My interest and attraction to the colorful history of Route 66 was born in Flagstaff. I lived on West Highway 66 in the late 70s. Our drafty two-story rental house was near a metal frame for a drive-in movie screen that was never completed.
The house was in a field pockmarked with a prairie dog town and in between Flagstaff radio stations and their towers.
We called it the White House. There were lots of good parties, music and a little bit of studying among the Northern Arizona University students who lived in the old place in west Flagstaff.
That included members of the local bluegrass band Flying South.
Down the road, in a smaller white house, was another musician, Duane Davenport, who was a regular entertainer at Grand Canyon.
Train tracks shadow highway
In the woods nearby, there were 1930s junk cars and piles of tin cans near the railroad tracks. Trains rumbled past regularly and we learned to tune them out while we slept on Flagstaff's long, cold winter nights.
Whiting Brothers had a filling station with an adjacent tourist campground nearby and the Woody Mountain campground was up the hill to the west on Route 66.
I recently learned that my first Flagstaff home at 31 Mikes Pike was on a previous alignment of Route 66. Prior to 1934, the road crossed the tracks on Beaver Street and went west on Phoenix Avenue to Mikes Pike where it angled to the southwest to a five-point intersection. The new alignment in Flagstaff went west from Beaver Street and turned south at the Milton Road curve and under the railroad viaduct.
The tall Motel DuBeau sign at Beaver Street and Phoenix Avenue was designed to lure Route 66 motorists off the highway in downtown Flagstaff to its modern motel rooms and heated garages.
In 1959, Flagstaff citizens debated whether Interstate 40 should be routed right through town or on its present alignment well south of downtown. They wisely chose the southern route.
Still, Flagstaff business interests put up a ballot initiative that would have prohibited commercial development along I-40 to protect their tourist-dependent enterprises.
It was defeated. Modern hotels and restaurants, including Little America, emerged at Flagstaff's four I-40 interchanges after the interstate bypassed Flagstaff in 1968. That killed much of the Route 66 commerce that Flagstaff depended on for four decades.
Route 66 neon reminders
Many of Flagstaff's motels, restaurants and gas stations along Route 66 from that pre-interstate era have been altered or torn down. But there are some gems and neon reminders of the Route 66 era. The Museum Club,* Crown Railroad Cafe and Starlite Lanes bowling alley are among the remnants. bit.ly/2ixBcSJ
The Best Western Pony Soldier is a good example of the Midcentury Modern motels built in the 1950s. Ramada Inn put up its first ever motel in 1954 in west Flagstaff near the Y-intersection on Route 66. The Ramada building has survived, now as a Super 8 motel.
The nearby Andy Womack's Flamingo Motor Hotel, with its impressive neon sign, (see below) has been gone for almost 20 years. At one time, the neon "O" was not working and that accidentally rebranded the place as the Flaming Motor Hotel, which logically would have allowed smoking.
My home on Route 66, the White House, was demolished in the fall of 1980 after firefighters used it for a training fire. The Mikes Pike cottage in Flagstaff near Northern Arizona University is still there but its days are numbered. A multistory apartment complex is under development next door.
Flagstaff is the summit of Route 66 at an elevation of 6,900 feet. There is simply no view better than the majestic San Francisco Peaks along the entire 2,400 miles of Route 66 from Chicago to LA.
Flagstaff has a tribute to Route 66 at a rest stop on its bike path that parallels Route 66 in East Flagstaff. It is tricky to get there with no nearby parking lot. Visitors can park at Flagstaff Mall and walk about a half mile to see an old concrete section of the road and signs explaining the history of the highway. It is south of Lockett Road and Route 66 between the road and the railroad tracks.
*The operator of the Museum Club closed the business on Sept. 4, 2017. A new operator will reopen Museum Club Dec. 29, 2017.