Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Ultimate Route 66 State

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planetware.com lists Route 66 as the #1 tourist attraction in Oklahoma.   This doesn’t surprise me because Planet Ware Inc. is in Ontario, Canada.  Interest in historic Route 66 from Chicago to LA has faded a bit among Americans, but it remains high among foreign visitors.  Bikers from Germany, Asians in tour buses, and couples from England will likely share your space if you visit any facilities displaying old Route 66 signs, gas pumps, motel memorabilia, etc.

Ruth and I have done a bit of Route 66 exploring in the past 2 years, and we have discovered that there’s more to see in Oklahoma than in any other state.  In fact, the best museum devoted to Route 66 that we’ve visited so far is 85 miles directly west of Oklahoma City in Clinton.  It’s understandable that it’s there because the National Highway 66 Association headquartered in Clinton for almost 30 years after World War II.  The Association disbanded in the 1980s, but high interest in Route 66 remains.  According to TripAdvisor, the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum is the #1 tourist attraction in town and all but 5 of the 141 people who took the time to review it rated it either Excellent or Very Good.  They are right.

The Clinton Route 66 Museum seen today has been around since 1995.  Now advertising itself as Oklahoma’s official 66 showcase, it was extensively remodeled in 2012 and is now organized by eras with 7 galleries.  The Federal Government and State of Oklahoma both contributed to the half-million dollar upgrade.   The unusually enthusiastic staff made sure that I learned that this was the most profitable of the Route 66 facilities operated by the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS).

Route 66 was established in 1926, completed end-to-end in 1937, and decommissioned in 1985.  The 1950s was its Golden Age.  In this museum each decade was cleverly introduced by a license plate arch.  The oldest plate was a real 1926 Oklahoma one.  Music from each decade entertained me as I passed through each arch and gallery.  The museum’s focus was on Oklahoma’s particular impact on 66.  During the 1930s Dust Bowl, Okies fled in large numbers to places like California.  This was explored in John Steinbeck’s magnificent novel The Grapes of Wrath, which gave Route 66 its most enduring nickname, The Mother Road.  The original plan was for 66 to cover 2,448 miles, but its constructed length was 2,190 miles because sections were eliminated in the final paving, like the part that would have taken it through Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Current maps have stopped including old Route 66 except in Oklahoma.

Even though the Clinton Route 66 Museum was a 5 Compass experience, Ruth and I are still driven to explore more of Oklahoma’s fixation with Route 66.  There’s an Interpretive Center in Chandler in a 1930s native sandstone armory building that claims to present an intimate look at the Dust Bowl.  Chandler, here we come!

Hank


Vancouver Will Get Even Better

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Twice in the past 2 years Ruth and I have taken friends and relatives to Vancouver, British Columbia.  About 300 miles north of our home in Camas, Washington, Vancouver is one of the world’s great cities.  Every time we go, Ruth & I find something new.  Time before last we discovered Lynn Canyon Park and its suspension bridge.  We stopped briefly in Vancouver last week on our way home from Vancouver Island and heard a fine, free jazz/sax concert, ate at Blue Water Cafe, one of our favorite restaurants, and learned some exciting news about this ever-changing city.

The venerable 84-year-old Vancouver Art Museum has hired a Pritzker Prize winning Swiss firm, Herzog & de Meuron, to design a new museum that will open, hopefully, in spring, 2021.  Its official design should be revealed by the end of this month.  Herzog & de Meuron have already completed 20 museum projects including Miami’s new Pérez, but its most famous building is, probably, the Beijing National Stadium, commonly called the Bird’s Nest, that it designed for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

The Vancouver Art Museum is currently in a federally protected heritage building in downtown Vancouver that will be a short walk from the new Nordstrom’s Department Store at Pacific Centre scheduled to open on September 18, 2015.   Since a heritage structure cannot be torn down, the building will remain a cultural venue when the Museum vacates.  Rumors fly as to what it will become.  The new Vancouver Art Gallery will be at West Georgia and Cambie Streets, 2 blocks from its present location on Hornby.

