kids want to visit the famous Nipton in 'Fallout 3'."

Nipton wasn't always this sleepy. A plaque outside of the cafe tells the story of the town's birth in 1905, when a new rail line from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles chose Nipton as a stop, quickly making it a hub for miners and cattle ranchers. In the 1920s, silent film star Clara Bow regularly stayed in the motel next door with her husband Rex Bell, whenever the two wanted to get away from the stressors of old Hollywood.

But as the train gave way to the automobile, and the gold in the mines started to dwindle, so too did Nipton's population. For a long while the only reason anyone would have heard of it was as the answer to the trivia question: What general store sells the most tickets for the State of California Lottery? (The town's general store, right next door to El Oasis, had the mantle for years, before an office set up even closer to the Nevada border took away most of the business.)

Things started to change in 1984, when Malibu-based gold miner Gerald Freeman purchased the town in the hopes of making it an ecologically-friendly tourist village. In 1986, the run-down motel was restored. In 1998, the first prototype EcoLodge tented cabin for visitors of Mojave was built. In 2010, Freeman built a solar plant in an attempt to provide the town's power. And in 2012, the cafe was taken over by the Gamezes, who quickly installed vertical organic growing gardens of their own and continued the town's eco-friendly focus.

"Our goal," says Fernando, "is get to a point where more people will request non-GMO and organic food instead of just easing their hunger with whatever is put in front of them without questioning what they are consuming." It certainly helps when the food tastes just like grandma used to make.

In this case it's because, quite literally, grandma used to make it. The menu is full of traditional Mexican dishes like cerviche, burritos, and huevos rancheros -- the recipes straight from the cookbook of Fernando's grandmother, Maria Montes -- alongside a wide assortment of traditional American fare like pancakes, burgers and vegetable shakes. When I walked in, Fernando was cutting and cooking the cafe's homemade breakfast potatoes, made fresh every day.

This attention to detail isn't because of the burgeoning organic craze. It's done this way because it's the way it's always been done. "It's something I grew up doing as a child and taught to me by my mother and grandmother," he says. "It's instinct."

Friday, May 2, 2014

Historic dips and timber trestle bridges on Route 66

Existing timber bridge rail on Route 66 in the Mojave Desert of San Bernardino County with ‘C’ shaped metal approach rail. (Photo Courtesy Lardner/Klein)

By Ruth Musser-Lopez
San Bernardino Sentinel

Unpredictable and wild, circa eighty-five year old dips and timber trestle bridges are among those extraordinary characteristics of San Bernardino County’s desert section of California U.S. Highway Route 66 which make for a thrilling, one-of-a-kind ride. Yet, for safety reasons, timber trestle bridges cause government officials to shudder.

Just west of Daggett, “catching some air” driving fast across the dips on old Route 66 is a cheap but perhaps dangerous thrill that some bikers seek at their own risk. It seems to be the general consensus of the public actively participating in assisting with the development of the Bureau of Land Management’s Route 66 Corridor Management Plan (CMP) that despite the inherent dangers of those driving irresponsibly there, to smooth the road out would be to alter the historic route’s integrity and lose some of its intrinsic charm.

On the other hand, the timber trestle bridges are the “something old” along the corridor that some government officials seem to think are of immediate concern—they may not be that safe. If you drive the abandoned de-designated state route…you apparently may be doing so at considerable risk.

In a recent analysis by the County of San Bernardino, 128 “aging” 80-year (+/-) old timber trestle bridges are in the area between Daggett and Mountain Springs Road, reported Lardner/Klein Associates. This number is “staggering,” according to Lardner/Klein These 128 are “opposed to only 30 currently carrying automobile and truck traffic on U.S. Highway 66 across all other states and counties (including Los Angeles County, California) combined.”

Lardner/Klein also reported that according to the county analysis, the 128 bridges were constructed during the period of time from 1929 to 1935 and are included within a total of 136 bridges and large culverts in this portion of Route 66. Of the remainder, four are reinforced concrete bridges, three are pipe culverts, and one is a concrete box culvert.

However, maintaining the original character and charm of the route including the dips and bridges, is important to tourism with an increasingly large number of foreign tourists from Europe and Asia arriving each year desiring to visit the Grand Canyon via Route 66 from Los Angeles. According to a study conducted by Rutgers University, these are high-income visitors who are staying longer and spending more than the typical passerby.

Stewardship strategies for Route 66 including the bridges and dips are proposed for consideration by the Route 66 Ad Hoc CMP Planning Committee – abbreviated simply as the “AHPC.” The AHPC’s first “webinar” meeting took place on April 28, 2014, lead by Lardner/Klein Landscape Architects, P.C., a firm contracted by the Bureau of Land Management to assist with corridor management plan development. According to Lardner/Klein, the proposed stewardship strategies are based on issues identified in public outreach conducted during initial scoping phases that took place between November 2013 through March 2014 at which time there was a bus tour, small group meetings, conference calls, public meetings, including a web-based meeting all conducted by Lardner/Klein. The photographs in this article are courtesy of their contracted work for the federal agency.

