To many it was a flop house, a dark labryinth where the damned wandered as lost souls. To me it was a cheap place to live where colorful and interesting characters dwelt with the ghosts of the past in a maze of darkened corridors that presented endless possibilities for exploration.
When I took up residence at the Hotel Beale in Kingman, the stately old hotel and the historic heart of the city that had embraced it for almost three quarters of a century were rapidly making the transition from tarnished gem to discarded sneaker. Kingman, as had happened in many communities, vainly imagined that the city could be transformed by creating a new and modern heart.
And as had happened in countless communities, Kingman became a generic land of urban sprawl embraced by stunning western landscapes. Its abandoned and neglected heart withered and died, and the city lost its soul, a malady from which it has yet to recover.
I was blessed to catch the last rays of light as the sun sank in the west before darkness obscured its beauty.
Martin Lawrence, a moon faced older fellow with a huge, waxed walrus mustache and an obsession for the Chevrolet Corvair, was king in the netherworld of the Hotel Beale. He knew its history, its corridors, and how to keep its steam boiler functioning. He also knew that no one cared about the Beale or its residents and so for him it was a revenue stream in an historic setting, no more, no less.
It was on impulse that I moved to the Hotel Beale. I knew of of its reputation that in a small town like Kingman was built on a swirling blend of myth and reality. I knew full well that that reputation would follow me like a stigma and I also knew that only by living there would it be possible to gain access to the inner sanctum that could not be seen from the dingy old lobby or from the confines of the Nighthawk Saloon.
It must have come as a surprise to Martin Lawrence when I asked for a room. It was obvious I wasn’t down and out, that I wasn’t an old drunk, and that I wasn’t an old man with nothing left but a brief time to while away my final days at the Night Hawk Saloon while awaiting passage over the river Styx.
Still, this sly old dog had been at the game far to long for asking questions. So, he read me the rules, had me fill out a card, and took my cash for the first two weeks. Then he tossed me a key with a big red plastic tag with worn away letters that read Hotel Beale, and a smaller, tarnished brass one with the number stamped on its face on a ring.
As I climbed that wide staircase of well worn stairs under the painted over skylight there was a incredible sense that a new world was being entered. I was not raised a sheltered child but this was a domain never befroe entered. There was also an incredible sense that with each step taken the thin veil that separates the past and present was parting just for me.
The room was about what I expected. Dingy, yellowed paint, weathered wooden window frames that housed wavy old glass covered in a half century film of dirt that fogged the view of Fourth Street, an ancient refrigerator with coils on top, a decrepit hot plate, a free standing sink stained with decades of dripping, iron laden water, an iron bedstead with exposed springs, and a transom that allowed a musty breeze to circulate the air stirred by ancient fans in the hall.
The bathroom down the hall was a musty, dark time capsule. The almost overpowering smell of bleach and Lysol couldn’t mask the fact that the last time there had been upgrades, or even anything more than basic maintenance, Truman had been the President.
Long term residents supplied their own mattress. Instead, I chose my foam camping pad and a sleeping bag.
The denizens of the Hotel Beale were numbered in the double digits but did not top two dozen. They were a motley crew of lost souls that had succumbed to the endless grinding and battering of life by choosing what they perceived as the path of least resistance. Through drugs, alcohol, and apathy they had hastened their journey to the bottom rungs of the ladder and beyond.
Each had a tale to tell and in each tale was grains of truth and the tattered remnants of a life far removed from the dark halls of the aged Hotel Beale and endless nights spent on stools in the Night Hawk Saloon. They were mostly nocturnal creatures and in the darkened halls their pale features appeared almost ghostly in the dim light cast by low wattage bulbs hidden behind dusty glass shades of historic vintage.
I began working for Martin on the side and in gaining his confidence, was given more liberties in regards to explorations of the hidden corners and recesses of the old hotel. There was The Sump, a bar below street level frozen in time since its closure decades before with calendars and posters, juke box and stools on the counter and everything layered in untouched dust.
The basement with corridors to the old Harvey House and Commercial Hotel now sealed, and its massive steam boiler. There were utility corridors piled high with all manner of goods either abandoned over the years or taken as payment for rent.
At every turn there were hints of better times, in the frosted glass of the barber shop door, and the heavy oak furniture on the mezzanine, in the fixtures on the ceiling and brass tags on the doors, in the skylight and the sweeping wood work of the lobby. Most rooms were unoccupied by the living but in the battered furnishings, the worn flooring, and the little touches that spoke of former elegance, the ghosts of the past spoke loudly.
It was here that Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart stayed when dedicating the Kingman Air Terminal and where Andy Devine played his practical jokes. Tap Duncan, a frontier era gunfighter that legend says rode with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, drank here when in town.
The movers and shakers in the first decades of the 20th century, the USO tours during World War II, and the lowly traveler all passed through the doors of the Hotel Beale. They came by train and automobile on a highway numbered with two sixes, they came by bus as the station was here and the railroad depot was across the street.
From the balconies overlooking a street now named for Kingman’s favorite son, Andy Devine, spectators watched Barney Oldfield and Louis Chevrolet roar through town in the 1914 Desert Classic “Cactus Derby” race. They watched the boys march off to war as they boarded troop trains in two World Wars, and the frontier era give way to the modern as the dusty road became asphalt and wagons gave way to horseless carriages.
By the time I took up residence at the old Hotel Beale, it and the street it faced had outlived its usefulness. The four lane, high speed track to nowhere had replaced the two lane road to adventure. The cold light of generic signs casting a glow over bland nondescript chain motels had replaced the individuality of motels where the colorful neon appeared as a welcoming beacon in the night and the muted elegance of the Hotel Beale was cast into the shadows.
Today, the Beale is truly a forlorn edifice with a dim and uncertain future. Just as I am thankful for the memories and the short time I had with Max, a World War I veteran, I am grateful for my time at the Beale Hotel.
Both shared their secrets and through those secrets, I was allowed, for the briefest moment in time, to step into a lost world where the promise of the future was made manifest in the dawning a highway signed with two sixes, in a car affectionately known as the tin Lizzie, and in a president named Hoover.

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