The Vancouver Art Gallery needs to raise $350 million from public and private sources to make this happen.  Its growth and popularity have made this investment understandable.  In the past 15 years, it has experienced an 80% increase in visitors (now 360,000 annually) and a 560% boost in memberships.  The Vancouver Art Gallery now has more than 11,000 works and needs more exhibition space.  It has acquired 4,000 of them just since the year 2000.  The current collection is worth an estimated $300,000,000.

Design and construction documents will be obtained by next year.  The actual building of the new museum will take place over 36 months beginning in spring, 2018.  The Vancouver Art Gallery has a current exhibit about this project that will be up until October 4.  If you don’t recognize the name Emily Carr, don’t know much about Canadian art, and want to visit this fascinating city, next fall or winter would be a good time to go.   Winters are generally mild but rainy in Vancouver.  The present Vancouver Art Gallery will have a show featuring major works by Canadian landscape artists called “Embracing Canada” from October 30, 2015 to January 17, 2016.

Hank


Elbasan: Somewhat Indescribable

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People with concern in their voices asked Ruth and me why we were going to Albania when we could be going to Italy instead.   The simple answer was that we were trying to visit all of  the European countries.  We now have only 10 left.  If we hadn’t gone to Albania, we’d have 11 left.  This country is definitely complex,  surreal, and sad.  Across the Adriatic Sea from powerhouse destination Italy with troubled Greece along its entire southern border, Albania sees tourism as a major source of future revenue that will help to relieve severe economic distress.  Albania is on The Economist‘s list of the countries with the highest rates of unemployment.

In Albania, Ruth and I visited 4 cities–Tirana, Kruja, Durres, and Elbasan. With some justification inyourpocket, an excellent city guide, called Tirana “Europe’s quirkiest capital city”.  Elbasan is surely Albania’s most polluted city.  The Chinese built an industrial complex here in 1974 that included a steel mill, a heavy metals processor, etc.  Although the Albanian government has, over time, shut down this operation, heavy metals do not degrade.

Joseph Stalin and Albanian dictator Envar Hoxha were buddies.  Hoxha made sure that Albanian schools taught Russian.   But relations deteriorated under Khrushev.  Envar hated Nikita, who apparently wanted a greater leadership role in Albania.  Hoxha expelled Russia and welcomed China, which became like Albania’s older, much admired brother.  However, when the U.S. and China became closer, Hoxha began building bunkers.  Two years after Nixon visited China, the Chinese erected a heavy metal processing plant in Elbasan that is now largely abandoned.  I have never, ever seen a larger plant!   It spreads across the city, Albania’s 3rd largest, like a deserted Mad Max movie set.  Elbasan, by the way, has the only movie theater in the country outside Tirana.

On the Shkumbin River, which I don’t think I’ll be swimming in, Elbasan’s nickname is The Bellybutton of Albania because it’s in the exact center of the country.   Originally known as Skampa, it was on the Via Egnatia, the ancient Roman road that led to Constantinople.  The city was, and still is, known for its unusual castle.  Castles are usually built on high hills, but this Ottoman stronghold is on flat plain.  In 1466 Sultan Mehmed rebuilt it, but the ancient walls remain.   Within them, archeologists worked before a trendy restaurant was built directly over the ruins.

Other reasons to travel to Elbasan are to see the King Mosque, its ethnographic museum, and the Monastery of St John Vladimir.  In Albania, where people shake their heads up and down when they want to say no and back and forth when they mean yes, Elbasan is probably Europe’s quirkiest mid-country city.

Hank


Fort Worden Awaits Development

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There are 13 forts in Washington State on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).   Some were very important.  Seattle’s Fort Lawton, for example, was the 2nd largest port of embarkation for troops on their way to the Pacific Theater during World War II.  Fort Lawton closed in 2011. Spokane’s Fort George Wright opened in 1899 and closed in 1957 when it was declared surplus.  Three years later, part of it became a community college.

