The sign that dates to about 1930 is a gem. The soft neon glow that it
casts on Andy Devine Avenue (Route 66) in Kingman, Arizona has come to symbolize the dawn of a new era in the city’s historic district that is experiencing a rather dramatic renaissance. The sign is also a bit of an historic mystery.
In about 1916, the last year for stagecoach service out of Kingman, a Chalmers-Maxwell-Packard agency opened on the corner of Fourth and South Front Street (now Topeka Street). Indicative of the changing times, the city’s first service station and a cafe opened on the opposite corner. As the traffic on the National Old Trails Road was increasingly exponentially during these years, it was most likely a prosperous enterprise.
After 1921 the course of the National Old Trails Highway through Kingman was rerouted from South Front Street to Front Street, now Andy Devine Avenue. This allowed for the bypass of the steep climb through Slaughterhouse Canyon. Instead the highway climbed up the escarpment of El Trovatore Hill in a gentle “S” shaped curve. From 1926 until the late 1940’s, U.S. 66 would follow this course up the hill on what is now Chadwick Drive.
The National Old Trails Road, and later Route 66, fueled unprecedented growth in the small desert hamlet. The business district in Kingman expanded east along the new highway corridor to meet the demand. The White Rock Court opened in 1936. The Arcadia Lodge and El Trovatore Motel in 1939. a number of service stations and garages opened at about the same time. The Dodge dealership linked with a service station opened at 6th and Front, and a new Packard facility opened a block to the east. Reportedly the restored Packard sign that now graces the Old Trails Garage next to the Brunswick Hotel was first hung on this facility.
In 1947, Frank Lockwood opened a restaurant at this site next to the Flying A station. By this time the Packard facility was located on 2nd Street between Beale Street and Andy Devine Avenue, a half block from Dunton Motors, the Ford dealership that had opened in 1946.
The sign was apparently manufactured in about 1930. Recollections of older residents place the sign on the Front Street facility. However, the first concrete evidence of the rare dealership sign in Kingman is a photograph that shows it on the 2nd Street facility. This is where the mystery begins.
At some point in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s, Duke’s relocated from 2nd Street to the Old Trails Garage. Officially that garage never served as a Packard facility. However, the restored sign was placed in storage at this facility at some point around 1950. The current owner of the garage, now in his 90’s, has an astounding memory and clearly recounts, names, dates, and locations for numerous businesses. He has been associated with the Old Trails Garage since age 8 and claims that a Packard dealership operated at this facility for a short period around 1949 or 1950. He also has a matchbook with the Packard logo and the address of the Old Trails Garage.
Andy Sansom, archivist at the Mohave Museum of History has doggedly reviewed back issues of the Mohave County Miner, now the Kingman Daily Miner. Advertisements for the Old Trails Garage appear in almost every issue and these provide clear indication that Studebaker, Mack, Willys, Buick, Chevrolet, Pontiac, Cadillac, Jeep, and LaSalle have all been sold at the Old Trails Garage complex. There is, however, nothing in the newspaper to link it with Packard.
This is a mystery that may never be solved. Irregardless, the old Packard sign looks fitting on the facade of the Old Trails Garage. This just might be one of the instances when we need not obsess over historic accuracy and instead should focus on the beautiful neon glow, and this rare tangible link to one of America’s greatest auto companies.
Historic photos courtesy Mohave Museum of History & Arts