Conversations with old friends who remember Kingman as it was are becoming harder to come by with each passing day. In part this is the price paid for having survived this long. Still, the hope is that this is but the half way point.
Every time I am awarded the luxury of one of these nostalgic trips back to the glory days of our youth there is a renewed awareness of things no longer seen on the drive here and there.
I suppose that is why when traveling I seek the back roads such as Route 66. When driving these roads and talking to the folks who remember when it sharpens my focus. Its like getting a new pair of glasses and seeing things with clarity. I suppose that is one reason the popularity of Route 66 increases with each passing year.
One of these recent conversations sparked a journey down memory lane that I felt needed sharing – to stir up memories of those who remember Kingman when Route 66 was the main drag, to introduce newcomers to some of the things that make Kingman unique, to encourage others to take a second look at their home towns and to provide a fresh perspective of Route 66.
Driving from east to west in Kingman on Route 66, Andy Devine Avenue, is an opportunity to see the old highway in chronological order. First is the modern, generic world of the interstate off ramp. Next is the motels of the 1960s, then the ’50s, ’40s’ and even a few from the thirties.
Downtown is window into the world when the western frontier was grudgingly giving way to the modern era. On the corner of Fourth Street the remains of an adobe eyesore on the corner is being erased from the landscape. In the 1920’s it was the scene of a Wild West shootout with a modern twist.
The long and short of the story is that a Chinese tong from the San Francisco area had a score to settle with the proprietor of this establishment. The hired guns came into town, made their hit, and took to the dusty trail that led to California. A posse of sorts was soon in hot pursuit.
As this was the modern era the running gun battle was not fought from the backs of galloping horses but roaring automobiles, including a new Chrysler touring car. In a hail of bullets, the pursuit ended near the Colorado River and the murders were brought to justice.
In recent years, Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner has become an icon for Route 66 roadies. However, few who stop are aware that this place is more than a mere generic rendition of what once was. Long before the interstate highway cast the “Mother Road” into the realm of historic footnote this was a Shell station and the Kimo (Ki for Kingman and Mo for Mohave) Café.
Next door to Mr. D’z is Dunton Motors. Today the showroom houses a few special interest vehicles, all terrain vehicles, and a few other odds and ends. In its previous life, it was a Chevrolet dealership but before that, a large encircled “E” next to the garage door proudly proclaimed to all who passed by on Route 66 that Kingman was such a modern community it even had an Edsel dealership.
My memories of Kingman are a little bit more modern. When I moved to Kingman, Ford had had five years to work on living down the Edsel debacle but the Kimo with first-rate cheeseburgers was always busy as Route 66 was but several steps from the front door.
However, my preference was A & W, about three blocks from Route 66 near the site of the Calico Restaurant today. I can still feel the frosted mug in my hand as the cool breeze on a warm summer evening danced through the ivy covered lattice that surrounded the patio.
For reasons never understood and seldom questioned, I have always enjoyed good food in old-fashioned mom and pop joints. One of my dreams has been to be paid for driving the back roads in a vintage car sampling food in such places.
Even though we have a number of good restaurants in Kingman today, there are times I really get to missing what we once had. Lockwood’s, now a Catholic mission, was the place for chicken, for Mexican Food it was to tough beat the El Mohave, now the refurbished Hotel Brunswick restaurant, and then there was the City Café, known today as the Hot Rod Café, with a little juke box on each table.
During my John Wayne period, I would come in to town from the ranch about once a month with a mission to find good food. More often than not, my first stop would be the old Hobb’s truck stop on Route 66, currently the Martin Swanty rental car and Penske truck leasing offices.
We even had our version of Walmart – Central Commercial on the corner of Fourth Street and Beale St. Fruits and nuts, sofas and Levi’s, auto parts and brassieres, it was all there. However, unlike Walmart, this place had class; an ornate brass vacuum tube system transported transactions between the main floor and upstairs offices with its dark wood paneling and massive walk in safe. A black and white mosaic tile spelling Central Commercial was at the Fourth Street entrance. Glass bricks in the sidewalk helped light the basement.
After years of decline, attempts to recreate what was with feeble efforts of transforming the building into antique shops and such the old Central Commercial building is undergoing a true renovation. It is with eager anticipation I await its reincarnation.
Though much of what was is gone forever, there are a surprising number of survivors. The turn of the century red brick schoolhouse that served as library when I was a kid is now a part of the court system. The city and planning office was our mission styled post office. The Goodwill Store was the first challenger for the dominance of Central Commercial – Safeway. Across from the bus station, now Pawn World, was a great little ice cream parlor – the Peppermint Shop.
Though the shops that gave Kingman its individuality are sorely missed, it is the smells, the sounds that are missed most. The Western Auto, next to The Standard, was always cool and dim with a well-worn wood floor. A hint of cigar always seemed to hang in the air at the magazine rack in Desert Drug.
Route 66 is no longer the main drag in town though that illusion is fostered with events such as the annual Route 66 Fun Run. The ice plant and Coca Cola bottling works is now a parking lot. The Studebaker dealership has been replaced with a modern body shop. You can no longer picnic under the trees at the site of old Fort Beale without a permit.
I have learned valuable lessons in my stroll down memory lane. The first was Kingman has changed as has the world and there is no going back.
The second lesson was we can not let our fear of the future or even the present fool us into believing the past was a better place. Nor can we allow ourselves to be seduced into believing that we are wiser or better off than those who have gone before because of our stuff, our technological prowess.
The final lesson learned was the key to looking toward the future with expectation, excitement and eager anticipation is to view the past as it really was, allow time to forget the reality of the past as well as the present to visit the past as we would have liked it to have been at events such as the Route 66 Fun Run and then embrace those technological wonders which help make this possible.

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