Fort Worden is one of more than 30 forts in Washington State, but it’s not on the Register.  To be on NRHP, a place must be nominated by a state, a tribe, or a federal agency.  Apparently, Fort Worden has not been nominated like San Francisco’s Presidio, which has been listed since 1966 and has become, according to National Geographic Traveler, one of the best tourist attractions in the world (see January 16, 2015’s blog).  Like historic Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River in southwest Washington, Fort Worden in Port Townsend has the potential to become a major tourist draw.  However, it isn’t there yet.

An active U.S. army base from 1902 until 1953, Fort Worden was bought by the State and became a juvenile detention facility until 1971 when it passed to the Washington State Park system.  It opened as a combo historic fort and state park in 1973.  Some of what remains from the fort years, like military housing on Battery Way, has been re-purposed.  Several guest facilities with kitchens, linen service, etc. are available for rental by families and other groups (fortworden.org).  The Commanding Officer’s Quarters has been restored to early 20th century authenticity and opens seasonally as a museum.  The Park’s 433 acres also include the Puget Sound Coast Artillery Museum, a balloon hangar, a small, traditional military cemetery, anti-aircraft gun emplacements, a marine science center, a lighthouse, miles of hiking trails, etc. Our favorite trail led to the Walker gun emplacement on a promontory offering an unbeatable view of the entry to Puget Sound. There’s a conference center, camping facilities, etc.  But be warned.  A lot of Fort Worden awaits a developer with full pockets who can turn it into the Northwest’s Presidio.  It definitely has the potential to become that.

Fort Worden was most active during World War I.  When war was declared, Worden expanded with 6 new buildings including 2 66-man barracks, a mess hall, a latrine, and officers’ quarters.  All of this was accomplished for $13,577.23.  In 1920 the 24th Battery Balloon Company arrived.  Its flight tests were satisfactory and a balloon hangar resulted.  The hangar remains as does Alexander’s Castle, the original 1883 building on the property built by an Episcopal rector and now promoted as a place for romantic getaways. In addition to An Officer and a Gentleman, Hollywood came to Fort Worden to film The Ring early in the 21 century.

Hank

 

 


Port Townsend, WA, Awakened

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The State of Washington has lots of cool towns–Twisp, Winthrop, Dayton, Camas, Walla Walla, Forks, etc–but Port Townsend is rapidly becoming my favorite.  Ruth and I just returned from our 2nd 2015 visit after several years of not going there.  Much is new among the old.

Port Townsend could have become Seattle.  In the sea travel era, it became a Northwest U.S. superstar town because of its Admiralty Inlet location at the entrance to Puget Sound where the water went from wild to placid.  In the 1800s it was on the brink of becoming a great city with a booming economy. The population was projected to quadruple to 20,000 by the turn of the century.   Called the New York of the West, Port Townsend, which was founded in 1851, attracted a Customs Collection facility that made it necessary for every ship from any foreign port to stop there.  The town was growing on 2 levels.  Bankers, merchants, and ship owners were building mansions on the hill now called Uptown.  Downtown, kind of a sin at sea level place, had brothels, the city jail, wharfs, etc.  But then the Depression of 1893 occurred and the railroad terminated in Seattle, not Port Townsend as expected.  It went to sleep.

But in the 1970s Port Townsend awakened and became a hippie hangout. The mansions on the hill became B&Bs.  In the early 1980s Hollywood came to town to make the successful An Officer and a Gentleman.  Port Townsend was on its way back up.  Ruth & I saw its potential when we first started visiting in the 1990s, but then we got distracted and didn’t return until 2015.

We were amazed at Port Townsend’s rebirth.  The population was soaring with both young families and retirees finding, and loving, its slow pace, unspoiled environment, and undeniable quality of life.  New attractions included the sensational Kelly Art Deco Lighting Museum in Vintage Hardware that I wrote about on April 28.   Old attractions like the downtown Jefferson Museum and the uptown Carnegie Library were being redone.  Manresa Castle was thriving.  Places with vast potential for tourism development like Fort Worden, the Northwest’s Presidio, were being discussed.  Visiting Port Townsend was still like time travel back to the 19th century, but with modern amenities.

Tomorrow, Fort Worden.

Hank