- A Portrait of Route 66: Images from the Curt Teich Postcard Archives by T. Lindsay Baker
A Portrait of Route 66 features images on vintage postcards of sites along the historic Route 66 corridor that were produced by the prolific Chicago-based Curt Teich and Company from the early to middle twentieth century. The book pairs each postcard with the historic photograph—usually provided by a commercial establishment—that was used as the basis for the postcard. Teich altered and enhanced these photographs, removing unnecessary or unsightly objects and adding bright, highly saturated colors, to create promotional cards that blended reality with fantasy. T. Lindsay Baker's purpose is to"[shed] light on the production process and, most importantly, [offer] the original photographs for comparison" (x). This is the most interesting aspect of this beautifully designed and well-written book.
The book provides a brief history of Route 66 and is organized geographically by the highway's eight states from Illinois to California. Chapters [End Page 220] provide descriptions of the experiences travelers would have had and gives brief histories of specific businesses and sites, including bridges, hotels, bus stations, gas stations, motels, truck stops, tourist camps, tourist traps, and cafes that served white Route 66 travelers from the 1920s through the 1950s. Many of the featured buildings and sites are currently in ruins or have been lost completely. The book is especially valuable to those in Route 66 communities who are interested in the histories of specific businesses.
There are some lost opportunities here. First, because the author traveled the entire route in 2014 and visited the historic sites illustrated in the book, it would have been instructive if he had added a contemporary picture of each site—whether a preserved building, ruin, parking lot, or a new structure—to flesh out the stories. Second, while the book is organized geographically, it shifts chronologically from the 1910s through the 1950s as it describes travelers' experiences, including sites in the same relative place that did not exist at the same time. Because the experience of Route 66 was very different in the 1920s than it was in the 1950s, Baker might better have picked a single decade, such as the 1940s, and discussed only sites that existed then. Third, the book would have had greater unity and focus if it had included only sites, such as tourist courts, souvenir shops, and roadside cafes, closely associated with Route 66 and omitted the older, pre-highway railroad stations and hotels, such as Harvey Houses, that were less likely to have been experienced by Route 66 motorists. Given that Baker included them, his introduction should have placed these sites within their pre-Route 66 historical context by describing the nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century railroad era.
A Portrait of Route 66 will be of interest primarily to historians of the twentieth-century West, collectors of vintage postcards, and Route 66 enthusiasts. This coffee table book is significant in that it reveals the extraordinary Curt Teich Postcard Archives Collection, now housed at the Newbury Research Library in Chicago, enabling future researchers to study the marketing and graphics that represented, and in some ways misrepresented, the mid-twentieth-century commercial architecture of Route 66.