Imagine this. In 1964, air conditioning was still an option – in Cadillac’s. The pleasant and even livable life in the desert southwest that we take for granted is a relatively recent phenomena. Not so long ago beating the blistering heat of summer required the purchase of a movie ticket, renting a room at a high end motel or hotel, or being creative.
In Kingman, Arizona, at 430 E Spring Street, the corner of Fifth Street across from the former Methodist Episcopal Church where Clark Gable and Carol Lombard married in March 1939 is an historic home that is now a museum. However, the Bonelli House is also a unique time capsule, a tangible link to pioneering ingenuity. This family of Swiss immigrants was one of the largest ranchers in northwestern Arizona. The home in Kingman, headquarters for their empire, was a showpiece filled with technological wonders and a model of innovative engineering.
Built in 1915, this was the second home built by George and Effie Bonelli. The first had burned resultant of an electrical fire, a tragedy that would figure prominently in the design of the new house. Built by a master stonemason that used a local volcanic-mix stone for its two-foot thick exterior walls, the inside was constructed of a fire-resistant mixture of plaster and lime applied as a finish coat to lathe-and-plaster walls. As an added benefit the stout exterior walls provided excellent insulation from summer heat as well as winter cold.
With an eye on fire safety the home was designed with exit doors to the veranda in each room on upper and lower levels. This also had the added benefit of providing additional cooling during the months of summer. In fact, aside from fire protection it was transforming the house into a cool oasis during the months of summer that dictated design. In addition to the thick walls, and the doors and windows that opened on the veranda which allowed for capturing breezes from any direction, trellises of wire were stretched from eaves to ground, and thick leafy vines were planted. A cupola was added to the roof. The house was built over a cellar carved from the rock that was accessed by large exterior door. With the windows open in the cupola, and the doors open to the cellar a chimney affect was created with the heat rising and the cool air pulled from the cellar. The ingenious system was enhanced by opening select door and windows dependent of direction of the breeze, and the use of electric fans.
A tour of the historic home is highly recommended. Aside from the unique and innovative construction, the home retains much of its original furnishings and an array of technological wonders that were purchased by the family between 1915 and 1940. Tickets and information are available at the Mohave Museum of History & Arts on Beale Street.
If you would like to beat the heat in your home in a more modern manner, contact the professional Arizona Heating & Cooling Comfort Solutions.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America