SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.
The annual Route 66 Rendezvous, the largest cruising classic car show west of the Mississippi, a happening described as “California’s Best Special Event” by the California Travel and Tourism Commission, and a four-day horsepower party here attended by up to 400,000 gearheads, is dead.
Who killed it?
The organizers. They did the deed a few months ago, stunningly spiking the September event with seemingly little warning. A terse press release made the announcement, while trying to sugar-coat the cancellation. “We need to put the Rendezvous temporarily on hold so that we can come back bigger and better,” said Jack Brown, the chief executive of Stater Brothers markets, the event’s major sponsor.
Actually, Stater Bros. was probably about as stunned as anyone that the 2013 event was cancelled. Everything seemed to be in place for its 20th anniversary running this year: major sponsor signed (Stater Bros.), logos designed, posters printed, t-shirts silk-screened…but then the City of San Bernardino went down in financial flames.
The city declared bankruptcy, California issued some tighter controls on the use of economic redevelopment funds that once helped underwrite the event, and the entire convention and visitors bureau that helped organize it got canned and disbanded. Other than that…!
The event was a massive homage to the legendary Chicago-to-Los Angeles U.S. highway that had passed through San Bernardino (among a bunch of places – refer to the Chuck Berry song for a refresher) along its 2,448-mile route. Route 66 opened in 1926 and for more than half a century it was a major migration, tourism and commerce lifeline through the heart of America. But the interstate highway system (for which construction began in 1958) eventually bypassed every mile of it. By 1985 the route was removed from designation in the U.S. highway system.
Despite efforts to bury it, Route 66 refused to die. There were just too many memories. Too much kitsch built along the route. Too many artifacts of America’s love of the automobile and the freedom of movement it bestowed. Preservationists succeeded in getting large sections designated as “Historic Route 66.” And so the legend has lived on; some sections have even been restored.
And its memory has been saluted by many special events – the largest of which was the Rendezvous – a Bacchanalian celebration of chrome, metal flake paint, wide whitewalls and tail fins.
Some argue the event isn’t dead – only sleeping. But the buzzards are circling, and already trying to pick the carcass as clean as road kill.
At least two groups are planning competing events, seeking to leverage its legacy, for the same Sept. 20-22 weekend.
The city of Ontario, Calif., some 22 miles west, has announced it plans to host a three-day show modeled on the format of the now-defunct Rendezvous. The event, to be called the “Route 66 Cruisin’ Reunion”, has a bit of a credibility problem: Route 66 does not actually run through Ontario’s city limits, like it does in San Bernardino. Route 66 does come close, however, to Ontario; passing within two blocks of the city’s northernmost boundary line.
Meanwhile, the San Bernardino Area Chamber of Commerce, has decided to organize its own Route 66 tribute event the same weekend. Rather confusingly, it will be called the “Rendezvous Back to Route 66.” This event is in addition to ones had already being organized by local car clubs, hoping to stage their own alternative events in San Bernardino on that once-vacant, now-crowded Sept. 20-22 weekend.
It remains to be seen, however, how well – if at all – any of these events will be supported by the legions of Route 66 fans, nostalgic motoring enthusiasts and vintage car owners who made the original Rendezvous such an iconic happening.
The event was reported to have generated up to $50 million in income for beleaguered San Bernardino; it was shut down for lack of a substitute source for the convention and visitors bureau’s contribution of $500,000.
June 28, 2013