Vintage remnants of Route 66 are quickly fading into the history books. But there are still places — even locally — to visit if you’re looking for a dose of nostalgia. Whether you’re hankering for a good, old-fashioned milkshake, a place to lay your head or a great photo backdrop, take a trip down the old road to make some new memories.
Munger Moss Motel
If you’re looking for a sign, this is it: Lebanon’s Munger Moss Motel has one that truly lights up the night. The motel dates back to 1946, when 14 cabins with garages were constructed and began welcoming guests. Back then, rationing was still a reality — so it’s thought that perhaps some of the lumber used in the project was from the black market.
The motel is owned by Bob and Ramona Lehman, who’ve overseen the business since 1971. The couple has worked diligently to preserve the motel as a piece of Route 66 history. Part of that work has included the restoration of the iconic sign in 2010, a project which was aided by the Route 66 Association of Missouri’s Neon Heritage Preservation Committee and the National Park Service’s Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program.
Want to visit? Connect with the Munger Moss Motel (417-532-3111; 1336 East Route 66, Lebanon) online to make a reservation.
Don’t blink: Look to the left as you approach Niangua. You’ll see the remnants of Abbylee Court, a village of cabins that are now used as private residences. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the court’s sign which — as was the motor court’s tagline from days gone by — is hidden “among the trees.”
Steak ’n Shake may be a nationwide chain, but there’s something unique about Springfield’s location at the intersection of National and St. Louis. This special stop still offers curbside service, which it proudly advertises on a sign on the edge of the parking lot. Of course, if you’d rather sip that shake inside, go right on in — just take time to imagine the Route 66 travelers who would’ve been driving down St. Louis Street while on the route. After all, the restaurant’s been there since 1962, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.
Got burgers on your mind? Visit this Steak ’n Shake (417-866-6109; 1158 E. St. Louis St., Springfield) anytime to fill your fix — it’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week!
Taylor’s Drive In
OK, so Taylor’s Drive In (417-862-3278; 139 Memorial Plaza, Springfield) isn’t technically located on Route 66. But since it missed sitting on the route by only a block or two, there’s a pretty good chance that Route 66 travelers stopped here for a burger — and you can, too. The popular lunch spot has been around since 1947, and still serves up traditional steakburgers, patty melts, fries, milkshakes and throwback thirst quenchers.
If you’d like to sample a burger, be sure to visit during lunch from Monday to Friday between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Oh, and remember to bring cash — no cards are accepted here.
Springfield’s narrowest theater (we’ll get to that in a minute) has seen some pretty famous patrons. Elvis was even among the masses at one point, sneaking off to watch a western before performing at the nearby Shrine Mosque.
The historic venue has seen a lot of love in recent years, after a major restoration brought its lobby and theater back to their original conditions. The theater currently hosts a variety of happenings (including concerts in conjunction with 2015’s Birthplace of Route 66 Festival) on a regular basis.
Now, about its history: The Gillioz Theatre was constructed in 1926 — the same year that Springfield was dubbed the birthplace of Route 66. It was a project of Maurice Gillioz, a locally well-known builder and developer. Mr. Gillioz wanted his theater to front Route 66, but only a small section of space was available. So he got a bit creative and used that space for the marquee — and then had patrons walk down a long corridor to reach the actual theater, where there was ample room to build.
Want to see it in person? If you’d like to attend a performance at the Gillioz (417-863-9491; 317 Park Central East, Springfield), check out the theater’s website.
Don’t blink: If you take College Street out of Springfield, you may notice an unusual sign in Springfield’s Birthplace of Route 66 Roadside Park. This “Giant Hamburg” sign honors (and replicates) one that advertised Red’s Giant Hamburg, a longtime Route 66 burger joint. It was called as such because owner Sheldon “Red” Chaney ran out of room to write hamburger when painting his sign. Red’s closed in 1984.
Gay Parita and Spencer
As you leave Springfield, there are a couple of gas stations you’ll want to keep an eye out for — but not if you need gasoline. Instead of fuel, these stops offer great photo opportunities.
Gay Parita is first up on the agenda. Loving created by Gary Turner, the station replicates a 1930s Sinclair station that formerly sat in the same spot. After he built the station, Gary was known to sit at the site and visit with passerbys who quickly became his friends on their journeys down the route.
Unfortunately, things aren’t quite the same here as they used to be. Gary passed away in January 2015, and the site isn’t regularly open to visitors. On top of that, many of the vintage signs have been removed due to theft. However, it’s still a cool place to stop and take a picture!
Don’t blink: Take time to gawk (from the road) at the collection of vintage Corvairs located next to Gay Parita.
A few miles down the road is Spencer, a former village turned ghost town. The vintage station and feed store provide another great photo opportunity — one that’s cool enough to attract vandals, who recently ripped off one of the gas pumps. It’s still worth a look-see, though.
Arthur Boots probably didn’t think his motor court would still be going strong more than 75 years after he set up shop. And it probably wouldn’t be, if not for the hard work of Priscilla Bledsaw and Deborah Harvey, sisters and Route 66 enthusiasts who rescued the Boots Court in 2011. The duo has reopened the motel, and is gradually restoring all of the court’s rooms with period decor. Their efforts will be very noticeable come this fall, when they reinstall green neon around the exterior of the building.
Want to stay? You can connect with the Boots (107 S. Garrison Ave., Carthage; 417-310-2989) in advance of your trip to make a reservation. If you’re a fan of Clark Gable, be sure to request room 6 or 10 — those are the rooms where he stayed on his trips through Carthage!
66 Drive-In Theater
The 66 Drive-In Theater was built with a boom — the drive-in boom, that is. In 1941, there were only 52 similar theaters nationwide, but by 1956 — seven years after the Carthage theater opened — there were 4,500.
Little has changed about the 66 Drive-In Theater since it opened in darkness on that September evening more than 65 years ago. It’s even still located in the country, a luxury that many surviving drive-ins aren’t blessed with. If you’re looking for a perfect summer evening stop, be sure to head on out.
Want to visit? Connect with the 66 Drive-In Theater (417-359-5959; 17231 Old 66 Blvd., Carthage) online to find showtimes and more information.