Jim Klein, acting on behalf of the firm, said with regard to the strength of the bridges, that the route between Barstow and Needles built 80 years ago was never intended to bear the type of tonnage now being pulled by diesel trucks. With maintenance, the bridges have held up under over-capacity weight even during an emergency redirect when I-40 was closed down due to a temporary hazardous condition. In reference to the timber trestle bridges, he said that according to the county’s historian Roger G. Hatheway, “You can stick a pencil through them.”

Upon hearing this, one scenario that has been posed more or less as a question by San Bernardino County Sentinel editor Mark Gutglueck, “What are the odds of a catastrophic bridge collapse on Route 66 in the middle of the desert during the ‘perfect storm’ where two heavily-laden 18-wheelers, moving in opposite direction at the same time across a weak timber trestle bridge?”

The County of San Bernardino which maintains the section of Route 66 between Daggett and Mountain Springs Road, is currently conducting a study as a part of the “Dola and Lanzit Bridge replacement projects.”

Nearly all of the distinct segments of the road paralleling I-40 access have some bridges that are weight limited. According to Lardner/Klein, “San Bernardino County is faced with a difficult challenge of keeping the road open to all vehicles. A consulting firm for the San Bernardino County Department of Public Works is currently preparing a study evaluating the manner in which the state inspects and evaluates bridges on historic Route 66 in San Bernardino County, and how this translates into the posting of load limits.”

Timber trestle bridges may have originally been built to support the National Old Trails Road (circa 1912). Made of what appears to be materials similar to modified railroad ties and cut up utility poles, they were not uncommon nationwide in the first couple of decades of the twentieth century—1900 through 1920 according to Lardner/Klein. “Beginning about 1920, however, they began to be regarded by many highway design engineers as temporary structures, although they continued to be used in specific locales due to the fact that they could be erected quickly and inexpensively.

Lardner/Klein cited a 1920 book, by Milo S. Ketchum, C.E., entitled “The Design of Highway Bridges of Steel, Timber and Concrete,” which states that “Timber Highway bridges were formerly quite generally used, and are still in use for temporary structures and in localities where transportation is difficult and where suitable timber is available.” In very simple terms, timber trestle highway bridges were built nationwide with a limited anticipated lifespan.

At the April 28, 2014 meeting of the AHPC, safety concern over the timber trestle bridges were on the agenda as the main subject topic.

The Archaeological Heritage Association suggested that the timber trestle bridges be studied by engineers as an example of what works in the desert’s arid environment. “The bridges have proven to be durable and strong. They have held up under tremendous weight over the years. Perhaps the aridity of the desert has something to do with it. The wooden structures don’t deteriorate as quickly here as in wetter conditions back east. So that we don’t lose the integrity and charm of the road’s character, maybe all that is needed is some in-kind buttress work to preserve these historic bridge features in place. As far as weight limits, perhaps its time to consider making this portion of Route 66 a toll road, limit the weight of the vehicles coming across and use the tolls for maintenance of the route.”

Some protection for the road appears to be available through its potential listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). Lardner/Klein said that in their review to date, the general consensus of preservation professionals is that the Route 66 alignment itself is eligible for the National Register, however, the transportation and related roadside features such as wooden trestle bridge structures or roadside architectural features will need to be evaluated separately for eligibility. This opinion seems to imply that the bridges would not automatically be protected under a future Route 66 National Register status by simply being a feature of the road itself. A study evaluating for NRHP status the individual eligibility of all of the 136 bridges and large culverts between Daggett and Mountain Springs Road on historic Route 66 is currently being prepared as part of the County of San Bernardino’s “Dola and Lanzit Bridge replacement projects.”

Lardner/Klein also reported the following findings with regard to that study: “The County of San Bernardino currently maintains the 128 timber trestle bridges. Of these 128 timber trestle bridges 127 are on National Trails Highway (NTH) the predecessor to Route 66, and one timber trestle bridge is on Ludlow Road, an original portion of the Route 66 alignment immediately to the west of Crucero Road. Of the 127 timber trestle bridges/structures on NTH, 31 are not eligible for federal historic bridge repair and/or replacement funding as they are less than 20 feet in length and are officially classed as culverts and not bridges.

“By the mid-1940s, the State of California recognized the need to rebuild its aging timber trestle highway bridges statewide, and several articles were published by the Division of Highways detailing the need for reconstruction. At this time, the State of California clearly recognized that all U.S Highway 66 timber trestle bridges between Daggett and Mountain Springs Road were quickly approaching the end of their design and economical service life.”

Yet, Lardner/Klein states, “Seventy years later, the county of San Bernardino is attempting to maintain the same bridges—a very expensive and difficult task.” But, the “California’s State Historical Building Code ( – provides a tool for historic preservation,” which would alleviate some of the expense of maintaining historic properties. The law provides that qualified historic structures would not be required to comply with current code standards. Alternative provisions in California Code Section 18961 provides for consultation with the State Historical Building Safety Board regarding the treatment of qualified historical buildings or structures.

