The transformation of the city of Pontiac, Illinois

Located about an hour and a half southwest of Chicago is the small city of Pontiac Illinois. To be honest, the only mentions of this place that I ever heard growing up referred to the state prison located at the south end of town. In recent years however the city has made a concerted to transform itself into a tourism destination, and in my opinion is well on its way.

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Firstly, in the center of town is a very attractive turn of the century styled Town Hall.

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Until I approached it I hadn’t known that this was one of the towns included in the National Park Service’s Looking for Lincoln Trek.

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I also found it was quite attractive on the inside as well, although not quite as nice as on the outside (they need to work on that). It’s a bit too spartan (other than the floors) and why is Lincoln looking at the ground?IMG_0286.JPGAlso, one does not expect with a population of just shy of 12K people to have four museums (I went to two of them, the Auto museum and the Gilding arts one, and they were both worth the visit). In addition, the city has been embracing the tourism tactic of hiring artists to pain murals around the downtown area to beautify itIMG_0284.JPGAnd another very cute thing that they’ve done is to scatter these cars for kids on street corners around townIMG_0287

I really have to give my props to the Mayor and city consul of Pontiac Illinois for transforming their little town from a town whose major employer was a state prison into something worthy of extended visits from those doing the route 66 trek, as well day trips for people living in the Chicagoland area.

Museum of the Gilding Arts, Pontiac IL

The Museum of Gilding arts in Pontiac Illinois is a very high quality museum dedicated to Gilding (applying thinly beaten gold to things). Located just off Route 66, It’s located in an abandoned storefront in the city center. The Town of Pontiac, in an attempt to draw tourism offers these locations free to any small high quality museums that are willing to locate their collections here.

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I’ll admit a bias, a very old friend of mine helped set this museum up. And when I say old I mean we’ve known each other pretty much our whole lives. When my dad was graduate student he did consulting work for her dad, our families went to the same synagogue, and then in high school we ended up hanging in the same click (I was a Freshman and the rest of them were Juniors. Growing up my friends were almost alway older than I was, and I didn’t tend to fit with kids my own age.)

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The Docent walked me through the whole collection. She was very nice and helpful and probably could have kept talking … but I was on a schedule. First she showed me a very thin sheet of pounded gold, pounded so thin that you could the light through it… and then a box full of sheets of the stuff, where you can turn the box and see thing and light it is. I told her that in fact I’ve spent a lot time in Japan, where gilding is still a very active art, and knew all of this already. (In Japan I have eaten cakes topped with gild — very thin gold — and some where in all my boxes I have a little canister of the stuff should I ever want to put gold on a cake.)

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According to the docent, … The Smithsonian wanted the collection that’s on display in Pontiac…. but they only wanted it for a temporary exhibit and the people who owned it — a family that had owned a now closed gilding company on the east coast — wanted a permanent space.

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A recreation of gilding workshop

Then guilders who live in Pontiac, (hobbyists, there was never a gilding industry here) heard about this and connected the owners with city, like I said before, the town for all intents and purposes gave them that location to put their exhibit into. There’s no real connection between Pontiac and gilding otherwise

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As I’m writing this, I googled the name in this board and found this, W H Coe Mfg Co Inc, Gold Leaf Manufacturer in 10 Love Ln, Hartford, Connecticut 06112. — but I couldn’t find more which makes me think the company really has gone out of business .

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There is also a small gift shop selling goods that I assume are made by the local gilders who helped bring the collection to Pontiac. I bought Chai Magnet, and gave it as a gift to my friend whose home I was going to be staying at as soon as I got back to Chicago.

Rout 66: the “Meramec Caverns” Barn Pontiac, IL

Located just North of Pontiac Illinois is an iconic route 66 Barn that advertises the Meramec Caverns, which are located in Sullivan, MO a good four hours (265 miles) away. When ever you see this iconic image in photos you get the impression that it’s much bigger and MUCH MUCH MUCH closer to route 66 than it actually is.

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If anything the fact that this advertisement, located on the side of a barn is THIS far way from the attraction it advertises kind of tells you just what a tourist trap it is.

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But seriously they couldn’t have put in the gravel path at least… I walked out a few steps but was worried about picking up a tick with lime disease along the path, and stopped

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Finding the place wasn’t that easy either…. One questions if Route 66 didn’t use to run a bit closer to the barn because you can just barely see that thing from the road, and the you’re seeing in the picture isn’t even it… that’s a turn off from Route 66 which was only marked by this tiny little sign….

