Graffiti Artists Welcome: The Story Behind the Kitschy Cadillac Ranch
Amarillo Texas famous Cadillac Ranch teen spraying paint off of Route 66 old Cadillacs buried in ground on Route 66. (Photo By: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
If you happen to be traveling down Route 66 and you find yourself outside of Amarillo, Texas, pull off the highway and find yourself a Home Depot store. There, load up on some spray paint. Don't worry: No one will question you about it. Once you get back on the road, look for the signs that will point you to the Cadillac Ranch. Here is the one place where you can unleash your inner vandal and deface a bunch of cars with your arsenal of spray paint, all under the protection of the law. This totally unique and truly American roadside attraction see visitors from all over the world, but do you know the story behind this kitschy tourist trap?
Two Origin Stories
The origins of Cadillac Ranch have reached mythical proportions. If you ask a local how the colorful car graveyard came to be, they'll probably tell you that a Texas millionaire with money to burn and an obsession with Cadillacs didn't want to see his vehicles in the hands of a new owner. Therefore, every time he bought a new Cadillac, he buried the old one nose first in the Texas sod, eventually amassing a collection of vertical vehicles. While that makes a fun and quirky story, the truth is that the Texas millionaire actually planned this odd attraction, banking on the novelty of seeing luxury automobiles stuck nose first into the ground to bring in visitors.
Stanley Marsh, an Eccentric Texan Visionary
A prominent ranch owner and businessman, Stanley Marsh had land adjacent to the remains of Route 66. Once considered to be "America's highway," Route 66 carried travelers from the Midwest to the California coast as it wound through picturesque small-town America and into some of the most breathtaking scenery of the southwest. Route 66 was a symbol of the golden age of the automobile and the freedom that it allowed. But the interstate highway system effectively killed Route 66, so in 1973, Marsh asked a group of artists to help him create a public art display on his ranch that would commemorate the golden age of the automobile.
The Birth of Cadillac Ranch
At Marsh's invitation, a group of artists from San Francisco, collectively known as the Ant Farm, visited Marsh's Amarillo ranch in 1973. They purchased 10 old Cadillacs from area junk yards and planted the automobiles in the ground along the deteriorating highway. The cars cost roughly $200 each, some dating back to 1948 and some as recently as 1963. At first, the cars were left in their original colors, which the artists thought would show the rust and discoloration of the decaying icons. Visitors to Cadillac Ranch, however, had their own artistic vision.
Almost as soon as the Cadillac Ranch opened in 1974, visitors began leaving their own marks on the tourist attraction. Armed with cans of spray paint, the wannabe rebels vandalized the cars ... and it made the art even better. Since then, visitors have been encouraged to contribute to the public art by spraying their own designs on the Cadillacs. Marsh once said "We think it looks better every year."
Because the cars at Cadillac Ranch are constantly being vandalized with graffiti, you never see the same sculptures twice. In fact, it is recommended that visitors snap photographs of their handiwork, because the chances are high that it will be painted over within a few hours.
Cars on the Move
Twice, Cadillac Ranch experienced notable changes. First, in 1997, all of the vehicles at Cadillac Ranch were dug up and replanted at a different locations so that the sprawling city limits of Amarillo could expand. Marsh oversaw the process and even insisted that the garbage and refuse from the old location be brought to the new site, just to retain the same kitschy vibe. The second change occurred in 2002. All of the Cadillacs were painted a flat black color to mourn the passing of one of the Ant Farm members who was instrumental in creating Cadillac Ranch. Of course, the cars didn't stay that color for long: They were soon covered in graffiti.
Get Your Pics on Route 66
Although Marsh passed away in 2014, Cadillac Ranch is still a popular tourist destination. Photos of the site can be found all over pop culture, from advertising and promotional calendars to movies and TV shows. Although any commercial use of Cadillac Ranch images requires permission, visitors are welcome to take as many photos as they like for their own Instagram accounts. For tourists to Texas, you can get your pics on Route 66.
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