Hotel Monte Vista Picture of the Week

Hotel Monte Vista - Built in the 1920s as an upscale hotel by Flagstaff investors. It was named the Community Hotel until a private corporation purchased it in 1960.
Hotel Monte Vista – Built in the 1920s as an upscale hotel by Flagstaff investors. It was named the Community Hotel until a private corporation purchased it in 1960.

Flagstaff’s downtown is split by the proverbial railroad tracks—but in this case, I don’t think there’s a wrong side. The north side is a historic district; on the other side, old warehouses fill the limited space between the tracks and Northern Arizona University. Each has a distinct vibe of its own.

Older masonry structures make up the historic district and crowd the sidewalks. As a result, the streets are narrow, and parking is limited. If you find a parking spot, it’s easy to walk about the 24 blocks downtown. When founders laid out the town, they included alleys so deliveries and utilities would be off the street. That may have worked in the mid-twentieth century, but retail space is at a premium, so landlords split the buildings, and now shops occupy the building’s front and back. That means there’s always a beer delivery truck clogging the street somewhere.

I get the feeling that since the city is Arizona’s “premier” ski area, the city planners are using other resort towns as models. There is the usual mix of restaurants, bars, souvenir shops, and galleries for you to spend money in. The building owners maintain the facades well and have decorated them with low voltage lights—for that Disney Main Street look. However, something’s missing. The Snow Bowl doesn’t draw the same skiers as Aspen, Telluride, or Park City (the airport couldn’t hold that many private jets). So, although I enjoy walking about and seeing the architecture of the old town, it needs more polish.

Nope - I spotted this sign in a tavern window and it confused me for days. Then I realized that it has a different meaning if you move the 'N' from the top, to the bottom.
Nope – I spotted this sign in a tavern window, which confused me for days. Then I realized that it has a different meaning if you move the ‘N’ from the top to the bottom.

If the area north of the tracks is all façade, the south side is another story. It’s more bohemian, rustic, and organic—as you’d expect from a college town. The merchants may slap paint on their industrial buildings and hang an open sign on this side of town. They depend on the product and repeat clientele to survive. You’ll get the same bar food, but without the pretentiousness. For example, this is where the youth hostel is. Over the past two weeks, I’ve shown motel signs from here, and this is where you’ll find a café called the Tourist Home. This eating establishment has good food, but they’ve replaced the wait staff and cashier with your cell phone—petulant geezers like me, beware (they dare to expect tips).

For this week’s picture, we’re going to cross the tracks north to the Aspen and San Francisco Streets intersection. Here we’ll see Flagstaff’s third oversized sign on scaffolding. But, this one is on the roof of the Hotel Monte Vista, one of the oldest hotels in Northern Arizona.

The Monte Vista has an interesting back story. It was built in the 1920s with money raised by local citizens. Including a big chunk from Zane Grey, they raised $200,000 to fund an upscale hotel the town desperately needed. It opened on New Year’s Day 1927 as the Community Hotel. It was a publicly held business until private investors bought it in 1960. Besides the hotel, the building was home to the Post Office, newspaper, and radio station, and its lounge was a speak-easy during prohibition. The hotel’s Website has a page with other histories, famous guests, and ghost stories. You can read it here.

I shot this week’s image called Hotel Monte Vista early in the morning before the sun was up and the streets were empty. The lack of light muted the building’s colors. It looks as if I was trying for a sepia-toned effect, but I wasn’t. It’s an unusual look for me, and I’m not sure it works. What do you think? I also noticed that the signs on all three of this month’s photos have the sign on the right. I would have changed that had I thought about a grouping layout.Teal 356 - I stumbled on this Porsche while on my morning shoot on the south side of the tracks. It proves that even the bourgeoisie appreciate classy cars.

Teal 356 – I stumbled on this Porsche while on my morning shoot on the south side of the tracks. It proves that even the bourgeoisie appreciate classy cars.You can view my Web version of Hotel Monte Vista on its page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy seeing this month’s trio of hotel signs. Next week, we start a new adventure from Northern Arizona, so be sure to join us.

