WALKABOUTS, GUM BEATING, AND A FEW INDIANA JONES IMPERSONATIONS IN THE HOTEL BEALE
An early view of Hotel Beale in Kingmancourtesy Steve Rider
Interesting is the only word that comes to mind when looking for a way to describe the past few days.
Our trusty old Jeep, a battered veteran of countless Route 66 and off road adventures over the course of the past six or seven years has developed an interesting little quirk (if the gauges work, a power window doesn’t and the gauges quit working, the window operates).
Joining board members of the Route 66 Association of Kingman in their search for historic signage yesterday was truly interesting. Likewise with the surprising popularity of my three minute walkabout videos.
The Needles chamber of commerce dinner where I made a presentation on Route 66 in the southwest proved to be very interesting resultant of fascinating people that I met. The drive through Oatman at midnight was also rather interesting.
I worry over the presentations like a dog with a bone, and know that as this is a relatively recent endeavor, they need a bit of polish. So, it still surprises me that not only do people pay me to beat my gums, they applaud, and not just because it is over, and ask if I will make another presentation soon.
An extension of this is the three minute walkabout videos, a little something I came up with. My idea was to take folks with me on the morning walkabouts. The forthcoming Jim Hinckley’s America: Trek Across Route 66 video series being developed by the folks at MyMarketing Designs sort of builds on that premise.
I will keep you posted on the release date as well as sponsorship opportunities. Meanwhile, check out the morning walkabouts on the Jim Hinckley’s America Facebook page.
Now, let’s talk about my Indiana Jones moment. It started several months ago when the Route 66 Association of Kingman initiated the search for historic neon signage. To date, they have acquired four or five, and recovered a few more.
A visible register pump thatmay have once stood infront of the Old Trails Garage.
In a conversation with the Henderson family, owners of the Hotel Beale and linked storefronts on Andy Devine Avenue (Route 66) including the territorial era Sportsman’s Bar, the president of the association, Scott Dunton, was informed that numerous signs had been placed in storage decades ago. In turn this led to ongoing discussions about seeing the signs and trying to coordinate a schedule that would allow Damon Henderson, and a few association board members to meet.
Yesterday morning I received a phone call at 9:00. The message was brief, meet at a garage off of Topeka Street near the railroad crossing in one hour.
The garage itself was most interesting. Located along the pre 1921 alignment of the National Old Trails Highway, there was evidence that the building was at least that old.
For decades the garage and sheds had been used for storage, both for the hotel, lounge, and other properties as well as for assorted automobiles (a well worn Corvair or two and a ’57 Plymouth sedan that had seen better days as well as a bit of salt) and corresponding parts. Nestled among bar stools, automobile parts, sinks, stoves, refrigerators, lumber, wood spoke automobile wheels, and towering piles of scrap metal were several signs.
After the removal of a few small trees to access the doors and a bit of carpentry, these were graciously turned over to Legacy Signs (the owner had joined us for the little adventure) for their future restoration, and eventual installation, with an agreement of funding assistance provided by the Route 66 Association of Kingman.
During the course of some friendly banter, we were informed that there might be a few more signs in the Hotel Beale itself. This was followed with a question asking if we would like to look for them. I didn’t need to be asked twice.
Put simply the old hotel and neighboring storefronts are in need of very serious and very expensive restoration (anyone have an extra 5 or 10 million?). The family diligently strives to keep up on basic maintenance with limited funds but it is a loosing battle on a property this massive and expansive.
I couldn’t have been more excited if we had been invited to search for the Holy Grail. What an amazing adventure!
The lobby is little changed from 1920’s era photographs. The shoe shine stand used by Andy Devine dominates a corner. The telephone exchange looks as though it is awaiting the operators return. Sunlight streams through a dust covered skylight, and highlights the wood work that frames the second floor mezzanine. The Nighthawk Saloon is dark with only enough light to cast faint shadows of the stools and jukebox on the old floor.
The basement is a catacomb filled with countless secrets; a now empty barbershop and the Sump Saloon, a labyrinth of storage rooms, work shops, and boilers. Our flashlights beams picked out old A-1 beer cans and post card racks, a massive steam boiler, a forgotten office, and decades of files and records. There were even a few delightful signs that will again shine bright.
The old hotel is truly a tarnished gem that deserves a worthy restoration. Meanwhile, it remains a cherished time capsule where more than a century of Kingman, Arizona history is preserved in dusty silence.