East Meets West: Father of Route 66
What's the most important point along the 2,000+ miles of Route 66?
In Tulsa, it's just west of downtown -- and the city spent $1.2 million to create it.
It's East Meets West, a tribute to Tulsa's hometown hero Cyrus Avery, "The Father of Route 66." In the mid-1920s Avery lobbied Congress to make Route 66 a national highway; used his influence as a government consultant to route the Mother Road through Tulsa; and personally chose "66" as its number because he liked it.
Rather than build a typical, standing statue of Avery, Tulsa bankrolled a sculpture described by one of its many plaques as "a fictitious but probable" moment in Avery's life. Cyrus, his wife, his daughter Helen, and the family cat are in a Model T, driving westbound on the new Route 66. They're trying to cross the Arkansas River on Tulsa's 11th Street Bridge, but they're blocked by a teamster, his dog, and his terrified horses, heading eastbound, hauling a wagonload of barrels and pipes from the West Tulsa oil fields. "East met West, old met new, and the past met the future," a second plaque declares.
A third plaque notes that the 11th Street Bridge (another Avery project) was "the first concrete bridge west of the Mississippi" and a key part of Avery's sales pitch to route Route 66 away from Kansas and through Oklahoma. But when the Mother Road was later bypassed by the Interstate, the bridge fell into disrepair and was closed to traffic. Fans of Route 66 could still walk across the bridge until 2008, when Tulsa, planning the monument, discovered that the bridge was so rotten that it needed $15 million in repairs just to make it safe for pedestrians.
Tulsa didn't have that kind of cash, so... East meets West but goes no further. Visitors can only view the historic span through a locked gate topped with a Route 66 logo.
Despite the loss of its intended centerpiece, East Meets West was dedicated on November 9, 2012. Its plaza is flanked by flags of all eight states crossed by Route 66, and it has its own parking lot and pedestrian overpass with a big neon Route 66 logo.
The sculpture spans 40 feet, weighs ten tons, and took nearly a decade for Robert Summers to bolt and weld together out of almost 1,000 separate pieces of bronze. Its detail is obsessive, from the embossed lettering on the car's Firestone tires to the decorative perforations on Avery's shoes. Summers even included a grasshopper, smashed against the car's radiator, dyed green. For all of the sculpture's complexity, Summers said he had the most trouble rendering the cat, which claws the air in terror from the Model T's back seat. He carefully positioned the wagon and car so that the dog stares at the cat.
East Meets West has turned a fenced-off bridge into a must-stop Route 66 destination, and created a conceptual Mother Road midpoint that rivals the road's real east-west midpoint 400 miles away in the Texas Panhandle. Although the sculpture suggests that no car-horse carnage was involved, it still leaves unanswered who won the standoff: the modern Easterners or the rustic Westerners. Since you won't be caught in Tulsa wagon traffic while getting to the site, you know that the Averys eventually triumphed.