The legendary strip of asphalt that runs the 2,448 miles between Santa Monica and Chicago, dubbed “The Mother Road” by John Steinbeck, connects a cultural crossection of Americans via highway icons ranging from Wig Wam motels to shiny Cadillac diners and neon lights.
For more than two decades, San Bernardino has hosted the Route 66 Rendezvous — California’s biggest salute to the route — in the city’s downtown streets, encompassing Fifth Street, the actual historic road,
The automotive street fair, which pays tribute to cruisin,’ classic cars, hot rods and the famous Mother Road itself, has been huge in San Bernardino, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to 35 blocks of downtown, filling local hotel rooms and drawing customers to local businesses.
Gleaming chrome and revving engines traditionally mark the city’s signature event on the third weekend of September.
In February, the Stater Bros. Route 66 Rendezvous, named for its title sponsor, was put on hiatus after the city filed for bankruptcy and the state eliminated funding for the San Bernardino Convention and Visitors Bureau, producers of the event.
This year, as if to test the car show’s durability and diversity, two dueling groups of car buffs are anxious to fill the void — on the same weekend.
Two cities, two paths
It is a tale of two cities — now involving Ontario as well as San Bernardino.
The city of San Bernardino will host “Rendezvous Back to Route 66” Sept. 20-21, while Ontario hosts the inaugural “Route 66 Car Reunion” Sept. 20-22.
Both events are modeled after the original Rendezvous, where cars are the stars.
“We always remembered the cars are the stars and built attendance on the cars,” said Jack Brown, CEO and chairman of Stater Bros. Markets, title sponsor of the original event.
The Southern California supermarket chain started its sponsor relationship with the Rendezvous for the inaugural event in 1990 at Glen Helen Regional Park, becoming title sponsor in 1997.
“We’re so proud to be part of an event that has attracted a maximum of 600,000 people and 2,000 cars to downtown San Bernardino over a three-day weekend,” Brown said. “We stepped back this year when the city couldn’t guarantee police protection to keep people safe. We couldn’t do anything without the city. Hopefully, when they get their finances back on track, we’ll be able to continue,” he said.
Brown wished the Ontario Convention Center much success in continuing the heritage of Route 66.
Danny Castro, board member and former president of the California Historical Route 66 Association, looks at the situation from a historical perspective.
“I’m never against any Route 66 event, but the cities should have planned their events on different weekends,” he said.
“The Rendezvous is San Bernardino’s Rose Parade and brought everyone together,” said Castro, who will drive the 1956 Dodge Highway Patrol car used in the ‘50s Highway Patrol television series during the Rebel Cruise, led by columnist John Weeks Sept. 20 in San Bernardino. “The Rendezvous has its roots here in San Bernardino and I still see it continuing here. Jack Brown of Stater Bros. still owns the name and we have the interest and all those car clubs, including the Over the Hill Gang and the E Street Cruisers.”
Confident in new events
Despite the fact that both events are on the same weekend, both car-fests will include sock hops, costume and trivia contests and raffle prizes in an attempt to tantalize the car-loving public.
And organizers are confident in a good time, one that will have visitors coming back in future years.
“Everyone will enjoy the experience this year,” said Judi Penman, president and CEO of the San Bernardino Area Chamber of Commerce, organizers of the event.
“We have a wealth of experience — at least 100 volunteers and a lot of them have worked the Rendezvous before and are loyal to this community and the original Route 66,” Penman said, adding that the event will feature a red Shelby Mustang Drag Racing Car, which can go one-quarter mile in 6.05 seconds.
“We just want everyone to have a good time.”
Ontario’s Route 66 Cruisin’ Reunion is set for downtown Ontario, on Euclid Avenue, a few miles south of the famous road.
Michael Krouse, president and CEO of the Ontario Convention and Visitors Bureau, said a little more than 600 classic car owners have registered and at least 1,000 vehicles will be on display at the three-day car show.
“The ultimate goal is to create a quality event for the community and for families. We hope to continue to add new and unique things in the years to come,” Krouse said.
The route, which mainly goes through downtown on Euclid Avenue, was created to minimize impact on the residents, and letters were sent to residents in advance to get input.
“We really have the community’s best interest in mind,” he said.
While there are several parking lots around the Ontario Civic Center, two blocks east of Euclid Avenue, the public will be able to park at the Ontario Convention Center and get on a complimentary shuttle that will take them to the car show.
Attendees will not only get to enjoy classic cars but organizers have 16 musical acts over the three days, a neon light contest and vendor booths.
Officials expect more than 200,000 people will attend the Ontario show over the weekend and generate $11 million in economic impact.
Councilwoman Debra Dorst-Porada said she hopes all the attention on Euclid Avenue will bring more business to the downtown area, which has struggled to drum up new business.
“It’s about getting downtown going again,” she said.
“This is our first year and we’re just getting our feet wet. The second year will be bigger and better. We just hope people come out and have a good time,” Dorst-Porada said.
San Bernardino’s die-hard Rendezvous fans aren’t letting it go that easily, hoping also to see a future in their event.
Steve Portias, president of the car club Inland Vans Berdoo and a car buff since the Rendezvous began, said this year’s event is a “big positive to San Bernardino and should be supported by all residents of the area. I’m taking part in the Rebel Cruise, which is a throwback to the old days — no cost, no rules, no set cruise route — just cruising in for hot rods, muscle cars or grandma’s station wagon.”