The theme of South Pasadena’s Festival of Balloons parade this year is “Freedom on the Road – Celebrating Route 66” and who better to be our Grand Marshall than Mr. Route 66 himself, Glen Duncan! Come on out to Mission Street at 11am on the 4th to see Duncan leading off the parade riding in a vintage car along with members of the California Historic Route 66 Association. Duncan currently serves as President of the association and you might say Route 66 is in his blood. It most certainly has played a significant role in his life.
The story goes like this; Duncan was born on Route 66 in Baxter Springs, Kansas and grew up in Detroit. His grandparents also had a farm that they would visit when he was a child that was on the famed road. After college, he went to work for an ad agency for Chevrolet and worked on the Route 66 television show. He got married in Highland Park on Route 66 and bought a beautiful Craftsman home in South Pasadena just three blocks off Route 66. As Duncan himself states, “you might say it’s in my DNA.”
And that beautiful house? Right in the path of the proposed freeway extension. So Duncan and his wife, Pat, we’re heavily involved in the freeway fight and preservation in general in South Pasadena. Duncan was appointed to the Cultural Heritage Commission and Pat was invited by Joanne Nuckols to join the Preservation Foundation where she served as President for a time. Duncan ended up very much involved in both organizations and has had a hand in helping to preserve many of our historical buildings in South Pasadena, most recently working to save the old gym at the middle school as it remains one of the few original Norman Foote Marsh designed buildings.
His involvement with the Route 66 Association came on September 11, 2001, when he was asked to attend a meeting at the Pasadena Historical Museum (now called the Museum of History) to discuss forming a California Route 66 Preservation Foundation because of his background in preservation. As he was driving to the meeting he started hearing about the devastating events happening in New York and didn’t know if the meeting would go forward. In fact, many of the folks within the government were called away, but nevertheless the meeting did happen and Duncan was asked to be on the board. They were small in number at that time as they began working on preservation and Duncan wrote his book Route 66 in California. He wrote the book after realizing that although everyone knows its name, many don’t actually know much about the “Mother Road” and its storied history. Over time the Route 66 Preservation Foundation and the Association organically blended into one.
Duncan is certainly the organization’s standard bearer on preservation but he is quick to add “I couldn’t do what I do without all of the hard working folks in the association. The Corridor Management Plan that we did for Federal Highways on Route 66 from Needles to Barstow was two years of work in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management. Without Lynne Miller, who will be riding in the car with me on the 4th, no way would it have been anywhere near as good as it was.”
The Association is responsible for the painting of the Route 66 emblems on one of the South Pasadena sections of the route on Fair Oaks Avenue. That was also a two year process in which Duncan worked with city manager Sergio Gonzales and Mayor Michael Cacciotti to make it happen.
One of the main goals is to promote the history and significance of Route 66 in California. Duncan says they like to focus on the treasures along the road and encourage folks to get off the interstate and acquaint themselves with this Americana treasure.
“There are reasons this road is undoubtedly the most famous road in the world,” says Duncan emphatically, “the history of the road goes back to the “Grapes of Wrath” depression-era “okies” and “arkies” who made their way to California on it,” marvels Duncan, “the agriculture inspection station in California was manned by state police and if they didn’t have $20 or evidence that they had a job, they were turned back!” Interesting side note Duncan says they originally wanted to title the film based on John Steinbeck’s book “Route 66” instead of “Grapes of Wrath.” The highway’s most iconic nickname comes from Steinbeck’s book where he wrote“66 is the mother road, the road of flight.”
Route 66 was a migration funnel for generations, stretching 2,448 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica, with the last 350 miles through Southern California. “Then you had the popular song Get Your Kicks On Route 66 and of course Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and all the famous travelers,” Duncan continues, “they were all about that era when it wasn’t just the destination, it was the experience of travel. The question is, ‘why does it still have meaning?’ It’s not only because of the books, TV shows and movies; it’s because it captured America. Experiencing America. It represents a time in our history, well, when everybody loved us. In the summer, about 60% of the people who drive Route 66 are from Europe. Another 10-15% come from China and Japan and there are Route 66 fan clubs all over the world. But I think it holds the same meaning for Americans as well.”
Route 66 is a piece of our American history that is still tangible and it is worth preserving. And so, our beloved Mother Road continues to ramble on, hopefully for generations to come.
To read more about Route 66 and to get involved with the California Historic Route 66 Association visit route66ca.org