By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
There’s Tow Mater in Galena, Red Oak in Carthage and the Route 66 Welcome Center in Webb City.
Now, a Joplin artist and businessman has launched an effort to give Joplin its own stopping point on historic Route 66.
Paul Whitehill, of Images in Tile, is proposing to install two tile wall murals and a tourist photo opportunity on the south wall of the Pearl Brothers True Value Hardware store at 617 S. Main St. There, the murals can be viewed from the intersection of Seventh and Main streets, where the original course of the route turned west toward Kansas.
“They wanted something as close as you can get,” said Harold Berger of the Pearl Brothers’ location near the intersection of the famous route. “You can’t get much closer than that. We’re happy to let them do it. It will improve the looks of our building and attract attention.”
Whitehill said he intends to have the murals in place by the time the International Route 66 Festival revs up here Aug. 1-3.
Michael Wallis, the Tulsa, Okla., author of “Route 66: The Mother Road” and the voice of the sheriff in the animated movie “Cars,” said in October the event will attract a large number of visitors to the area.
The festival is set around an annual meeting of eight state associations and the National Park Service to work on strategy for preserving and promoting the historic highway.
It features exhibits and presentations by authors and artists whose subject is the route. There will be a Main Street America Marketplace where vendors sell their Route 66-related memorabilia and merchandise.
“We’re trying to get some Route 66 heritage exposure,” said Patrick Tuttle, director of the Joplin Conventions and Visitors Bureau. “With the International Route 66 Festival, it gives us a great opportunity to connect with a lot of the roadies who will be here.”
Tuttle said visitors from 22 countries now come to the United States to trek the nostalgic route that stretches from Chicago to Los Angeles.
“We have been looking at what we can do to get them to stop and spend some time in Joplin versus going through” nonstop, Tuttle said.
Whitehill said the ground-level mural will be equipped with a sports car-themed seat where visitors can hop in and have a photo taken in front of the picture as a souvenir of their Joplin stop.
The murals will be constructed of ceramic tiles applied with a new digital image material that will make the image resistant to fading in sunlight and to graffiti.
It is the same technology and materials Whitehill’s business used to create murals that were applied as the exterior surfaces of four buildings that were constructed as a new visitor entrance to Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla. Photos of Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and Earth sent by the Hubble Space Telescope and the Voyager spacecraft were used to decorate the buildings.
Whitehill’s project has the blessing of the Joplin City Council. The city has agreed to take out a decaying brick courtyard next to the Pearl Brothers building that was installed decades ago to serve as a walkway between Main Street and a municipal parking lot behind the Main Street businesses.
Whitehill is working with the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Cultural Affairs Committee of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, though he is raising private funds to pay for the murals and their installation.
He said he is donating to the project too by reducing the cost he would normally charge by $20 a square foot. The cost of the materials and installation will be about $63,000.
Businesses and organizations can donate to the project at various sponsorship levels starting at $500. The donations qualify as charitable contributions. Checks designated to the Route 66 Public Art Mural can be sent to the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
Route 66 was the first continuously paved highway in the country. Construction began in 1926, and the Missouri portion was finished in 1932. It changed travel and tourism in America. At the time, hotels were in downtowns around railroad stations. But as Americans took to the road, motor courts grew along the highway as convenient places for them to stay.