Historic Route 66 – Ogden Avenue

Ogden Avenue is Berwyn’s stretch of Historic Route 66 – the Mother Road – designed for automobiles when the car was king of American culture. Today Rte 66 is celebrated at the Berwyn Route 66 Gift Shop, with scenic byway exhibits, at the annual Berwyn Route 66 Car Show, at local haunts like Cigars & Stripes BBQ Lounge, Michael Anthony’s Pizzeria and Paisans Pizzeria & Bar or just around the corner with live music at Harlem Avenue Lounge.

A History of Car Culture

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It’s a road so mythical, you may wonder if it still exists. And yet, cutting through Illinois is a 300-mile stretch of Route 66 that even today captures the imaginations of travelers the world over. The kitsch, the nostalgia, the people—it’s got all the makings of a road trip that’s just as much about the journey as the destination. Which is kind of the point when you take a trip down the Mother Road.

*excerpt taken from EnjoyIllinois.com.

Berwyn’s connection to Route 66

The City of Berwyn’s development began in 1856 when the south side of town began to be acquired and divided into lots. Developers invested heavily by building many roads and importing thousands of maple, ash, cedar, poplar, and pine trees, which were planted throughout the area that was bounded on the east by Ridgeland Avenue, on the west by Harlem Avenue, on the north by 31st Street, and by Old Plank Road (now Ogden Avenue), on the south. At that time, the only mode of transportation between this community and the City of Chicago was by horse and buggy along Old Plank Road. After a short period, the planks became warped and worn. In 1872, the Plank Road was renamed Ogden Avenue in honor of Chicago’s first mayor, William Butler Ogden. Portions of the road were bricked over by 1900 to accommodate the increasing traffic. In 1920, it was paved for smooth car travel. From 1926 to 1976, Ogden Avenue was designated as U.S. Route 66, connecting Chicagoans to Los Angeles.

Ogden Avenue was designed for automobiles when the car was king of American culture.  A wide street lined with drive-through businesses and convenient parking served both travelers and residents. Drive-in restaurants, service stations, and auto dealerships sprang up on Ogden to cater to a mobile society. In its heyday, the strip boasted over a dozen car dealerships.

Today, Berwyn continues to celebrate its car culture with events like the Berwyn Rt66 Car Show held annually.

A Brief history of illinois route 66*

Route 66 defined a remarkable era in the growth of our nation. As it threaded its way across eight states, it left its indelible mark on our nation’s physical, historical and cultural landscape. No other road symbolizes optimism, freedom and the American Dream quite like Route 66.

It began with an Oklahoma businessman and entrepreneur, Cyrus Avery, who envisioned a road stretching diagonally across the country between Lake Michigan and the Pacific Ocean. The diagonal course made it possible to connect hundreds of rural towns throughout the country and provide small communities access to a national highway system. The road was officially named Route 66 in 1929, but it was Avery who proclaimed it the “Main Street of America.”

Many “main streets” in Illinois were already connected by the Pontiac Trail, the original automobile route between Chicago and St. Louis. In 1920, State Bond Issue 4 enabled the construction of a new “hard road” to connect the two cities in a more direct fashion – the first in a series of efforts to make highway travel more efficient. Already paved in concrete by 1926, the Illinois stretch of US 66 was the first to claim it was “slab all the way.”

Over the next fifty years, the road carried travelers of all kinds: migrants from the Dust Bowl, military personnel, truckers, farmers, and eventually, vacationers. Ultimately, the desire for faster, safer and more efficient roadways led to the construction of a 4-land Route 66 following World War II. In addition to the extra lanes, the road was also realigned to bypass the small towns that had grown accustomed to heavy traffic and the commerce that came with it.

By 1977, Interstate 55 had completely replaced Route 66 in Illinois and in 1984 the last remaining section of US 66 in Arizona was bypassed by Interstate 40. Route 66 was officially decommissioned by the federal government in 1985. Fortunately, the legacy of Route 66 has survived. Today, travelers of the historic highway in Illinois can cruise more than 400 miles of road, including some of the original 1926 concrete segments.

*excerpt taken from illinoisroute66.org.

Route 66 Cultural Attractions

Attractions to explore along Route 66…

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ROUTE 66 MUSEUM

Berwyn’s Route 66 Museum is now a gift shop that is located next door to the former museum location. Route 66 travelers can take advantage of all of the free maps, travel tips and answers to Route 66 questions as the Museum staff has done in the past. A Free Route 66 Passport is available to all of the visitors and there is a great selection of Route 66 merchandise for sale! To provide a historical perspective and a photo opportunity, check out the restored original (1990’s) Berwyn Route 66 entry marker displayed in the parking lot adjacent to the gift shop, along with a “distance marker pole” and a 12′ x 15′ wall mural panel with a full color Route 66 Shield.