 

 

Till next time
jw

BTW: A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about coffee cups, contests, and calendars. I asked for your advice and the response I got was: <crickets> – – Silence – – </crickets>. You’re not interested, so to paraphrase Seinfeld’s soup-Nazi character, “NO CUPS FOR YOU—ONE YEAR.” Now I have to shave my head before meeting up with Larry and Mo.

Motel Downtowner Picture of the Week

Motel Downtowner - The 1930's sign was built on a tower to lure tourists off of Route 66.
Motel Downtowner – Nackard built the 1930’s sign on a tower to lure tourists off Route 66.

Tourism is Flagstaff’s biggest money maker. According to one ASU study that I found, tourism accounts for 84% of the town’s employment. Some of our non-Zonie friends may wonder what’s the attraction; after all, most out-of-state people don’t know much about our state and can only name two Arizona cities. Every season has a reason to visit the town at the bottom of the mountains. As I said at the beginning of this project, its 6,909-foot elevation (1,600 feet higher than Denver), mild weather is an excuse we valley lowlifes to visit and escape the heat. Fall ushers in colorful aspen trees that the annual fires haven’t burnt—both of them. Then in winter, some people like to strap planks to their feet and slide down the big hill outback of town. Finally, everybody goes to Flagstaff to toast marshmallows during the spring fires.

In the above list, I didn’t mention the daily traffic on Beal’s Road—Route 66—now Interstate 40. It’s an excellent place to stop for a meal or to get some sleep. And—oh yeah, I forgot—it’s how you get to the Grand Canyon.

It’s no wonder overnight lodging shaped and dominated Flagstaff architecture—from abandoned stone ruins to tacky Route 66 motels to today’s boring corporate three-story shoeboxes lining I-40. I think it’s understandable but sad that, as highways evolve, the old buildings and signs are disappearing. I get a big grin when I see one standing and add it to my collection. It must be the same thrill a hunter gets when shooting a Moose, Elk, or Kiwanis.

Apartment House - I shot this down the street from the Downtowner sign. I'm positive that if my wife ever set foot in this building, it would rip a hole in the space-time continuum.
Apartment House – I shot this down the street from the Downtowner sign. I’m positive that if my wife ever set foot in this building, it would rip a hole in the space-time continuum.

Last week, I wrote about Du Beau’s novelty concept—lodging catering to the motor car traveler. His motel was the second of its kind in the country—the first was in San Louis Obispo, California (that one burnt down, which makes Du Beau’s the oldest survivor). The buildings in this week’s image are ten years older but were initially used for other purposes. According to one account, it was a brothel. How scandalous. There were whore houses in the west—who knew? It wasn’t until the 1930s that K. J. Nackard bought the place and turned it into a motel. At the time of its opening, the main road through town was on the south side of the tracks. Later, the highway department realigned Route 66 to the north side. That’s when the sign wars began.

If you’re fishing for customers and they drive by your door, you can hook customers on a bamboo pole, but when the traffic is on the far side of the train station, it’s time to break out the surfcasting tackle. Both motels began building bigger and brighter signs to lure travelers to the Bohemian side of Flagstaff. These signs make today’s city planners shudder.

I took this week’s photo that I call Motel Downtowner with the rising sun. I had been walking around town in the twilight, and the tower was one of the last places I shot. It was after 7:00 by then, and I needed a cup of coffee (Macy’s European Coffeehouse—he’s also a fellow photographer). I have tried to get a shot of this tower for years, but I’ve never been happy with my results.

Ford GT40 - Evidently, not all residents at the Motel Downtowner are lowlifes. I found this car parked in the motel's portico, and is rare, even for Route 66.
Ford GT40 – Evidently, not all residents at the Motel Downtowner are lowlifes. I found this car parked at the motel’s entrance ten years ago, and it is rare, even for Route 66.

