This week brings me to Gallup, New Mexico, with a slight detour in Albuquerque...
Who could resist an “Art Deco Pueblo Revival Style theater?” The KiMo in Albuquerque is a blend of decorative motifs from indigenous cultures, adobe building styles, and, some say, the linear repetitions of American Deco. “Some” say this, because there is a lively dispute in the comments section of the KiMo’s Cinema Treasures entry about whether there’s any Deco in the mix at all, and even whether Art Deco is a worthy architectural term. That argument has been going on in broader circles for some time, since “Art Deco” seems to have been coined way after the style it describes. The KiMo (“mountain lion” in the native American language, Teva) is a three-story stucco building with the stepped massing characteristic of native pueblo architecture.
The interior is designed to resemble the inside of a ceremonial kiva with log-like ceiling beams depicting dance and hunt scenes. Air vents are disguised as Navajo rugs, and chandeliers morph partially into war drums and funeral canoes. As if this weren’t a bit over-the-top wrought iron birds descend the staircases, with rows of garlanded buffalo skulls. I would be surprised if Navajo and other N.A. visitors don’t find this a bit patronizing, not to mention clandestine or even atavistic, but movie palaces are movie palaces. The family that built this theater had friends who were members of several tribes, and, so the story goes, were trying to please everybody.
The theater went through typical mid-century movie palace turmoil: a fire which destroyed the original proscenium and stage, urban decline and an Adults Only phase of movie exhibition, closing and near demolition in the seventies; but the citizens of Albuquerque voted to save it, so it’s now safely on the historic register, its proscenium and stage fully restored and functional. It started life in 1927 at 1,321, but these days accommodates 650.
The former US 66 through Albuquerque is now owned and maintained by the city, with a few US-66/BUSINESS I-40 signs remaining along Central Avenue, where the KiMo stands. We’ll follow those signs out of town, where I-40 overlays the old road for much of the distance, about 138 miles, on the way to Gallup, at the end of the state.
But let’s digress one more time and check out a museum that sounds well worth it. Ever heard of the Navajo Code Talkers? What an American story that is: how Navajo children weren’t allowed to use their native tongues until they served in WWII and then were actually sent to school by the army to become fluent in a tongue so strewn with metaphors Nazis couldn’t think of breaking the code. I swear when I really do go to Gallup, I’m checking it out.
The El Morro, a Spanish Colonial style theater, has apparently never stopped showing films! Built in 1927 with seating for 900, it’s down to 471, but laudably still in business, though I don’t want to see Jurassic World: Fallen. If I could stick around till September 29th, I could catch the “True Colors All Star Drag and Talent Show,” which is really what still-in-business movie palaces are all about. I won’t get to see it, but I’m glad the City of Gallup is running the show.
Don’t forget Winona....
I won’t forget Winona, but it doesn’t have a theater; in fact, it and Flagstaff are a package deal these days, which is to say Winona was so tiny it became part of Flagstaff. It survives, mostly in legend, because of the song. Winona used to have a somewhat respected trading post, but only the skeleton of that remains, with a working gas station. Another interesting fact: Winona is the only locality in the Get Your Kicks song that is out of order in the itinerary. Flagstaff is farther west, but Bobby Troupe,who wrote the song, needed a rhyme.
Flagstaff is a college town, and so it has the Orpheum, a 300-seat theater that opened as The Grand Opera House in 1911 (or the College Theatre, depending on which source you believe). It’s mostly a live venue these days, and since Common Kings, InnaVision and Analea Brown, currently showing, don’t interest me, I’ll pass on through.
Kingman is the last stop in the state of Arizona, and I’m sorry to say it doesn’t have a theater of note, but its history as a site for filming is a rich one. For one thing Clark Gable and Carole Lombard were married in Kingman at the St. John’s Methodist/Episcopal Church, during a break from shooting Gone With the Wind.The city has been a location for several road pictures (why is this not surprising?), Roadhouse 66 and Two-Lane Blacktop (1971 movie of the year — Esquire). Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was filmed at the Kingman Airport. Mars Attacks! a comic sci-fi directed by Tim Burton (in which Martians are finally defeated because their heads explode if they hear the song “Indian Love Call”), was partially filmed there. Aliens in Kingman was entirely shot in Kingman, not surprising given the local legend that, in 1953, an alien spaceship was said to have crashed there.
There is an Arizona Route 66 Museum to investigate, then I can get some shut-eye at El Trovatore Motel, the first motel in Arizona to feature air conditioning. (Can you imagine a motel in Arizona without AC?) If you’re curious, check out the recent flap about Kingman and Sacha Baron Cohen’s Who Is America? Of course it’s a set-up, that’s what he does.
Its 206 miles to California.
If you want to get the feel of the road, check out this (only slightly abbreviated) YouTube of the drive all the way from Kingman to Barstow California, the next stop on this virtual journey. One unnamed town in between reveals two horses playing with each other in the middle of Main Street, around which the driver maneuvers! You can tell you’ve arrived in Ca. when you see the palm trees.
There’ll be one more dispatch-from-the-road, including:
Barstow, San Bernardino.
And of course, L.A. — the song’s destination, as promised in its beginning.
When my husband was five, during the Korean War, he and his mom drove West, Cincinnati to San Francisco, to meet his father on leave from the Navy. They must’ve taken Route 66, since the Interstate System was then still a dream in President Eisenhower’s eye. Dean distinctly remembers entering the state (the only time he ever did so in a car). When I read him this post, he asked, “what...no troopers at the border?” Perhaps there was some kind of farming blight that year; every car was stopped and searched for fruits and veggies. He remembers leaning out the back window of a 1949 Carnival Red Ford sedan while troopers, checking for perishables, unwrapped all the Christmas gifts stowed in the trunk. He was delighted with the drama, but his mom, who’d wrapped them with such care, was extremely pissed.