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Getting your kicks on Route 66/Adams street, the Chicagoland edition

Route 66 has two endpoints: one is in downtown Chicago, which many people think of as ‘the start’ of the route (because of the order in the “get your kicks on Route 66”, song), while the other is (currently) at the Santa Monica Pier, just west of Downtown Los Angeles, which is where I started my trip. In Chicago route 66 is a little complicated as it exists on two one way streets, Adams, which travels west, and Jackson, which travels east. SINCE most people take 66 going west, that’s where you’ll find most of the signs…

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Because Chicago is home and I’ve pretty much walked or driven most of these roads at one time or another without realizing they ARE 66, I have to admit that once I did, I opted to fudge it a bit once I passed Dell Rheas’s Chicken basket in Willowbrook IL (a town I’ve only ever passed by while driving on I-55) and felt that I had for all intents and purposes I had finished the route on the 24th of October. (I admit this is largely because I knew the neighborhoods I would be passing through… knew most of them to HIGHLY unsafe ones with nasty traffic. When I go downtown I stick to safe routes and park my car in safe areas.)IMG_0134

So for instance, the above are some photos of me in 2001 having dinner with friends at what was then arguably the best Greek Restaurant in Chicago’s GreekTown (on Halstead between Adams and Jackson … i.e., 66) the now closed Roditites Greek Restaurant, which used to be one of my favorite go to’s (it was open for 45 years). (All of the old Greektown classic restaurants seem to be closing, I think the children weren’t interested in taking over the businesses)IMG_2619.jpgbut on the 31st of October I had business I had to deal with downtown, and as such took the opportunity to finish my 66 trek (only this time on foot, cause driving into the city is NUTS). I was staying at my friend’s home in Northbrook, and took the Metra Train from North Glenview station to Union Station, which is also located between Adams and Jackson (again, both are Route 66, it just depends on which direction you’re going) with exits to either street. IMG_0149Ironically, I have only ever been in this station once before. The Metra train line adjacent to my parents home went to a different station, the Ogilvie Center, a few blocks north. Unlike that station, which only services local lines, this station is where you go in Chicago if you’re taking an Amtrak line. As such, the only other time I was ever here was when I took the California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco back when I was in my late 20’s.IMG_0150The odds are you’ve seen this station before, even if you’ve never been to Chicago, as it’s been used more than few times in movies. The list includes Public Enemies (with Jonny Depp), My Best Friend’s Wedding (with Julia Roberts, Cameron Diaz and Rupert Everett), Man of Steel (one of the Superman movies), Derailed, and most prominently in the movie The Untouchables, about Al Capone (Robert De Niro) and Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) … with a scene steeling Oscar worthy supporting performance from Sean Connery… which had a LOT of Chicago locations in it.

IMG_0071From the station I went straight to my 11am appointment, and then double backed to have lunch at Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant & Bakery (click link for my blog post about it), which is located a half block west of Union Station, and is probably the only historic Route 66 eatery to be in the Michelin guide. After lunch I walked back east, along Adams (Route 66 west bound) past Union station and to the Chicago River which forms the station’s eastern boundary.

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The Jackson street bridge (Route 66 eastbound), opening to allow ships to pass

If you ever come to Chicago I strongly suggest taking one of our Water Taxi’s from Union Station (i.e, Route 66) to Navy Pier (the Orange line on the map above) which travels to where the Chicago River meets Lake Michigan… that said I’m about to go a bit off topic, but really… you have GOT to try the water Taxis

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Pics of me and my Chinese friend when she visited Chicago in 2013

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While at Navy pier, before switching to the next Taxi, you might want to go up on the Ferris Wheel (which is sometimes referred to as the Chicago Wheel, as it actually served as an attraction back in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition, i.e., the White City, which was held along the lake on Chicago South’s side) which offers some great views of the city

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The skyscraper behind me is the John Hancock (grin) center, where I used to work for about a year back when I was in my 20’s, 

but then make sure to take the Water Taxi that travels from the pier via Lake Michigan to Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum, even if you don’t want to go to the Museums.

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The skyscraper on the left is the Big Willy (see below), the one in the middle is the Standard Oil building — no self-respecting Chicagoan refers to it as the Aon center and if you asked them where the Aon center was I doubt they’d know, and one to the right is the John Hancock (where I used to work back when I was in my 20’s)….. again, NO ONE calls it 875 North Michigan Avenue. Apparently the John Hancock building, the corporate headquarters for the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co, at around 2013 ceased to be their headquarters, and just a few months ago the name got changed to its address. The pics above were from when I did this back in 2013 when my friend, who I knew from when I was teaching in S. Korea, came to visit during a summer break.

But I digress…  returning to Route 66….

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From there I continued my trek down Adams (the west bound 66). The above picture is looking west down the street, across the bridge I had just passed over… and, the ‘small’ white building just above the black van is Union station.

