Central Commercial Picture of the Week

Before Interstate 40, before Route 66, and before the Railroad, Seligman was a quiet Havasupai Village where Beale’s Wagon Road crossed the Big Chino Wash, and the reason you stopped there was for water. Back then it was called Prescott Junction because you could hop on a stagecoach to the territorial capital. Not a lot of people traveled that wagon trail because it was rough, dangerous, and in the middle of the God-forsaken desert. All of that changed in 1849 when James Marshall discovered gold in California, and suddenly everybody and his brother wanted a share.

Congress immediately passed a bill to give away ridiculous chunks of land as incentives for railroad upstarts to lay tracks from coast to coast, but the Civil War got in the way. Shortly after peace broke out, the railroads got to work in earnest. In those days, you had to plan for fuel and water stops every 30 miles, and that’s the reason railroads built regularly spaced stops every 30 miles. They renamed the town Seligman for Jesse—one of the big money guys from New York. Being halfway between Flagstaff and the California border, its site was in an excellent spot for crew swaps, and since there was plenty of flat space, the company built a large switching yard here. So, Seligman became a busy stop along the route. The trains don’t stop anymore, in fact, they don’t even tap the horn as they rush by on the quarter-hour.

Seligman’s historic district is within walking distance of the old depot, which—unfortunately—was demolished in 2008. It had a Harvey House—like the one in Winslow—and a reading room. I would have loved to have added them to my collection, but I’m a decade late. The old section of town has several notable buildings: a garage with gas pump island, a few warehouses, a boarding home, and some overnight cabins that the train crews used.

Central Commercial
Central Commercial – the Pitts and Washington Central Commercial Department Store on Route 66 in Seligman Arizona. It needs to be restored to red brick, and gold lettering with a green awning.

The building that I kept coming back to was this store. I immediately walked to it, because of the flag mural and yellow ribbons on the side wall. After walking around town, I returned and shot some other angles. When I got out the next morning, there it was again, and I liked how the daybreak lit the front. It shows off every brick and the fascia detail along the top. It even reveals some of the original sign hiding under the whitewash. From the tour guide that I picked up at the barber shop, this is the Pitts & Washington Central Commercial Department Store built-in 1903. The brick was probably red, and the signs were gold—like a Woolworth’s. I believe the whitewash was added later to accommodate new tenants. It’s my picture of the week, and I call it Central Commercial.

I think it would be neat to see it restored and brought back to life as a working museum. I see it stocked with period and retro items for sale. There’s not enough traffic to sustain such a free-standing business, but maybe a display center for an online store could work—sort of an Amazon for antiques. I feel the car culture that the town caters to would patronize a store that carried upscale items like that. On the other hand, maybe it’s too late because that’s my generation’s thing, and we’re fading rapidly.

You can see a larger version of Central Commercial on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and come back next week when we’ll show another featured image from a different place in Yavapai County.

Until next time — jw

Chevy Skull Picture of the Week

I began writing a post for this week’s picture and wondered how cow skulls (horns) and car hoods became a thing. It seemed to originate in Texas. My earliest recollection of the meme was a red ’59 Caddy convertible with a Longhorn hood ornament—or maybe that was JR’s car in Dallas. As a car guy, I never understood why you’d tacky up a perfect vehicle with bovine parts. I guess it symbolized decadent wealth—that you had so much money you could thumb your nose at decorum—a new money thing.

Then, the genre moved to New Mexico, and the horns became a whole skull. Often, the cow’s head is hand-painted or jewel-encrusted. The cars changed too. They were no longer shiny new Cadillacs but heaps from the fifties with rust and dull patina. The whole car-cow thing transitioned from tackiness to art.

Chevy Skull
Chevy Skull – A cow skull decorates the hood of an era Chevy Truck and whispers tales of cattle ranching during the Second World War in Seligman.

While photographing Seligman, I saw this Chevy truck with a cow skull on the hood; I didn’t bat an eye and thought, “This seems perfectly normal.” Now that I look at this week’s image, I don’t think the skull is even mounted—it’s just sitting there as decoration. Interestingly, each object in the photograph would tell its own story, but combined, they conjure up an entirely different tale. I imagine a narrative of round-ups, chuck wagons, miles of open range, and nights under the stars. I guess it’s a story about a rancher growing beef during the Second World War and how hard his life was.

Sometimes, when I walk away from shooting an image like this, I have a hunch that it’s a good shot, and I can’t wait to see it on paper. This one, however, didn’t stand out in my memory. It wasn’t until I saw it on my computer screen that I considered it a keeper. It’s not about the skull but how the sunrise falls on the truck’s grill. The head balances the dark area in the composition. I named this image Chevy Skull.

Click here to see a larger version of Chevy Skull on its Web Page. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and return next week when we show another featured image from Seligman and Route 66.