Even so, raised are two potential issues and/or concerns with the application of the California State Historical Building Code as it applies to historic Route 66 on federal lands. First, if any given bridge is determined not eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, then it cannot be considered to be a qualified historic property thus it appears the alternative historic building code would not apply. Second, if a property is considered to be eligible for listing, it is unclear whether utilization of a less restrictive State Code on federal historic properties is allowable if federal funds are involved. Further, if the Federal Highway Administration’s funding process requires review under the National Environmental Policy Act and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act guidelines then the utilization of a State Code may not be feasible. Resolution of these issues and concerns over the course of the corridor management plan project is anticipated.

Route 66/National Trails Highway is an important emergency alternative when Interstate 40 is closed due to a maintenance issue or emergency situations such as an accident on the highway. It thus serves an important transportation function in addition to its historic scenic, recreational and local business uses. It is used by at least two state agencies, the California Highway Patrol and Caltrans. However, according to Lardner/Klein the alignment has never been officially designated as an emergency corridor by the State of California despite repeated requests by the county of San Bernardino. Failure to designate the road as an emergency corridor has rendered the route ineligible to receive federal or state funding targeted specifically for emergency detour routes.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Needles to cut the ribbon on renovated El Garces depot and Harvey House

The El Garces intermodal transportation facility project is complete and a ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned for Saturday, May 3, 2014 at 11 a.m. The historic El Garces building was formerly the site of a railroad station and Harvey House hotel. The hotel and restaurant closed in 1949 and it was closed as a railroad station in 1988. (JENNIFER DENEVAN/NewsWest)

By Jennifer Denevan
Mohave Valley Daily News

NEEDLES — A ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned for Saturday at 11 a.m. to celebrate the completion of the El Garces intermodal transportation facility renovation project, a long-term venture that has taken several attempts to finish.

The ceremony, which is open to the public, will include several speakers. Tours of the downstairs portion of the building will be given.

A farmers’ market is part of the events for the day. The market will be open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will feature live music by Antiquated Systems.

An antique car cruise is also planned. The cruise is noncompetitive and a chance for residents and visitors to view classic cars.

The Taste of Needles is included. BPO Elks Lodge 1608 will serve coffee and breakfast burritos in the morning and then serve barbecue sandwiches and loaded baked potatoes in the afternoon.

The Fort Mojave Indian Tribe will be selling fry bread as part of the Taste of Needles. The Wagon Wheel Restaurant will be selling hamburgers and hot dogs.

Tribal members will be selling jewelry outside the El Garces as a reminder of the past. The tribe will also have a special historic presentation along with having artifacts on display.

The Needles Chamber of Commerce is holding an open house from 9 a.m. until noon. Everyone is invited to come and see the remodeled building and to see what the chamber has in store for the coming months. There will be giveaways and other prizes.

The Friends of the Needles Centennial will provide refreshments prepared by the Needles High School culinary arts class.

As the El Garces project neared completion, council members and members of the community decided it was important to have something to signify the renovation being finished. A ribbon cutting finally was planned.

It has taken about two years for the project to be completed, using funds from the Federal Transit Administration, which totaled nearly $5 million. The project itself has been going longer than that.

Two years ago, council members chose to adhere to advice given to them by Allan Affeldt of El Garces, LLC. He advised the council to use the grant money or risk losing it.

In the months prior to his advice, the city and Affeldt were trying to get a joint development agreement approved by the FTA. The JDA would allow the title of the El Garces to be transferred from the city to Affeldt, which in turn would have allowed him to get financing for a commercial element of the project. The plan at that time was to have an intermodal transportation facility but also to put in a restaurant and hotel that El Garces LLC would add. The goal was to make the El Garces similar to Winslow, Ariz.’s La Posada Hotel, which was renovated by Affeldt.

The approval for the JDA was never given and Affeldt said he felt the city was running the risk of losing funds for the intermodal transportation facility. The project shifted gears to simply using the funds so the building could be used. Any retail portion will come later.

Linda Kidd, city council member, said once the city decided to move forward with the project, the focus became getting the building enclosed by getting doors and windows on so it wouldn’t deteriorate further.

Kidd said it was a long two years to get this portion of the project complete. Once the city made the decision to use the funds, the El Garces committee was formed, consisting of Kidd, council members Jim Lopez and Tony Frazier, city staff and eventually the construction management company, Kinny Construction.

There were unforeseen setbacks along the way. The city found ways to fund lead paint removal and the removal of a large kerosene tank that was found as plumbing and electric were being put in the building.

Those sidebars could have been detrimental, Kidd said. Fortunately, the city found a way to take care of them and still complete the project.

The project includes putting infrastructure in so as the city attracts businesses they can move into the El Garces, Kidd said. In the meantime, the downstairs portion of the building is complete and is available for income for the city now, she continued.

She said economic development consultant Michael Bracken and the management broker can look to fill the El Garces. The city is in the process of finding a broker who can lease out office spaces in the building.

As a business owner, Jan Jernigan said she is happy to see the city rejuvenated with a nice looking building. She said she feels it will also be an asset to reviving the downtown area, she added.