Dusty gems abound along the Route 66 corridor (Andy Devine Avenue) in Kingman, Arizona. Each is a tangible link to the glory days of this storied highway. Each tantalizes the imagination. With thought given to the fast approaching Route 66 centennial, each quickens the spirit as one envisions the town beoming a living time capsule where the past, present, and future blend seamlessly.
As with Route 66 and the automobiles that traveled that highway, the motel evolved with the passing of time. In the era of the National Old Trails Road and the infancy of Route 66 railroad hotels remained a popular option. Free public campgrounds and primitive cabin camps were also popular lodging choices. In spite of the Great Depression by the mid-1930s many travelers wanted modern amenities such as hot and cold water in the room and radios.
This was the era of the auto court, motels with garages between the rooms. In the post war years as traffic on Route 66 grew exponentially, and larger cars become more popular, the garages were viewed as wasted space. And so, motel owners often transformed them into additional rooms or used them to enlarge existing rooms.
Then in the 1950s chains such as Holiday Inn, Ramada, and Hiway House increasingly made it difficult for the mom-and-pop motel to compete. With a decline in profits, maintenance was deferred, the property was abandoned, or the motel complex was converted into low rent apartments.
The World Monuments Fund recently listed Route 66 motels as some of, quote, “America’s Most Endangered Historic Places.” Counted among the rarest of surviving motels are those with their prewar auto courts. But the rarest of all are the auto courts that were listed in the Negro Motorist Green Book.
The White Rock Court is counted among the rarest of Route 66 motels. It is a prewar auto court. And it was the only motel in Kingman to be listed in the Negro Motorist Green Book. There was at least one other motel, Hoods Auto Court, that would provide lodging to African American travelers. But for reasons unknown it was not listed in the guidebook.
The White Rock Court with owners’ home was built of locally quarried stone by Conrad Minka in 1935. Purportedly he was a former hard rock miner. That would explain his innovative approach to besting the competition.
On the hill below the Sleeping Dutchman rock formation behind the motel he dug an air shaft, and then a tunnel connecting it to the utility corridors carved from the rock under the complex. At the bottom of the shaft, he installed a tank that he kept filled with water. Sheets of burlap hung in the water acted as a wick. Fans pulled the cooled air into the rooms.
As a result, while other motels suffered a lower occupancy rate in the moths of summer due to heat, the White Rock Court was always full. This and the provision of service to African Americans fueled rumors. Decades later there were legends that Minka had run a still under the parking lot and engaged in voyeuristic activities.
The White Rock Court was listed in A Guide Book to Highway 66 published in 1946. The 1952 edition of the American Motel Association Guide with a logo of Sleeprite, Eatrite, Travelrite provided a detailed summary of the motel. Quote, on Highway 66 east end of Main Street, 15 modern cottages, conveniently located. Short distance to ideal fishing and hunting. Seventy miles to Boulder Dam. Our motto is always courteous. Mr. and Mrs. Conrad Minka. The motel remained operational into the 1970s.
I am the neice of conrad Minka. My parents and myself would enjoy a visit and stay while my aunt and uncle would vacation at Buckhorn Baths resort in east Mesa, Arizona. It was always an adventure to be in Kingman with visits to Las Vegas to all you could eat shrimp. After selling White Rock Court, they relocated to west Kingman, developing another motel and living in the former home of Andy Devine
I would like to talk with you sometime. Perhaps over coffee?