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Highway 99 The history of California's Main Street

Highway 99, the History of Californias Main Street

Stephen H. Provost, Author

Published by Craven Street Books

Reviewed by Bob Jacoby

I have been obsessed with the federal highway system since I was a small child. Probably the two highways that fascinated me the most were Route 66 and Route 99. Every summer my family would take road trips on both roads to visit relatives and friends. A ton of stuff has been written on Route 66 but it is very exciting for me to find a book on US 99.

The author is Stephen H. Provost who has written several books on the history of various aspects of the federal highway system. This volume, which is very thorough, contains both the history of the roadway in California as well as turn by turn instructions to follow the original alignments, including some dirt, of Route 99.

In all my years of studying maps, I never realized that US 99 actually started in Calexico and headed north. My knowledge of 99 until I started to read this history was that for many years it was the way to traverse the Central Valley of California. However, the concept when the route was established in 1926 is that the route would be the spine of California going from the Mexican border to the Oregon border.

Provost has provided a very thorough overview of US 99 both historically and currently. The book is divided into two sections. The first section is called “The Story of Old 99.. The second section is called “A Tour of Old 99.” It really gets interesting when you can see the routing Alignments of the original road. 

One of the interesting observations that Provost discusses at some length is that that US 99 evolved over the years into much more than just a transportation artery. Much like Route 66, the highway especially through the Central Valley, evolved a distinct culture complete with gateway arches, distinctive and non chain motels and hotels, deluxe fruit stands, and vest pocket amusement parks. Fortunately, many of these creations still exit along the road. The book has numerous pictures of most of this stuff, along with the unique history of each one.

Of course, you might guess, my favorite part of the book is Part II, “ A Tour of Old 99.” Provost obviously did an extensive amount of research to write this very thorough description of the current condition of the road from Mexico to Oregon. His turn by turn instructions appear to be complete and would be a great aid for any of us who choose to take the trip. Included in this section is an overview of the status and history of each town that the road went through. Thee writeups also include reference to any unusual roadside attractions, old or new, that are nearby. For an armchair traveler this can’t be beat!

I very much enjoyed reading and studying this book. My only criticism is that the author sometimes get mired down in minutiae. However, that being said, he certainly has written the definitive book on US 99.

It should be noted that the author has just finished a similar book on US 101. Also, some of his other books including America’s First Highways and Yesterday’s Highways are available from Amazon. They both provide a thorough review of the evolvement of roadways in the United States.

I have been informed that the author is working on a couple of other books on the history of highways. I plan to keep my eyes pealed as any work by Provost needs to be in my library.  ~ Bob