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Again, this photo is looking west. The sky scraper in the distance is the same one shown in the picture from the Water Taxi. Which I referred to as “The big Willy.” It was originally called the Sears Tower (my best friend from high-school has worked there for almost 15 years), and when first built in 1973 (I remember it going up) it was the tallest building in the world. But Sears then sold it to Willis Insurance in 2009, who renamed it as The Willis Tower. Many Chicagoans to this day absolutely refuse to use that name, but I, personally, LOVE IT… because it allows me to call it “the big Willy” (Willy being a British slang word for penis) and just how great is that?! The GORGEOUS historic building in the foreground of the picture is the SIDE entrance (if you can believe it) of the Rookery Building, which designed by deeply important architectural firm of Burnham and Root in 1888. If you have ever read the best-selling novel The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, about the Chicago world’s fair, you know who they are. I didn’t take any pictures inside, but the lobby was design by Frank Loyd Wright. If you’re an architecture enthusiast you will LOVE Chicago.

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Another thing Chicago is famous for, one of which is visible on Route 66, is our collection of public art. The above is Alexander Calder‘s Flamingo (sculpture). I remember when it was first unveiled in 1974, none of us could make heads or tails of what it was… but it’s pretty.

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After this I pit stopped off at the historic Berghoff Restaurant (click the link for a fully review of the place) for a mug of their root beer (they brew it themselves). For some reason this iconic German restaurant which is a landmark of downtown Chicago, its been there since 1898… is NOT in the Michelin guide… shrug?… I remember the first time my mom took me here, I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old. If you look at the image above, and look down the street between the tall building you’ll see the roof of the Art Institute of Chicago, which is not only one of the FINEST art museums in the world, it’s also my Alma Mater. If you love German food, EAT HERE, this place has been rocking my socks off my whole life… if you don’t… at least try the root beer and look around, the interior is just amazing to look at and reeks of Chicago history (photos and murals of Chicago Exposition line the walls)

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AND THIS is also a route 66 establishment — and I never realized it was that until this trip. Did I mention I have been eaten here my whole life.

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If you look carefully at the building, you’ll see how the sign above… which I’ve never seen before, and keep in mind the roman looking building is Art Institute of Chicago, were I went to school for four years….. and this one below are on either end of the same city block…

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Henrys Rabbit Ranch, Staunton, IL

Located in Staunton, Illinois, Henry’s Rabbit Ranch really is one of the route 66’s “must sees” and it’s one that lives up to the promise … mostly because of the owner. Remember the Cadillac Ranch and the Slug Bug ranches in Texas? Well this is the Rabbit Ranch…

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In the USA and Canada the Volkswagen Golf is marketed by the name Rabbit

That said, Henry, the owner of this place, who is a lover of rabbits (he told me that at one point he was fostering 27 rescues) really is why you come.

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When you first approach the place it looks like run down pile of junk that’s trying to take advantage of some of the 66 trafficIMG_1266.JPGBut when you get out of your car and start really looking, you realize this is one of must see stops (with accolades from both the route 66 landmark group and the state of Illinois

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Among his “junk” he’s got a sign from a depression era WPA project on the route!!! (this should NOT be outdoors in the elements, it should be in a museum)

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Inside you’ll find Henry. I had read this over and over again but it’s true, he is a ridiculously sweet guy who takes joy in helping 66’s travelers, and will talk to you all day if you let him. All of his bunnies are rescue bunnies and he told me that at one point he had like 27 of them.

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After talking to me for a while, he took me around to see his property, including the fairly large a Rabbit cemetery along the side of the house (each stone marks multiple rabbits), which includes a MASSIVE fiberglass rabbit he insisted of photographing me on top of IMG_1262.JPG

To be honest, I almost missed the place… the two images on the left side of the picture above is what the place looked like approaching from the north bound route 66. NO references are made to it being the Rabbit Ranch… all of his signs assume those sorts of tourists (on 66) will be going south bound… starting in Chicago and heading to LA.

The former historic Bel Air movie theater on Route 66, Granite City, Illinois

More history has disappeared… I came to the corner of Chain of Rocks Road (Route 66) and Bel Air Drive which is where the Bel Air movie theater sign is supposed to be and it was not there.

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Instead, there’s a great big empty lot and a truck that says Bel-air commerce Park one and a half to five acre lots available, with the name of who to call. They tore down the sign. Now that I’m home, I researched and found this article — they only just removed it at the end this July… and it is now in the hands of private collectors

 

Route 66 Gateway Sign, Miami, Oklahoma

Just as you enter Miami Oklahoma you see this really nice Route 66 sign

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The Miami not the Miami of Florida but rather the Miami tribe which had originally lived in Indiana (where they are no longer recognized as a tribe) but were moved here. This relates to other places I’ve visited such as Tippecanoe Battlefield, at which point the Indians who had Tecumseh, were forced to move to here, in Oklahoma (i.e., Indian Territory) while the ones who did not support him and had decided to live like white men were allowed to stay in Indiana.

