Big Chief Restaurant
The Big Chief Restaurant building, now occupied by
the Big Chief Roadhouse, is at 17352 Old Manchester Rd. in
Wildwood, MO. The restaurant is open Monday 4:00pm to 10:00pm,
Tuesday-Friday 11:00am to 11:00pm, and Saturday and Sunday
7:00am to 11:00pm, and is wheelchair accessible. Call
636-458-3200 for information or visit (call to get new website
address in early Dec.)
Originally called the
Big Chief Hotel, the Big Chief Dakota Grill is distinctive for
its Spanish Mission Revival styling. Two stories tall, its white
stucco walls, terra-cotta tile roofing, exposed rafter ends, and
arcaded front porte cochere are unusual in Wildwood, Missouri.
The only original feature missing is a prominent false bell
tower that rose from one corner, which was removed during the
1950s. Otherwise, the Big Chief looks and operates much as it
did when Route 66 passed by the front door.
One key to
the success of the Big Chief was pavement. The section of Route
66 through Pond, once the name of this section of Wildwood, was
one of the earlier parts of the Federal highway to be paved.
After its commissioning in 1926, Route 66 had sections that
remained dirt for years. It was upwards of 10 years before
travelers could drive from Chicago to Los Angeles on pavement.
The road through Pond, by contrast, was paved all the way to St.
Louis by 1924.
With pavement came cars. In 1913,
Americans owned 1.2 million cars; by 1925 that number had jumped
to 19 million. Individual mobility reached a level never
possible before, and automobile tourism grew nearly as fast as
did the rate of automobile ownership.
When autos first
began crossing America on Federal highways, drivers tended to
camp by the roadside on their own or to stay in tourists camps.
There were few hotels except in major cities. Built and opened
in 1928 as the Big Chief Hotel, the complex wasn’t really a
hotel at all—at least not as we think of hotels today--but a
solution for the traveler weary of camping out. The Big Chief
was actually a tourist cabin court, sometimes called a “cabin
hotel”--at the time the latest thing in roadside lodging.
The Big Chief was unusual in three ways: It was one of the
earliest cabin courts in Missouri, it offered full service
dining, and it was one of the largest cabin courts. In 1935, a
guide to Missouri listed only nine courts with more than 30
cabins. The Big Chief had 62, each with its own garage.
Advertisements from the period boasted that the Big Chief cabins
had both hot and cold running shower baths. Small individual
cabins had a strong appeal for families traveling together, and
the Big Chief was primarily a family destination. The property
featured a large playground. One could spend the night for a
dollar and 50 cents, buy a 75-cent steak dinner, a 40-cent
special plate lunch, or a 5-cent sandwich.
porte cochere served as a Conoco gas station, and customers
could also buy groceries. In the evenings, dining room tables
were pushed aside to allow for dancing. Bar service was added
when Prohibition ended in 1933. By then, the transcontinental
Mother Road had been rerouted over more southerly highways, but
the Big Chief remained popular as a local destination,
sponsoring a series of fall dances and attracting conferences
The Big Chief survived the lean years of
World War II by furnishing housing for employees of the nearby
Weldon Spring Ordinance Works. That change to longer term
housing continued after the war, when the cabins were rented to
workers at a Weldon Spring uranium processing plant. By 1949,
the restaurant had closed. Over the years the rented cabins fell
into disrepair and were demolished. The restaurant building,
however, survived, and in the early 1990s was restored and
returned to its original function as a restaurant. Listed in the
National Register of Historic Places in 2003, the Big Chief is
one of the few surviving full-service restaurants left on
Missouri Route 66 and provides a feel for roadside stops during