A STROLL ALONG MEMORY LANE IN MY HOMETOWN

On more than one occasion it has been noted that when we first moved to Kingman in the summer of ’66, I thought it was the place warned about so often in Sunday school. As a result I spent much of that first summer with repentance and reforming my ways as the primary focus.
We had rented a place on Lynette Drive in the far northwest end of town on a hill above U.S. 93. It wasn’t really that far to town but when walking under a blazing desert sun it seemed like miles.
On our first weekend in Kingman, dad added a bonus of twenty five cents to my allowance which provided incentive to brave the heat and walk to the State Theater on Beale Street. Now, if I had any doubts that Kingman was just a bit behind the curve, they were erased that Saturday evening as my sister and I sat through Gone With The Wind.
By the time school started we had moved over to Maple Street, about two blocks from Palo Christi School. This venerable institution that dates back more than seventy years is still used for its original purpose even though there have been more than a few mismatched additions tacked on.
For me there were two wonderful things about the move to Maple Street. First, the library, housed in the 1898 little red school house, was mere blocks away. This old building, with some mismatched additions, now is utilized by the judicial offices.
Second, Jan’s Soda Fountain in the Kingman Drug, currently the El Palacio, was just a block and half to the south on Andy Devine Avenue, Route 66. In 1981, I took my wife there on dates. Kingman moved slowly in those years.
In retrospect, Kingman during this period was sort of a dry roasted version of Mayberry with extra fluoride in the water. We didn’t have the Darling’s or Otis but we had Merle “Patty” Brooks, Lindsey Bond, and the music of the Skeptic Union Band.
We also had the Peppermint Shop across from the bus station and Finnigans hobby shop as well as a Western Auto Store with dimly lit aisles and creaking wood floors where the air smelled of age, dust, and oil. We had Central Commercial where it was possible to buy almost anything the imagination could conceive, Joe Otero’s delightful offerings at the El Mohave, and Desert Drug with the latest magazines where the smell of cigars hung thick in the air stirred by whirring ceiling fans.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but Kingman was a magic kingdom in those years. The past and present were seamless, and Route 66 provided a river of traffic that enabled the fostering of the illusion this was a city instead of a desert backwater town where little had changed in a half century.
Squeezed in just a few blocks were crowded restaurants, clothing stores, grocery stores, offices, hotels, motels, garages, service stations, saloons of the western frontier variety, night clubs, car lots, and schools. We had Dunton Motors and the Kimo Cafe, McCarthy Motors and the Rodeway Cafe, we had George Hines VW and Alex Toggery, the Kingman Club and Bike City, the Kingman Rose Garden and Lockwoods Chicken in the Rough, Anita Fayes Dress Shop and Sprouse Rietz. It is was a metropolis in miniature.
I left in 1971, came back in 1976, left again in 1978, and came home for good in 1981. By then, Kingman had changed and was changing. The city had joined much of the nation in its rush toward progress made manifest in sprawling suburbs, interstate highways, strip malls, and a heart littered with ghostly, empty remnants.
Here and there vestiges of old Kingman held firm against the rising tide of progress. As late as the early 1990s you could still get a haircut from the barber that had been there on Fourth Street since 1956, a good meal at the City Cafe, or a cold beer in the saloon where folks once stood around lamenting the policies of President Wilson.
Kingman has changed, much of it for the better. But the price paid for this progress has been high. With the exception of the Sportsman’s Bar there is almost nowhere left where the ghosts of the past whisper in our ear and memories are carried on the scent of a cigar, the clang of the service station bell, or the hum of tires on Route 66 rolling east and west.
It is my sincere hope that the people of Kingman will awaken before it is to late, grasp the treasures that remain, and again transform Kingman into something unique instead of a mirror that reflects the generic world that embraces it.