Roys Motel Cafe Sign
The Iconic Roy's Motel and Cafe Sign in Amboy California. Recently bought by Okuna, to refurbish and bring this iconic town back to life in its original form.
In 1938, founder Roy Crowl opened Roy's as a gas and service station along the legendary U.S. Highway 66, in Amboy. In the 1940s, Crowl teamed up with his son-in-law, Herman "Buster" Burris. They expanded the business, as Roy's Motel and Caf�to include a caf�an auto repair garage, and an auto court of small cabins for overnight rental by Route 66 travelers. Buster Burris himself almost singlehandedly created the town's infrastructure, some of which remains semi-functioning today. Burris even brought power to Amboy and Roy's all the way from Barstow by erecting his own poles and wires alongside Route 66 using an old Studebaker pickup truck. By the opening of the 1950s, Roy's complex employed up to 70 people; the town's entire population then was 700.
Some very significant and lasting aesthetic changes came to Roy's Motel and Caf�n 1959: with the February 1 erection of the infamous towering neon "Roy's boomerang logo" sign visible for miles approaching Amboy; and with the construction of the motel's new Mid-Century Modern Style - MCM "inclined roof flying over a glassed wedge" guest reception and office "theme building." They all were a vital beacon milepost and "modernist refuge" for more than a decade.
The 1972 opening of Interstate 40 in California, unconnected and a fair distance north of Amboy's section of Route 66, quite literally meant the overnight loss of business. The actors Harrison Ford and Anthony Hopkins, with autographed photos on the restaurant's wall, visited when schedules allowed. Ford frequently flew in, landing his plane on a nearby landing strip, one of the first in California.
Part of the 1986 motion picture The Hitcher with Rutger Hauer was filmed in Amboy. Both the reception area and neon sign helped establish the setting for a 1999 television commercial for Qwest Communications. It was also used in the Enrique Iglesias music video for his hit single, Hero. In September 1993, Kalifornia was released, starring Brad Pitt, which was filmed in Amboy .
In 1978, Buster Burris married Bessie Van deVeer, a local artist, who brought her love of the desert and her charm to Amboy. Roses were painted on side of the prep table in the kitchen and can be seen in the movie The Hitcher. They continued to run the town together until 1995.
In 2013, Armin Van Buuren, filmed portions of his music video "This is what it feels like" featuring Trevor Guthrie, with a cameo appearance from adult film legend, Ron Jeremy.
In 1995 Timothy White leased the entire town of Amboy and Roy's from Buster Burris, White was a noted New York photographer, who saw value in maintaining the property in a weathered, worn condition as a filming location.
The property went into foreclosure for repossession in February 2005, with Timothy White and Walt Wilson relinquishing control and returning ownership of Amboy and Roy's to Bessie Burris, Buster Burris's widow. She offered all the property for sale "on the San Bernardino County courthouse steps" but no bidders showed up. With her granddaughter Bonnie Barnes helping, Bessie Burris declared the town on the market for just one March 2005 week with sale to the highest bidder that Friday at noon. However more time passed.
The town was finally sold in May 2005, to Southern California preservation patron Albert Okura, after his pledge to Bessie Burris to restore Roy's keeping its original historic Route 66 look and feel, reopen it, and to open a new museum showcasing Amboy's history. Okura acquired the 950+/- acres including the town and Roy's Motel and Caf�or $425,000 in cash on May 3, 2005.
Albert Okura, owner of the Juan Pollo chain restaurants, faced challenges in getting basics such as electricity and water services restored and operative. Okura's restoration hurdles predominantly involved Amboy's infrastructure, most of it had been laid by Buster Burris himself and not to current building codes. Bessie Burris continued to visit and work with Albert Okura collecting memorabilia for the town and Roy's until her death at 91, May 17, 2008 in nearby Wonder Valley, CA.
Okura has experience with preservationist efforts and stewardship, being the owner of the Original McDonald's in San Bernardino, California which he operates as a museum. Unlike Wilson and White who wanted to maintain Roy's and Amboy in a patinated "weathered" condition for use as in film shoots, Okura plans to fully restore Roy's to its former glory as a "nostalgia tourists" destination, and Route 66 rest stop for travelers en route to and from Colorado River scenic and recreation areas.
The first steps, the coffee shop and gas station, have both been refurbished and were reopened on April 28, 2008. The Roy's Motel and Caf�epair, renovation, and restoration costs so far approach U.S.$100,000. While the station's gasoline is still expensive, owing to remote delivery costs, it is below the exorbitant Wilson and White years. Albert Okura also has plans to open a Roy's Caf�nd mini-mart at the same location, although the lack of adequate potable water supplies has kept the caf� kitchen closed.
A 2013 Kickstarter campaign proposed to restore the Roy's neon signage as part of a larger project by which a newly established Amboy Foundation of Art proposes to eventually rehabilitate the long-abandoned motel as a place in the desert where artists would be able to achieve solitude and inspiration.
This trip down memory road is most every American photographers dream. And after this trip, I am making it my goal to tack in photography the success of Okuras rebuild of this beautiful iconic town.
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