Seligman, Arizona. The home of Angel Delgallio: the man who single-handedly brought Route 66 back on the map… literally. He founded the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona and then went on to help revitalize then entire 2,448 miles of Route 66. The loss of Route 66 seemed wrong to Angel whose town withered away in the interim time between the old Route 66 and the historic Route 66. He sensed a need to preserve Route 66’s place in American history, so he took it upon himself. His determination and perseverance to save this classic icon is nothing short of commendable.
His unbelievable story is as follows (From http://www.route66giftshop.com/angel.html): “On September 22, 1978, at 2:00 p.m., Angel Delgadillo the barber in Seligman, Ariz., watched his hometown begin to die when the Interstate Highway system replaced Route 66 as the primary means for automobile travel in the Western United States.
For Angel Delgadillo and many who worked and raised their families along the route, it was a sad day. Many stood on the quiet street, looking either way and realizing the world had forgotten them.
Seligman joined the list of death-row towns condemned by the very brand of progress that originally energized them – a new, faster highway system. Businesses closed, people left, buildings decayed.
There were talks of trying to attract industry to the town, but Angel Delgadillo had another idea. He was raised on Route 66. He watched caravans of farmers make their way along the road toward a new life in California. Angel knew the power of memory and myth, and he knew that the key to Seligman’s survival ran down the center of town.
The original Route 66 Gift Shop
Angel was one of the moving forces in the founding of the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona and in 1987 successfully lobbied the Arizona Legislature to designate and preserve Route 66 in Arizona as an historic highway. Thereafter, following Arizona’s lead, the seven states along Route 66 formed associations (California, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois). At last count, there are seven international associations as well.
Angel has become the unofficial spokesperson and “Guardian Angel” for Route 66. He is passionate about preserving and promoting Route 66, its stories, and its memories so that it will no longer be forgotten.
Angel has retired from cutting hair, though he often obliges visitors. He and his wife, Vilma, sit in their dimly lit museum adjacent to the barbershop, listen to songs of the “Big Band Era” on a phonograph and greet visitors.
Now and then he walks outside, tilts his plastic visor against the blazing sun and looks down the Chino Street section of old Route 66 toward the Interstate 40 ramp. And he worries no more about people and roads that pass Seligman by.
New signs, new paving, and a nostalgia for small town Americana with its mom and pop burger shops, full-service gas stations and home town atmosphere all have contributed to the rebirth of Seligman as one of the most classic and charming Route 66 towns in the West.”
While the site says that Angel retired, he was giving a visitor a straight-razor shave when we stopped by his gift shop. Of course we had to bug him while he was sharpening his blade to hear a story from the man who allowed us to take this trip.
After visiting with Angel, we wandered over to the Snow-Cap Drive In, owned by Angel’s brother, Juan Delgadillo. The brothers basically own the town. The Snow-Cap is filled with quirky and silly knick-knacks. He even capitalized on the popularity of “Cars” by collecting old cars and painting eyes on the windshields. Juan has an unbelievable sense of humor and zest for life. A word to the wise: watch out for squirting mustard bottles. The Delgadillo family certainly are getting THEIR kicks on Route 66. As we left Seligman, I couldn’t help but smile at the constant stream of cars, tour buses, and motorcyclists traveling by.