Many times we hear of a beloved old eccentric roadside attraction being neglected or, even worse, torn down, so it came as happy news to us when the always amazing Charles Phoenix recently shared a link about how downtown Los Angeles' retro-tastic Clifton's Cafeteria will be getting some renovations. The blogdowntown article states that among the finds of the renovation was an amazing piece of archeology: a neon light that has been glowing, unbeknown to its owners, for over 70 years behind a wall, making it the "oldest existing, continuing operating neon in the world," according to neon experts. We're hoping the big renovation plans (multi-levels! restored secret grottoes! bars, restaurants and a bakery!) don't change the wonderful gritty character of the place we witnessed in 2008. Here's what we posted back then:
My brother-in-law's brother, "Uncle" Stephen, always shows a great time when we visit him in L.A. A fellow eccentric traveler, he knows just the kind of places that will float our boat. On our last visit he took us to Clifton's Brookdale Cafeteria on South Broadway in downtown, and the place does not disappoint. Like many other great downtown metro areas around the USA, this once-great neighborhood is a little rough around the edges, but the Clifton Cafeteria remains steadfast, serving up poached haddock, potato leek soup, pickled beets, jello with stuff in it, and enough pie and donuts to choke a horse, to its loyal denizens who have been patronizing the place since 1935. The decor is to die for. Original owner Clifford Clifton wanted the place to resemble a redwoods lodge. A 20-ft. waterfall cascades into a quiet stream that meanders through the dining room. The interior has a "lived-in" look, to put it kindly, as do the customers, making it all the more homey. They have elaborate terrazzo inlaid sidewalks depicting scenes important to California history that you won't find at Applebee's or TGIFridays, and tiled exterior walls feature display cases bragging of salad samplers, children's plates and quality desserts. I miss cafeterias like this. They remind me of fun childhood visits to my see my grandparents in Florida and I hope Clifton's never goes away. Check their website: http://www.cliftonscafeteria.com/pages/brookdale_home.html.
This was the first site we saw off the highway in Cheyenne, so we just knew the town would be cool.
They know their boots at the Wrangler shop...
...and a thing or two about buckskin, too.
The Visitor's Center is in an awesome old train station...
They're proud of their cowgirls in Cheyenne...
...just ask Jolene, Kay, Kitty or Ma.
We had a nice warm beverage at the Plains Hotel coffee shop with its great western decor...
Eventually, they opened the highway back up and we saw what Wyoming looks like in May.
Last year at this time we were on a wonderful cross-country trip through the west. We were planning on staying on Interstate 80 without any side trips through Wyoming but the weather intervened. Apparently in these parts, it can snow bad enough in mid-May to shut down the Interstate, especially between Cheyenne and Laramie, which is what happened to us. Happily, this gave us an excuse to spend a few hours in the awesome city of Cheyenne, the highlight of which was the Cowgirls of the West Museum, which we've posted about earlier. If we had known how cool this town was, we'd have scheduled a day or two to stop and stay awhile. It's not too big, not too small, and oozes with retro western charm, even on a cold, dank day. We'd love to go back, albeit when the weather's a bit more hospitable, to this friendly town that really knows how to say "Howdy, parders!".
...and a Chevy Vega station wagon here. We had one of these back in the 70s and it's of more use here than it was back then.
Dig that early 60s Valiant!
"Ford Seasons", for all of you Vivaldi fans
For sale: slightly used 1987-model Carhenge in good condition. $300,000, easy terms.
I would put Carhenge -- Alliance, Nebraska's recreation of Great Britain's Stonehenge made out of old cars -- at the tippy top of our list of the very, very best, most eccentric roadside attractions we've ever had the pleasure to mosey on by. In 1987, as a tribute to his late father, a Mr. Jim Reinders acquired 38 dead cars, spray-painted them gray and assembled them upright and across in a circle 96 feet in diameter (the proportions of its famous doppelganger) on his father's 10-acre plot of farmland. A 1962 Cadillac serves as the heel stone. 80,000 visitors have stopped by each year since its installation and admission is free, with donations kindly accepted in the honor box at the entrance. Additional sculptures have been erected on the property, including a large spawning salmon made of car parts and "Ford Seasons", made up of four Fords and inspired by both Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" and the Nebraska landscape. The property has been maintained by the Friends of Carhenge, a nonprofit group originally formed to fight the city when they threatened to tear the place down after it was first erected. Trouble is, after all these years they can't afford to expand the site with the kind of development that could bring in more visitors and make it profitable, so last October they put it up for sale in hopes someone with deeper pockets will buy it and put a campground, ice cream stand, gas station and other commercial venues to keep the place going (I vote for a drive-in movie theater, but I'm no Warren Buffet). No word on if they've received any nibbles yet.
I absolutely adore this place. It was a real highlight of our 2006 cross-country trip, and that journey included no-slouch places like Yellowstone, Glacier and Arches National Parks. It really is a work of art, where the middle-of-nowhere landscape is as much a part of the art as the art itself. I couldn't get the Stanley Kubrick "2001" "Also Sprach Zarathustra" movie theme out of my head the whole time we were there. A long, two-hour, I-sure-hope-this-is-worth-it detour off an Interstate (in this case 80) has never been more worth it.
God (or whoever the head-Druid is) bless Carhenge. Let's hope somebody good will buy the place and keep it going. That would be good carma, for sure.
This blog is devoted to old fashioned American roadside attractions... the wonderfully big, bizarre, crazy, wacky, quirky, weird, funny, unique and mundane sites you see travelling cross-country by car in the USA, where getting there really is all the fun!