You’ll notice that the characters are angled so that they’re readable while driving the Mother Road, and that angle points to Route 66. The motel is no longer open. Another type of business has taken over the buildings, but the sign remains; somebody in Flagstaff appreciates good kitsch and history as much as I do.

You can view my Motel Downtowner web version on its page by clicking here. Next week, we have another historic Flagstaff hotel sign to show, so be sure to join us then.

Till next time
Jw

BTW:

Oh, you’re still here even though the show is over. You must read to the article’s end. Good on you, mate. You’re probably wondering what’s down here in the basement. This is my new ongoing section with announcements, follow-ups, answers, etc. I intend it to be a paragraph long (my fingers are numb) so I don’t have to clutter your inbox with extra mailings. I hope you find it helpful.

Cozy Bed by the Fire Picture of the Week

Cozy Bed by the Fire - A discarded box spring left inside the abandoned Richardson House at Union Pass.
Cozy Bed by the Fire – A discarded box spring someone left inside the abandoned Richardson House at Union Pass.

Neither of my grandfathers was around when I grew up, but their wives were more than a kid could handle. I don’t know of two women that were such opposites. They were the prototype for the good-cop/bad-cop routine used by police worldwide. My parents invited each to live with us at one time or another. For us kids, it was like having four bosses—with different agendas.

My dad’s mom was a short stalky woman who spoke with a Polish accent, even though she was born in Pittsburg. That was the primary language in the neighborhood where she lived. When I was in kindergarten, my mom made my dad move to the suburbs after I came home swearing in Polish. Her name was Regina, but we always called her grandma—or Grandma Witt when they were both around. She earned money for cleaning downtown offices at night. It wasn’t a glamorous job, but she owned her home up on Leander Street—the Rodeo Drive of Polack Hill.

After she retired, she joined us in California, and my parents paid her to clean our house—which never needed cleaning. Except for Christmas cookies, she was a terrible cook. She used vinegar in everything, and her favorite vegetable was sauerkraut. On Wednesdays, she’d make pork chops. According to her, they weren’t cooked until they were dry and brittle as their serving plate. It took years to get over my disdain for pork. When we would test her boundaries, the extent of her discipline ended with the phrase, “I’m going to tell your father when he gets home.” She never did, so we got away with murder.

Mom’s mother, on the other hand, was a terrorist. I don’t know how her seven children made it out alive because she detested kids. We called her Grandma Moore even though she took back her maiden name after divorcing my granddad. She was thinner and a couple of inches taller than dad’s mom, and we kids called her Mean Grandma. Whenever my mom would announce that she was coming to stay with us, we tuned up and bawled. My mom told us she was a registered nurse, but her remedy for anything was mercurochrome or Bromo Quinine. If you ever saw a red-splotched child heaving at the curb, that was us.

One time my dad came home on a payday and surprised us with brand new toys. They were those wooden paddles with a red ball attached by a rubber string. The goal was to continuously bounce the ball off the paddle like a horizontal yoyo (Because I lacked coordination, the ball kept smacking me in the face). The day my parents returned to work, she tore the ball and band off and kept the paddles handy to swat us when we got out of line.

I remember her telling us that we were all heathens and should behave more like our cousins. After she died and we all gathered for her funeral, those cousins recounted how my sisters and I were her examples of well-behaved children. That’s when I realized that she acted the same with all her grandkids.

At one point in my photography career, I began shooting trash furniture. I took one picture of a chair, and then I began to see discarded furniture everywhere. It jumped out at me. I have an extensive collection of chairs I found dumped on the street, and you can see some of them in my Have A Seat gallery. When I was shooting at the Richardson Homestead last month and stuck my head inside the house, I came up with the ironic title before I snapped the photo. Even though it’s garbage, Queen Anne and I have stayed in motels that weren’t much better.

