A crowd of Route 66 supporters gathered Friday afternoon next to the Arkansas River to witness the dedication of the long-anticipated “East Meets West” sculpture.
The sculpture, whose installation we have chronicled on this blog over the past few weeks, depicts Tulsan Cyrus Stevens Avery — known as the “Father of Route 66″ for his involvement in the creation and naming of the historic highway — climbing out of a Model T to help a farmer calm his horses, who have spooked at the sight of the unfamiliar automobile.
The larger-than-life sculpture is the work of artist Robert Summers, who was on hand for the dedication, along with members of the Avery family, Route 66 luminaries, and Tulsa civic leaders.
Longtime Tulsa resident and noted Route 66 expert Michael Wallis, who spoke during the ceremony, recalled coming to Tulsa as a newspaper reporter in 1980.
At the time, Wallis said, people spoke of three assets Tulsa simply wasn’t promoting: Art Deco architecture, Route 66, and the Arkansas River. All three come together at the Route 66 Centennial Plaza, where the sculpture was installed, Wallis said. Just west of the sculpture, the Cyrus Avery Route 66 Memorial Bridge — formerly known as the 11th Street Bridge — exemplifies early Art Deco architecture and for many years carried Route 66 across the Arkansas River.
Avery’s contribution to Route 66 history is significant, and by extension, so is Tulsa’s, Wallis said.
“Without Cyrus Avery, we would have no Route 66, and so it follows that without Tulsa, we would have no Route 66,” he said.
In his speech, Wallis urged the audience to push for the construction of a state-of-the-art museum and visitors’ center near the plaza.
“Overcome your differences — east versus west, state versus state. There are no state boundaries. There are no county lines. There are no city limits. We are one,” Wallis said. “We’re six red states bookended by two blue states, and on this road, we run purple.”
Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett and City Councilor Blake Ewing praised local residents and business owners who have gotten involved in the city’s Route 66 Task Force, which was designed to bring travelers into town to explore the historic highway.
“We have a great opportunity here, ladies and gentlemen,” Bartlett said. “All we have to do is support it with vision and a little bit of tax money.”