Technically Kingman isn’t my hometown. I entered this world in Morehead City, North Carolina and lived in Norfolk, Virginia as well as Port Huron, Michigan before arriving in Kingman in the summer of 1966. And I only lived in Kingman until the early 1970s.
However, I did return in the winter of ’76 (Christmas Eve day to be exact), made another detour in the form of several years spent working in the mines and on ranches around Silver City, New Mexico shortly after that, and then set up permanent camp here in early 1981. Since then I met and married my dearest friend, raised a son, built and lost a business, started over, played Don Quixote in the ongoing battle to breathe life into the historic district, and as a midlife crisis, decided to seriously pursue the childhood quest of becoming a writer in Kingman.
I may not be a native like my dearest friend, but it was on the pre 1952 alignment of Route 66 in the shadow of the Black Mountains that I learned to ride a bicycle and to drive. I earned a paycheck at the long gone Canyon Farms Dairy, rented an apartment at the Hotel Beale, and took my dearest friend on dates to Jan’s Soda Fountain in the Kingman Drug.
I watched the vital, thriving historic and colorful heart of the town wither on the vine as Desert Drug and Central Commercial, Kingman Club and Frontier Café, Peppermint Shop and Watson’s Bakery close, and I watched decades of failed and futile attempts to breathe new life into it. The latest endeavor is in the form of the Route 66 International Festival.
As a catalyst for development and revitalization the event is unprecedented. There is an historic partnership between Kingman Now LLC, the organizing entity behind the event, and Hualapai Tourism, and an international obsession with Route 66 that when coupled with appearances by celebrities such as Bob “Boze” Bell and a Japanese author introducing a new book at the festival, and the planned attendance by several international groups, should ensure media coverage.
There is also an unprecedented wave of investment in the historic district. Dora Manly is spearheading the development of the new event center, Siren’s Café received a nod from Arizona Highway’s, Beale Street Brews and Gallery and the Wine Cellar are fast becoming popular hangouts, a microbrewery has opened, and this past weekend, a bakery and ice cream parlor opened.
If I were to have but one concern for the events potential to serve as the spark, the one thing that will push revitalization efforts over the top, it would be the simple fact that to a large degree Kingman is still mired in the apathy that strangled so many other promising projects.
Time will tell. There are months to go, and many exciting things taking place.
A new season of Chillin’ on Beale begins in April. The Route 66 Fun Run is scheduled for the first weekend in May. The micro car tour will be rolling through town shortly after that date. And, of course, there will be a legion of international Route 66 enthusiasts motoring east and west on voyages of discovery.
Could this be the year of the Phoenix? Could 2014 be the year that sees Kingman transformed from a stop on the road to somewhere to destination for people from everywhere?
Time will tell, and that is but one reason I look toward 2014 with anticipation, a sense of excitement, and a hint apprehension.