I stepped inside, but when I framed the shot, I was too close—even with my widest lens. I had to back up to get everything in the frame. When I stood outside the door, its structure got in the shot, so the perfect place to stand was in the doorway. But, since that was the scene’s primary light source, the stage was too dark. I was blocking the incoming light. That’s when I heard Grandma Moor’s voice in my head reciting one of her favorite phrases, “You make a better door than a window.” She would always say that whenever we stood in front of the TV. Forty years after her death, she haunts the darker corners of my brain.

I finally figured out how to get this week’s photo without the dreaded slow-shutter blur. I call this image Cozy Bed by the Fire, and you can see the larger version on its Web Page by clicking here. Come back next week to see the next shot from my morning at the Richardson Homestead.

Till Next Time
jw

Stamp Mill Picture of the Week

Everyone has heard the axiom, “All roads lead to Rome.” Well, not in Yavapai County, they don’t. Over the past couple of years of traveling Arizona’s back roads, I’ve found that they lead to mines, and with good reason. We all have a vision of a dusty prospector sneaking off with a couple of burros to a secret gold mine in the mountains—this is before he became the Arizona Lottery huckster. A man like Jacob Waltz may discover a vein of gold, but it takes a corporation to extract it effectively.

To make a ton of money, you have to move a thousand tons of ore. A couple of burlap sacks strapped to a burro’s back just won’t do. You have to move unrefined earth by wagon, truck, or railroad car. So part of The Company’s infrastructure is getting things to and from the mine site. That is the Phelps-Dodge and the Senator Mine story—and this month’s back road adventure.

While bouncing along the Senator Highway in R-Chee (according to his license plate that’s the correct spelling), Anne suddenly blurted, “There’s a large building down there.” Since my side wasn’t overlooking the cliff, I couldn’t see it, so I stopped the truck and walked back to see the steel skeleton of an old structure. “Cool,” I told her as I climbed back into the driver’s seat. “It’s too early, so we’ll stop on the way back when the light is better.”

Stamp Mill - The ruins of the Senator mine stamp mill are perched above the headwaters of the Hassayampa River.
Stamp Mill – The ruins of the Senator mine stamp mill perches above the headwaters of the Hassayampa River. The mill is visible on Google Earth if you zoom in to the Senator Highway where it crosses the Hassayampa River.

After some research, I found out that the building was a 10-unit stamp mill for the Senator mines. As rock came from one of the three parallel shafts, the miners hauled it to the mill, where the hammers pounded big boulders into small ones. As far as ghost towns go, we struck gold (I couldn’t resist the pun, sorry). Concrete foundations usually are all we find in these places, but since this frame was a steel and not timber, the skeleton survives and gives scale to its size. From the road, I could easily walk down the stairs and wander the four floors. Vandals have decorated the remaining vertical walls for Christmas with colorful graffiti everywhere, so I guessed that we weren’t the first people to find this place.

Kennecott Mine - The Kennecott mining town is preserved in the Wrangell-St Elias National Park in Alaska. This should give you an idea of how a mill looked with the clapboard still intact.
Kennecott Mine – The National Park Service has preserved the Kennecott mining in the Wrangell-St Elias National Park in Alaska. This photo should give you an idea of how a mill looked with the clapboard still intact.

In Alaska, I visited a similar mill at the Kennecott Mine in the Wrangell Saint Elias National Park. At this location, the Park Service keeps that building in an arrested state of decay, and it still has the red clapboard siding. I wanted to show you how the Senator stamp mill might have looked while it was running, so I’m including my Alaska photo.

For this week’s featured image—that I call Stamp Mill—I wanted to show the building and its environment, which is hard to do while standing inside of it. So, I took this shot from the far side of the Hassayampa River Canyon as the sun hung low in the western sky. I was lucky in that the remaining silver paint glowed in the afternoon sun, which makes the frame pop from the background.

You can see a larger version of Stamp Mill on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you like it. Be sure to come back next week when we present the final image from our drive on the Senator Highway.

