When you hear “National Park Service,” you’re more likely to think of nature and hiking trails, but it also oversees other historic and natural landmarks, and national heritage districts as well. Surprised?
Amarillo is home to one of these unique designations. The U.S. Route 66 Sixth Street Historic District is a 13-block stretch between Georgia and Forrest Avenues that provides a perfectly “populated” break for your trip across the Texas section of Route 66.
Situated on a section of city’s Sixth Street (also called 6thAvenue…but that must not have been as catchy) that temporarily merged with the well-traveled Route 66, this stop is far from being your typical Route ghost town.
The district and its surrounding San Jacinto neighborhood was originally a streetcar suburb located west of Amarillo’s main business district.
A member of the National Register of Historic Places since 1994, it includes Amarillo’s most intact collection of commercial buildings from the Route’s heyday. Architecture lovers will spot elements of Spanish Revival, Art Deco and Art Modern designs.
The Bussey Buildings (originally home of the first licensed beauty school in Texas), and Borden’s Heap-O-Cream (one of a chain of dairy product stores) are just two examples of historic buildings that have found new life in the district that now includes over one mile of art galleries, restaurants, antique stores, specialty shops and bars.
The Natatorium, which is easy to spot because of its castle-like roof crenelations, was formerly an indoor swimming pool converted into a ballroom when Route 66 came to town. One of the hot spots in the area, it featured performers like Duke Ellington and Tommy Dorsey. It even had an underground tunnel to the Alamo bar next door. Now the large space offers shopping from over 100 vendors of antiques, handcrafts, jewelry and home decor.
My daughter and I love antique and vintage shops, so we started our venture at Antiques Plus (2712 SW 6th Street) at one end of the district with a plan to take them all in order. We were immediately charmed by this beautiful shop. Antiques for me, and vintage clothing for her…and a comfortable place for my patient husband to sit and wait for us! Her selection was reasonably priced, and the sweet, chatty manager behind the register had great recommendations for our visit to the district.
If you’re an antique lover, art collector or just love browsing interesting shops, you definitely want to add this district to your Route 66 itinerary.
There is no shortage of shops to visit and enjoy and we soon found that many were not only dog-friendly, but had official canine greeters as well. One of the most well-known is Lady at the Lile Gallery. You may have come to browse the inventive art (including items made from chipped off paint from the Cadillac Ranch), but Lady will certainly get the majority of your attention. Not surprisingly, the owner told us that many people come by just to meet or visit with the sweet pup.
Luckily, there are plenty of cafes and restaurants to choose from when your feet need a break: Mexican, burgers, pub grub, barbecue and more. And if your shopping hours take you into the evening, you’ll want to choose one of the venues that also offer live music.
The Blue Crane Bakery (2332 SW 6th) got a unanimous thumbs-up from everyone in our family. We stopped by this hip, family-owned bakery at the end of a long day to pick up a sweet treat after a long day of playing tourist. Their freshly made Italian sodas are worth the stop alone, let me tell ya!
Offered samples of some of the amazing baked goods, we found it impossible to narrow down our choice, so we ended up taking a small assortment of temptations back to the hotel…and didn’t regret it. There was even a surprise when we opened the box: a sprinkling of diminutive hand-folded origami blue cranes!
For friendly customer service, assortments of offerings to include vegan and different dietary choices, and just down-right deliciousness, the Blue Crane definitely makes our recommendations list.
People drove from miles around to visit Sixth Street back in the day, and they’re coming once again to enjoy all there is to see and do in the district
Can you see it? Yep, the door is actually bent but not because it is damaged.
There’s nothing cooking in the kitchen of Route 66’s Bent Door Café in Adrian, but it’s still one of the most recognizable stops along the Mother Road. A highly frequented photo stop along the Texas Stretch of the route, it had a bustling business during its heyday when it was a 24-hour café and gas station.
Parts of the building have been on this site since the 1920s, but it was during the 40s that it gained its unique appearance.
When Robert Harris returned from serving in the military in World War II, he put his efforts into wheat farming. After a particularly successful year in 1947, he used his profits to buy the original small structure and began looking for a way to turn it into one of Route 66’s unique attractions.
The answer came from an unlikely place. Nearby Dalhart Air Force Base began selling surplus military in 1948 after being decommissioned. The imaginative Harris purchased the top portion of the air control tower that included angled windows for viewing the airfield. He incorporated the tower into the northeast section of the building, replacing one of the angled windows with a door been to fit the slanted walls of the structure. How’s that for an unusual vision?
Harris celebrated the completion of this dream with a huge dance with a live band and BBQ for the community. Oddly, the very next day he closed the business and went to Germany for two months. There is speculation that he just wanted to see if the project could be done.
His mother took charge of the business, selling it to Manuel Loveless who turned it into Tommy’s Café in the early 60s.
The attention-grabbing look was a success in luring travelers off the road for food, gas and souvenirs. A former waitress shared memories of the café being filled with stranded people during winter blizzards.
But being unique couldn’t save business from declining when I-40 was built bypassing the small town.
That era of the café closed in 1972, and the café and station were sold to a family that let the architectural oddity fall into disrepair, eventually losing for non-payment of taxes.
When Harris got wind of the building being slated for demolition in 1995, he bought it back. The county gave him the ultimatum of having it back in operating order in just two months or the demolition would be carried out.
Despite the heavy damage to the building, Harris wasn’t about to see it torn down. He worked around the clock for two straight months to restore his one-time dream. He set a reopening date for September 9, 1995, but he café never re-opened.
Oddly the Bent Door Café was never the official name of the business.
In July 2006 Roy and Ramona Kiewert purchased the property and began the process of gradual restoration that’s still ongoing. You can follow the progress on their Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/Thebentdoor/
The Kiewerts also own the Fabulous 40 Motel next to the Bent Door. Don’t you just love the name? If the motel doesn’t catch your eye, the old rusted pickup with a huge wooden “66” in the bed sure will.
The motel was built by Kenny and Marjorie Callstrom in 1967. Ramona Kiewert explained the origin of the name to me this way:
“When the building was being built, the original plans were for two buildings with 20 rooms each (40 total), and at the same time Interstate 40 was going in so…Fabulous 40s Motel on I-40.”
The 20-unit motel closed in 2004 after the couple passed away, but luckily relatives kept the property in fairly good shape. After being shuttered for more than a decade, the Kiewerts came to the rescue. They are restoring the property room by room, but several of the guest rooms are open and receiving great reviews.
A quick check on traveler review websites show just how much visitors enjoy the friendly family that hosts them, and the free continental breakfast served in the recreation room.
As I walked beneath the carport at the Fabulous 40 to take photos further onto the property I was greeted by Ramona who was evidently alerted about me by a motion sensor. She was so sweet that I wished I was able to stay overnight, but I had to settle for a short chat and some photos.
The Fabulous 40 is alive and well, making guests feel like a part of the Route 66 family.
As if they didn’t already have their hands full, the Kiewerts have also rescued a 1920s Phillips station, moving it all the way from Vega to Adrian three years ago! It doesn’t appear on Google maps as of the date of this blog post because the Google images haven’t been updated, but it’s there. Once known as Knox’s Phillips 66, it patiently waits on their property for its turn at restoration.