Before we examine Kingman and its road to success via trial and error, I need to provide an important Route 66 update. There is also need for clarification.
The first fruits from the recent Route 66 symposium in Anaheim are becoming evident. Route 66 News has a story about the possible merger of the Route 66 Alliance and National Historic Route 66 Federation, a logical move that is long overdue.
Now, if I were in charge of creating this dream team to direct the future of the Route 66 community, and to provide that community with a unified voice, I would add one more entity to the fold. That would be Ron Hart’s Route 66 Chamber of Commerce.
Now, I need to provide clarification. In the Emulate the Phoenix post I put the cart before the horse in regard to my comments about Cuba, Missouri and the Wagon Wheel Motel.
For that I must apologize. Rather then reinvent the wheel, I will let Jane Reed explain.
Jim, Concerning the promotion/development of Route 66 in Cuba, MO. Cuban Fran Eickhoff promoted enthusiasm for Route 66 in Cuba, long before Connie Echols purchased the Wagon Wheel motel and began restoration in 2009. Small Cuba (pop 3400) had a larger business membership in the Missouri Route 66 Association than any other Route 66 town, including Springfield and St. Louis. Viva Cuba’s outdoor mural program began in 2000 with 12 murals painted along the Route 66 corridor several years before Connie restored the Wagon Wheel, a presence in Cuba since 1935. Many businesses have also spent money on their own public art to support the idea of the “Route 66 Mural City.” And the Cuba 2007 sesquicentennial also emphasized the importance of Route 66 to our town’s development. The Crawford Country History Museum in Cuba’s Route 66 room also emphasizes the importance of Route 66 to our townspeople. Cuba values the improvements at the Wagon Wheel and enjoys the presence of the World’s Largest on EMULATE THE PHOENIX
Now, our feature story. Since my return from the conference in Anaheim, I have ben posting updates, ideas, and snippets of lessons learned from that event. Today, I will sharpen the focus.
Kingman is one of those maddening, frustrating places that seems to be waiting at the train depot when its ship comes in. In the 1880s Kingman rose to prominence and soon eclipsed every community in Mohave County.
Yet, with the advent of air conditioning, miserable, remote boat landings on the Colorado River with a bar located in areas better suited for penal colonies boomed and mushroomed into thriving communities. Meanwhile Kingman plodded on with an industrial park that developed at glacial speeds, and as its historic soul withered on the vine, the worst of California suburbia spread across the Hualapai Valley.
In 1912 a group of Kingman businessmen attended the National Old Trails Highway Convention and transformed history. As a direct result of their intervention that predecessor to U.S. 66 tracked across northern Arizona rather than cutting diagonally across the state to Yuma.
Bobby Troup forever linked Kingman to the most famous highway in the world. Yet, in the era of resurgent interest in Route 66 the city chose to emulate Ash Fork rather than Seligman or Williams.
To date, while communities like Cuba and Pontiac, Galena and Tucumcari are harnessing the resurgent interest in this storied old road as a catalyst for development and revitalization, Kingman is still sputtering along. This is not to say the city hasn’t toyed with the idea of using the ever growing tide of tourism and international interest in the double six for development.
The Powerhouse Visitor Center and Route 66 Museum is a shining example. Likewise with the ever popular Route 66 Fun Run, the oldest continuous celebration of that highway in America.
Still, there have been far more false starts and crushing failures than success stories. The Kingman Route 66 Association started with tremendous flourish in the 1990s and faded into obscurity with almost no notice.
Revitalized in the dawning of the 21st century, that association crafted a clever little event with a single goal in mind – create a unified sense of community. The association is now gone for good but Chillin’ on Beale (held on the third Saturday evening of each month, April through October) lives on, is thriving and growing, and is accomplishing the task for which it was created.
For more than two decades there was a squabble and indecision about the historic train depot and its future. I am pleased to say it has now been refurbished.
The refurbishment of the Brunswick Hotel seemed to be a beacon of hope that inspired excited and enthusiastic discussion about the rebirth of the historic district. By the time of its closure, few even took notice.
Today it is again being readied to welcome travelers. A bakery and ice cream parlor will be opening next door.
The former J.C. Penny Building is now an event center. Meanwhile, just one block away, the cavernous, beautiful, and recently restored Central Commercial Building remains empty except on those rare occasions when it serves a reception center for a wedding or party. Meanwhile the owners are moving forward to convert it into a recreation center for veterans suffering with post traumatic disorder.
A half block away El Palacio thrives, especially on Friday and Saturday night. Just around the corner, Beale Street is coming alive.
There is a new microbrewery and the Wine Cellar, Redneck’s Southern Barbecue, and Siren’s. Up the road a half block is Dora’s Beale Street Deli, and during Chillin’ on Beale the street hums with vitality.
Just across the road from Dora’s, a former bank building is being refurbished to house Salvation Army. At the other end of the street, near the exciting new event and convention center, buildings are being evaluated for a soup kitchen.
Historically the City of Kingman has suffered from three maladies that are made manifest in its historic district – a lack of leadership with vision, apathy, and lack of a unified sense of community. In this Kingman is not alone. In fact you can see this in communities large and small all across America, not just along Route 66.
Here, in my adopted home town, there are changes in the wind, again. Looming on the horizon, less than ten months away, is the Route 66 International Festival.
There is a palpable excitement in the air. There is enthusiasm. There are displays of unity. Could this event be the tipping point? Could this be the catalyst for the long awaited revitalization? With cautious optimism, I think so.
If you would like to be a part of this historic moment as a vendor, spectator, artist, author, collector, speaker (see schedule of events), innocent bystander, independent film maker, or classic car enthusiast, contact Mike Wagner at 928-275-1215.