Until next time — jw

Fire Flag Picture of the Week

When I go to a new town like Seligman, I’m like any other visitor. I take in the bright lights and displays along the main street. After all, that’s the show. The merchants want to attract you into their stores. It makes good business sense. The old maxims counsel you to, “Put your best face (foot) forward,” and “Show your better side.” They can’t make a living if no one comes in.  That’s why the storefronts are updated continuously with fresh paint, displays, and signs.

Fire Flag
Fire Flag – A retired Seligman fire truck sits along a clapboard store.

But sometimes there’s good stuff out back, and that’s why I walk a new town’s back streets and alleys. They aren’t all spit-polished, and you can see a building’s structure untouched since it was new. If you’re looking for history or art, an alley is more rewarding because merchants ignore it.

That’s how I found the subject for this week’s featured image. It wasn’t behind but along a clapboard-sided store. It has a big faded hand-painted flag and retired fire truck which could be a museum display. The mural alone was a good shot as was the fire engine, but I decided to go for a twofer. The block of purple is a mystery, but it works in the photo. I named this image Fire Flag because it was a short, catchy description of the image.

You can see a larger version of Fire Flag on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and come back next week when we’ll show another featured image from Seligman and Route 66.

Until next time — jw

Rusty Bolt Picture of the Week

♬ Get your kicks ♪
On Interstate 40 ♫

Well, that didn’t work; it’s not musical and doesn’t even rhyme. I suppose I shouldn’t try to mess with Bobby Troup’s song. I haven’t any musical talent anyway. My grandmother repeatedly told me, “You couldn’t carry a tune in a bushel basket.” The only thing I can play is the radio … while I’m driving, and when I drive across northern Arizona, that 1946 song inevitably pops into my head. Everybody from Bing Crosby, Chuck Berry, to the Cramps, have recorded it, so the tune has legs.

Rusty Bolt
Rusty Bolt-The Rusty Bolt drags bus-loads of tourists into the saloon to try their signature cocktail-a Rusty Bolt. I assume it’s a Rusty Nail in a bigger glass.

The reason that song has become an earworm in my brain is that Queen Anne and I drove two and a half hours to Seligman for this month’s photo shoot and we never left Yavapai County. For fifty miles, Route 66 runs along the northern border of our county—from Yampai to Ash Fork—and Seligman is at the west end of the most extended active section.

I’ve already recalled some of my personal experiences traveling cross-country on US 66, so I don’t want to be your grandpa continually retelling the same stories. But for the next generations, I’ll summarize some of the road’s highlights. Completed in 1926, U.S. Route 66 was one of the first paved highways across the west. It ran from Chicago to Santa Monica and provided an economical alternative to train travel. It was known as the Will Rodgers Highway, Main Street America, and the Mother Road. During the Dust Bowl and Depression era, thousands of migrants traveled west on the highway in search of a new life, a story that John Steinbeck captured in his epic novel Grapes of Wrath. My generation grew up watching Route 66 on a black and white 17” TV. The show’s two male characters—Martin Milner and George Maharis—traveled across the country in a Corvette. Their travels involved but weren’t limited to 66, and no one questioned their sexual orientation back then. The show turned the highway into a symbol of escape and adventure and permanently linked the Corvette to Route 66. (Incidentally, the show’s theme song made Billboard’s top 30 list.) The building of the Interstate System killed Route 66. The freeways went around towns and eliminated stop lights and speed traps. Without Federal money, states abandoned the road and began digging it up.

Angie's Chair
Angie’s Chair – Angie (cardboard cutout) and his wife-Vilma-founded the Route 66 revival movement from his Seligman barber shop and pool hall. I wanted to get my hair cut, but he was home sick with the flu.

In 1978 when Interstate 40 opened and bypassed Seligman, the town’s commerce disappeared, and that put the town’s existence in jeopardy. But the town’s barber administered CPR. Angel Delgadillo met with representatives from other affected communities, and they formed an organization to turn things around. They worked to make the old US 66 a Historic Highway. Within a year, the association successfully lobbied the Arizona State Government to declare the section between Kingman and Seligman a Historic Highway, with parts from Ash Fork to California added later. After that, other states followed our example, and they tagged sections of the remaining road as historic.

The nostalgia caught on, and soon gift shops were selling Route 66 kitsch and memorabilia. Each year, the Historic Route 66 Association organizes a Fun Run. On the first weekend in May over 800 cars gather in Seligman for a car show in the morning before driving en masse to Kingman for the night. The next day, they continue to Needles. Most of the participants are of my generation and are driving cars they wish they had in high school. 2019’s annual run will be the 32nd year.

On our Seligman visit, we saw several businesses competing for customers by displaying memorabilia and vintage cars out front. Of the samples we saw, this one stood out. It’s the Rusty Bolt Saloon and—along with the signs and flags—they added mannequins to their building. I’ll tell you that when you drive by, you think there’s a wild party going on here. I took this shot early in the morning as the sun came up and I liked how the statues stood out in the sun. The other advantage to shooting that early is the lack of tour buses parked along the sidewalk.

You can see a larger version of Rusty Bolt on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and come back next week when we return to Seligman and more photos.

Until next time — jw