The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

State, national, world

September 30, 2010

Auction set for items from Route 66 icon in Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY — For generations of people living in Oklahoma City, or those just passing through on old U.S. Highway 66, the neon sign outside 66 Bowl has served as a landmark.

The sign — designed to look like a bowling ball hitting a bowling pin — harkened back to the heyday of The Mother Road in the 1950s and 1960s, when it wasn’t at all uncommon for weary travelers who had stopped for the night to join locals in bowling a few frames.

“It’s one of the most photographed signs on Route 66, anywhere,” said the bowling alley’s longtime proprietor, 78-year-old Jim Haynes. “It doesn’t matter what time of day it is. There’s always someone out there taking pictures of it.”

Now the sign, and everything else at 66 Bowl, is for sale. Haynes sold the building decorated with memorabilia from the famous highway for $1.4 million earlier this month and an auction of its contents is set for Friday. The building soon will become an Indian grocery store and restaurant.

“I can assure you that there will be some people there who will be most interested in obtaining that commercial archaeology,” said Michael Wallis, a prominent Route 66 historian from Tulsa who served as the voice of the sheriff of the mythical old highway town of Radiator Springs in the animated movie “Cars.”

“I call the signs and the signage the language of the highway,” Wallis said. “That’s truly how the highway speaks. It’s those signs, those bands of bright, candy-colored neon and sometimes zany graphics, that help lure people into the establishment.”

The bowling facility opened in March 1959. Haynes and his wife, Peggy, bought 66 Bowl in 1978 from its original owner, Educators Investment Corp., and have run it ever since. The facility has hosted countless parties, tournaments and concerts, including one last year featuring Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Wanda Jackson of Oklahoma City.

Two years after 66 Bowl opened, Jackson and Wendell Goodman had their first date there after she asked him out. Eight months later, they married.

“I’m still married to her 49 years later,” Goodman said. “We have a lot of fond memories of that place.”

Last year, Haynes helped celebrate 66 Bowl’s 50th anniversary. Now, he says, he needs to raise money to pay a debt. He said he couldn’t find a buyer interested in keeping it as a bowling alley.

“It was just one of those things,” Haynes said. “I can’t blame anybody. I’m unhappy about it because I had a lot of loyal bowlers and loyal employees. But that’s life.”

According to Oklahoma County Assessor’s Office records, Spices of Indian LLC bought the 25,636-square-foot building and the sale closed earlier this month. Local real estate agent Indu Singh, who helped broker the sale, said the building’s new owner hopes to open a Spices of India store there by the end of the year.

While the loss of a Route 66 icon is disappointing, Wallis said, he said restoration efforts along the highway will continue.

“We need the old and the new,” he said. “We need to be able to live with change. What we have to do is make sure we don’t lose our best examples from those various incarnations of Route 66. We can’t save it all but we’ve got to save some.”

The sign being sold isn’t the original, Haynes said. Not long after he bought 66 Bowl — he can’t recall the year but thinks it was in the early 1980s — a fierce storm toppled that sign, he said. He said teary-eyed bowlers persuaded him to “replace it just like it was.”

“When it’s working right, it’s pretty neat,” he said. “The ball goes around the sign electronically and it hits the pins.”

Louis Dakil, whose auction company will conduct the 66 Bowl sale, said bowling alleys across the nation are aware of the event and he expects the bowling equipment should sell. He’s as curious as anyone about how much the sign — still operational although badly in need of a paint job — will fetch at the auction. Haynes said the minimum acceptable bid will be $50,000.

The auction will be “very unique because of the nostalgia and collectability, just being a part of Route 66,” Dakil said. “It’s nice to be a part of history, although it is sad in a way.”


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