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ROUTE 66 INFORMATIONAL KIOSK

An information kiosk was installed to serve as a gateway marker and hub for Route 66 information in Berwyn. Across the street, make a pit stop at Paisans Pizzeria & Bar to experience great food and culture in a family-friendly atmosphere.

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HISTORIC ROUTE 66 SCENIC BYWAY WAYSIDE EXHIBITS

Berwyn has placed four exhibits on Ogden Avenue to celebrate its heritage as one of the first eastern suburban communities along the “Mother Road.” Berwyn’s exhibits feature the origin of the Ogden corridor and its early history, its first auto-oriented “fast food” restaurants, and its automobile-based economy and car culture. Exhibits are located: (1) adjacent to the parking lot of the LaVergne Education Center located at 3401 S. Gunderson, (2) South side of Ogden Avenue and Maple Avenue, (3) North side of Ogden Avenue and Wenonah Avenue, and (4) North side of Ogden Avenue and Clarence Avenue.

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BERWYN’S TOYS & TRAINS

Berwyn’s Toys & Trains, a family-owned, toy and model train store, has been one of Berwyn’s treasured assets for over twenty years. The business stocks over 20,000 toy brands, including vintage toys, as well as an amazing selection of model trains. The store features a toy train landscape with interactive buttons that can be enjoyed by children and adults. From the street, the building’s classic aluminum storefront has helped support Route 66’s architectural heritage.

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CIGARS & STRIPES BBQ LOUNGE

A Route 66-themed mural is painted on the west side of the Cigars & Stripes building. Owner Ronnie Lottz is an artist and created the mural. Stop into his place and partake in the space’s Rt 66 kitsch, craft brews, excellent BBQ and selection of cigars. As a neighborhood staple for nearly 20 years, they provide more than just another tavern experience. They enthusiastically share their passion for art, quality entertainment, delicious bbq and great beer—they are also the winner of Berwyn’s Best Burger & Chicago’s Best on Ogden Ave.

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PAISANS PIZZERIA & BAR

Delight your tastebuds at Paisans Pizzeria & Bar, winner of Berwyn’s Best Pizza & Chicago’s Best Crazy Creative Burger. Their menu features a variety of eats from pizza to burgers to salads and more. If locale and food offerings aren’t enough, come out for the amazing decor. Owner Pete Fejzuloski has created a kitschy, Route 66 feel, complete with custom motorcycles and a dragster on display!

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MICHAEL ANTHONY’S PIZZERIA & BAR

For nearly 30 years, Michael Anthony’s Pizzeria & Bar, located on historic Route 66, has provided an inviting atmosphere, filled with good food and good friends. Whether you stop in for dinner or just a couple of drinks while you watch the game, Michael Anthony’s is always serving up excellent service and outstanding experiences. Michael Anthony’s pizza is still made from the family recipes, but they are always finding ways to keep their entire menu fresh!

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NOVI’S BEEF

Owner Nick “Novi” wanted to create a local restaurant in which ordinary people could stop in and get a great beef sandwich for a good price. The original Novi’s opened in 1966 as a beef stand and was located the corner of Oak Park and Ogden Avenue. The next set of owners continued Nick’s vision with an expanded new facility, pushed a little further back from where the original stand stood, where customers could still get a great beef sandwich, eat in at Novi’s stainless steel counters, and leave happy. Novi’s Beef is the proud winner of Chicago’s Best Beef.

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OLDEST WHITE CASTLE ON ROUTE 66

Opened on January 14, 1939, Berwyn is home to the oldest White Castle still operating on Historic Route 66. Here you could get a 5 cent slider to eat at the counter or take some along on the open highway. White Castle was the first food chain in the nation to standardize buns, burgers, and buildings. Spotless buildings, interiors, and uniforms reassured customers that the food was clean and pure in an era when people feared poor meat packing sanitation.

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OGDEN TOP & TRIM

Ogden Top & Trim is a third generation business founded by Frank Nesladek in 1919. It has continued to serve the automotive and marine enthusiast for nearly a century. The range of cars that have won major awards with their interiors has shown them to be one of the winningest and diversely capable upholstery shops in the nation.

World War I Memorial

WORLD WAR I MEMORIAL

The World War I Memorial is located at 3401 S Gunderson Ave (at corner of Ogden Avenue, 34th Street & Ridgeland Avenue). In 1919, the Berwyn Women’s Club built the memorial to honor eleven Berwyn residents who gave their lives in World War I. The site includes a plaque and flag pole and hosts patriotic ceremonies. In 2011, the site was designated a historic landmark.