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Sapulpa, Oklahoma, one of America’s crossroads

In Sapulpa, Route 66 (from LA to Chicacgo) crosses with Route 75 a north-south highway that travels from Noyes, MN at the Canadian Border to Dallas Texas… it USED to run all the way to the Gulf of Mexico in Galveston Texas, but that last bit (like 66) has been replaced by I-45.

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Where the two road meet the town created a really nice Neon display…which for some reason google maps doesn’t know about (will try to submit it) … the maple below the neon is right where Main street and Dewey meet.

 

 

The mega Cross in Groom Texas

This Mega Cross belonging to “Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ Ministries” is located directly between I-40 and Route 66 in Groom Texas, is impossible to not see from either. That said, even as a Jew, the artistry of some of these things tends to impress me… whoever did this installation was actually pretty gifted, and has a tongue in cheek sense of humor, that I have got to wonder if the owners of the property who paid for it actually get.

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According to Atlas Obscura, this is the seventh-largest ‘freestanding’ cross in the world (at 190 feet)… so pretty frigging big. Like I’ve said before at other Catholic “Station of the Cross” tourist traps, Jews just don’t do shit like this… cause you know… the fourth commandment and all that good stuff.

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What I found kind of interesting was that at the base of the statue of Jesus on the cross, people had left engraved bits of stone

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As a Jew we place stones on graves, is this somehow related to that?

At the bottom of the hill is the last supper… And for reasons beyond me, into the dish from which Jesus is supposed to have lifted the bread, people were placing money

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surrounding the ginormous cross are the stations of the cross…. all of them impressive bits of work

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But what finally made me decide that I have to pat the artist on the back was the view as I walked towards the building with the gift store…. you don’t really get the full impact from a distance. Standing near the cross it’s just looks really pretty and inviting… but as you walk towards it, the impact hit me like a ton of bricks, so hard that it actually made me uncomfortable. I took a step back, looked again, and SURE enough I was damned sure the effect was intentional

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From about this position (and I’m not sure the photo does it justice) it looks like you’re looking between a woman’s legs into her vagina ….which is a paradise of gushing waters with the cross as her clitoris

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The alignment staying true even as you walk closer… wondering if Jesus is the G-spot

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… and note the placement of the huge phallic symbol. I’m sorry but there’s no way a professional artist did any of this by accident…. talk about the ecstatic moment of Christ’s love….

And of course inside you find a massive gift shop….

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Even the bathroom art made me giggle nervously… Seriously who was the artist and HOW in Christs name did he or her manage to convince the the folks footing the bill to allow any of this? Or were they THIS oblivious?

My ex-boyfriend who I was with in college …who my parents assumed would be the son-in-law, his mom was a painter who worked mostly in watercolors and used to do a lot of flowers along with Japanese inspired images (in spite of being Korean which I always found interesting). Anyway, my mom felt that she had to support this woman’s endeavors (since she might soon be family) and asked her to bring over some stuff that my mom could buy from her. I told her my mom liked flowers, so she brought a lot of those, and my mom looked through the pile, focusing ultimately on one image that she said called to her, but she wasn’t sure why. That’s the one she wanted….

I looked at my dad, who looked knowingly at me… and we both looked at Mrs Cha (my boyfriend’s mom), who was trying to smile. We all knew what she was drawn to even if she didn’t. Of ALL the images my mom had opted for the one with a massive phallic symbol in the middle. People do this all the time… artists know exactly what they’re looking at but the naive don’t see the hidden sexual messages in the art. THAT is what was going on here.

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These dish towels made me giggle

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I horrified this one nice southern lady by pointing out the art she was oggling (see above) because of what it cost for what it was, had to have been made in China. I’m serious, she dropped it like it was anathema, saying, “Oh you MUST be wrong, they wouldn’t sell that here.”… so I picked it up, turned it over and quickly found the “Made in China” mark… and showed it to her. Keep in mind almost all of these folks are the Pro-Trump, Make America Great sort.

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And then there was a movie theater showing a movie talk

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VW Slug Bug Ranch: Panhandle, TX

Another Route 66 artwork is the VW Slug Bug Ranch, which is just east of Amarillo, in Panhandle Texas. This piece is sort of the baby brother of the much more famous Cadillac Ranch, which I was at a few days ago.]

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Unlike the Cadillac Ranch which was built by a well known art group, and funded by a multimillionaire,

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There was no one there to help me, and I was having a hell of a time finding a place to put the phone where it wouldn’t fall over… 

no one knows for sure WHO built this, or even for sure who owns the Bug Ranch. And unlike it’s more famous brother, almost no one bothers to come to see this one… only one other person was there when I visited.