Until next time — jw

Chevy Skull Picture of the Week

I began writing a post for this week’s picture, and I started to wonder 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 on Dallas. As a car guy, I never understood why you’d tacky up a perfectly good car 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 a 40’s era Chevy Truck and whispers tales of cattle ranching during the Second World War in Seligman.

While I was photographing in Seligman, I saw this Chevy truck with a cow skull on the hood, I didn’t bat an eye and thought to myself, “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. It’s interesting that each object in the photograph would tell a story of their own, 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 imagine 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. For me, it’s not really about the skull as much as how the sunrise falls on the truck’s grill. The head balances the dark area in the composition. I named this image Chevy Skull.

You can see a larger version of Chevy Skull 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

Yuma Again

Queen and I did our quarterly dentist run early this week. I’ve already talked about Algodones, so I don’t want to discuss the border town again, except to say that the weather has grown much warmer and the snowbirds that flock to the western Arizona counties have grown thin. The lines at the Customs Station are nil. We were able to get on the road home by 2:30 yesterday.

Today I want to talk about a couple of Yuma bright spots. There aren’t many, so when I find one, it’s a pleasant surprise. Yuma has a Marine base and in winter when the snowbirds arrive, its population triples . Other than that, most people only get off the interstate to top off the gas tank on their way to San Diego (or back).

If our dental visits call for lab work, we’ll book a room in a chain motel. Most of them include a (so-called) breakfast. Generally the fare consists of packaged microwave rubber omelets, assorted cold cereal, fruit, waffles (if you’re lucky) and/or toast and bagels. At best, it’s airline food, but it saves having to walk across the street to Mickey D’s. That’s what we did until our last trip when I convinced Anne to forgo the buffet for Brownie’s Café.

Browies Cafe
The place ain’t swank, but the place is always crowed and the food is old-fashioned good. Locate on South 4th Avenue off Interstate 8.

My first meal at Brownie’s was on a solo trip to Yuma. While exploring south 4th Avenue one morning, I spotted the large Café sign and thought that it would be really good or really bad, so I stopped to find out. The packed parking lot is usually a good sign. I stopped again with Jeff on our photo trip to the Salton Sea a couple of years later. After two more meals with Anne, I’m convinced it’s a gem right out of The Twilight Zone.

It’s a counter diner from the 1950s. The back dining area, crowed with tables and booths, is always filled with patrons, but on weekdays, you can usually find an open table. As you look around the room, you’re assured that this isn’t a campy place nostalgically decorated; this is the real thing and has probably been this way for thirty years. The building and the decor have been there for a while and they show wear. To put it bluntly; this is not a shiny new place. If that’s a key point of yours, go somewhere else.

In the table’s center are four beige half-inch thick industrial ceramic coffee cups. When you turn one right-side-up, the wait-staff instantly fills it without asking as they deliver the menus. The menu nothing fancy on it; instead there are all the items you’d expect. The plates are not large, but the food is properly cooked, just as you ordered.

My favorite is the Walt Kammann Sausage and eggs. The sausage is from a local butcher that has made it for over fifty years. It’s similar to a brat but spicier with flavors like linguica (Portuguese sausage) and lots of  fennel like you find in Italian sausage. The sausage is a point of pride in Yuma.

Yuma Mural
Anne checks her cell phone by one of the murals at Yuma Landing.

North of Brownie’s on 4th Avenue is a place called Yuma Landing with a Restaurant of the same name. I had always assumed that the name came from nautical origins, probably from Colorado Steamboats or something of that sort. I was mistaken. When we stopped to look at a monument, I found out the name comes from early aviation. In 1911, pilot Robert Fowler landed the first airplane ever in Arizona on that site. He was on a cross country trip flying a Wright Model B biplane which he completed in Florida forty-nine days later. The place has a plaque, a statue of Mr. Fowler and a couple of cool murals. It’s a big deal for Yumans . . . probably because nothing else interesting has happened in Yuma since.

Till then . . . jw

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