Since many folks will not have the time to read this post or the one prior here is the point I’m trying to make. The Maplewood Theater building should be restored (hopefully to its original use as a theater). Phase One should include the restoration of the marquee.
The theater building is unique amongst our commercial buildings in that it was constructed the same year Route 66 was inaugurated. The original letters spelling MAPLEWOOD from the marquee survive and are in possession of the City of Maplewood. The building is already within the mythical aura of Route 66.
Several years ago, a group from Czechoslovakia flew to Chicago to begin an interesting vacation/roadtrip filming as they went. Similar groups from Germany and elsewhere have begun their trips outfitted with rented cycles from Doc’s Harley-Davidson dealership in Kirkwood. The object of the affection and fascination of these groups and many others is to travel the as-close-to-the-original-as-possible route of the now legendary and mythological Route 66.
Subject of a television series, a hit song, countless books and articles, Route 66 has come to symbolize much more to its fans than the narrow strips of concrete it once was. Beginning in cold, windy Chicago and culminating in sunny Santa Monica, Route 66 has become a metaphorical backwards journey from death to life.
It has been identified with the car culture in the US perhaps more than any other road, carrying everyone from the dust bowl refugees of Steinbeck to the hot rodders of Jan and Dean. Not-so-prescient highway planners tried for many decades to make it disappear only to have it willed back to life by its many fans.
The various paths 66 followed over the years are known as alignments. 66 fans take note. We in Maplewood are fortunate to have had the very first alignment of Route 66 run straight through the heart of our town (following Manchester Road) from its inception in 1926 until 1932 (or 33 depending on which source you consult).
In 1926 a theater building was constructed in Maplewood directly on Route 66. The building still exists in the 7100 block of Manchester. Shorn of its marquee it looks like little more than an average building of the period with storefronts at street level and apartments above. There is a pass-through in the center that was once the entrance to the lobby and auditorium. A careful observer can spot the cast iron lion’s heads that once anchored the diagonal supports of the marquee.
No other building in our city is as easily adapted to myth as this one. (see my previous post for an example of the importance of myth). Its birth coincided with the birth of Route 66. The story of the original letters from the original marquee returned to their exact spots in space after being saved from destruction and preserved for decades by a small band of zealots will be a clincher. The newspaper archives contain the seeds of myth. Knowledge of historic events on site especially with movie stars present will regenerate interest in the building. If the 66ers will drive miles out of the way to see a few deteriorated pieces of pavement from the original road, tell me they wouldn’t be interested in our theater. Just as the Alamo has become a historic touchstone for San Antonio, the Maplewood Theater could easily become a touchstone (touchbrick might be more accurate) for the City of Maplewood.
If phase one of the restoration restores the marquee, that alone should be enough to increase interest in and revenue from the storefronts and apartments. Hopefully phase two could include the reconstruction of the theater auditorium perhaps using The Pageant on Delmar as a construction model.
Joe Edwards has provided model after successful model in the Delmar Loop. Hopefully someone will see our Maplewood Theater could be as valuable to our area as the Tivoli or Moolah are to theirs.