Recovering the Places We Lost Along Route 66
I hold up my camera to snap a photo and that simple act feels momentous. As the image prints from my Polaroid Snap Touch instant digital camera, I wonder if a ghost or hidden artifact will be revealed in its corners. Something that will live on long after we’ve left this place.
My time on Historic Route 66 was spent mostly behind the camera lens as I attempted to capture the spirit of places along the route that are no longer in service, many of which hold few hints of their former significance. This wasn’t the original plan—my goal was to visit the Green Book sites currently standing in Los Angeles and have conversations with the folks who know their histories. As it turns out, many of these spaces have been abandoned, demolished, or repurposed in recent years.
The Negro Motorist Green Book, known simply as “The Green Book,” was a guide written by former New York mailman Victor Hugo Green in an attempt to assist his fellow African American travelers as they made their way across the country during the era of Jim Crow laws. Several editions of the book were published from 1936 to 1966, and each highlighted businesses and private homes throughout the US that were known to welcome people of color. This is information that was particularly precious in a time of segregation, arbitrary arrests, and “Sundown towns,” or places where minorities were not welcome after sunset.
Though many of the cities across Route 66 featured few or no locations that were known to be safe for people of color to stop for food, rest, and respite, a total of 224 businesses and private homes were included in the Los Angeles guide. The city also happens to be where Route 66 originally ended, before it was moved to Santa Monica in 1936 and then all the way to the Pacific Ocean at the Santa Monica Pier in 2009.
Note: Polaroid is a sponsor of the National Trust's Route 66 National Treasure campaign.