In the summer of 1966, there was an endless stream of traffic along Route 66 in front of Desert Drug. With its creaky old wooden floors and heady smell of perfume, cigars, and soap, the drugstore as well as the neighboring Frontier Bar and Frontier Cafe were relics from another time. So was Jan’s Soda Fountain in Kingman Drug.
Desert Drug is where I fueled a growing fascination with the romanticism of the southwest and tales of lost treasure by thumbing through magazines such as True West until the clerk asked me to buy or leave. My memories of the soda fountain are more poignant.
For a young boy transplanted to the desert southwest from the hills of Alabama and Tennessee it was a refuge on a hot summers afternoon. As a young man a seat at the counter under the clanking ceiling fan was often where I whiled away a lunch hour. And when my dearest friend and I were courting more than forty years ago, our dates often included a bite to eat at the soda fountain and a movie at the State Theater.
Well, traffic still flows along Andy devine Avenue, Route 66 in Kingman, Arizona. But it is a trickle rather than a torrent. A parking lot, bus stop and informational kiosk restored and maintained by Kingman Main Street have replaced the Frontier Cafe, Frontier Bar and Desert Drug. El Palacio restaurant has replaced Kingman Drug and the soda fountain. These and so many other landmarks of my youth live on in sepia tioned photos, memories, and the narrated self guided historic walking tour developed by Kingman Main Street.
Like it or not, times change. Between 1930 and 1950, just like with Route 66, Kingman changed rather dramatically. And the Kingman of 1966 was not the Kingman of 1950, 1980, or 2000. With the city council giving the green light to the implementation of the Downtown Infrastructure Design Project on May 16, the historic heart of the city will experience the most dynamic transformation since the Route 66 bypass.
The rerouting of traffic around town on I40 in the early 1980s sparked a slow motion downward spiral that decimated the Route 66 corridor and downtown Kingman. Stores closed. Buildings were razed after succumbing to years abandonment. In 2014 the International Route 66 Festival served as a catalyst for renaissance but the transformation was almost glacial. Now, with implementation of this infrastructure project there will be a dramatic acceleration.
The project will once again restore a sense of continuity to the historic business district. And in turn this will give the city a recognizable identity. It will resolve infrastructure gaps and deficiencies caused by decades of piecemeal repairs and improvements. It will preserve the unique historic character of Kingman while accommodating the needs of modern traffic, bicyclists, and pedestrians. And the city’s display of commitment represented by the project will instill confidence in potential investors.
From public arts projects and the refurbishment of buildings to the opening of new businesses, there is evidence that the historic heart of the city, like the mythical Phoenix, is rising from the ashes. With completion of the infrastructure project downtown Kingman will once again become a destination for locals, for visitors, and just in time for the Route 66 centennial, for people traveling Route 66 in search of America.