On January 19 representatives from the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design announced that it and project partners at the New Mexico Highlands University (NMHU) had scored a National Park Service (NPS) grant for the preservation of the legendary Route 66 cultural landscape in Tucumcari, New Mexico, a small city about 175 miles east of Albuquerque.
“Learning from the Mother Road,” will use geomatics, archaeology, and the “technical humanities” to better understand and preserve “a landscape of movement that defines the Route 66 corridor.”
“New Mexico, and especially Tucumcari, has long enjoyed a rich association with the transnational route,” Frank Matero, Gonick Family Professor and chair of the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation at Penn and director of the Center for Architectural Conservation (CAC), said in a press release. “The result has been one of the largest intact assemblages of roadside architecture, features, and infrastructure that is as diverse in typology as it is in chronology. Our study in some ways, harkens back to the other great road trip to Las Vegas by the Venturi-Rauch-Scott-Brown studio and comes just in time to contribute towards the Mother Road’s centenary in 2026.”
Matero co-wrote the grant with NMHU’s Lauren Addario, Joe Zebrowski, Lewis Borck. According to an NPS news release, the final product will be “a layered, geo-cultural history of Tucumcari’s Route 66 landscape as it has evolved over time, and a Conservation Management Plan. The work will be made available to the public through a web-based platform and will explore best practices on how to record the physical landscape of Route 66 while providing opportunities for public participation in the on-going construction of the people’s history of Route 66.”
When it opened in 1926, Route 66 was the United States’ first all-weather highway. While there was a coast-to-coast highway up and running a decade before Route 66, it was only accessible to wealthy travelers. Route 66 was one of the later roads—and one of the original thoroughfares in the United States Numbered Highway System—that brought transcontinental motoring to the masses. Running from Chicago to Los Angeles, the highway connected rural communities of the American West to the urban centers of the Midwest and Northeast. Its decline began with the Interstate Highway Act of 1956, the law that established the (more direct and extensive) interstate network of today. After it was decommissioned in 1985, sections of the roadway were converted to state, local, or private roads, while others were abandoned completely. (As a result, today it’s not possible to cruise between L.A. and Chicago on Route 66 uninterrupted.)
Last year “Learning from the Mother Road” received almost $30,000 from the NPS’s Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, with a cost-share match of approximately $113,500. Since its start in 2001, Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program has directed more than $6.53 million in funds raised via public-private partnerships to finance the commemoration and revitalization of Route 66.