Before 1950 motels in the southwest operated in an upside world during the months of summer. Many offered special day rates for travelers who preferred to drive the desert at night. For a few motels on busy highways such as Route 66, summer was boom time as a room could be rented during the day, and then rented again that night. All they had to do was offer a fan. Still, many motorists chose to forego the cost of a motel room, and simply sleep in their cars along the road. Why spend $3.50 or $5.00 when it was cooler outside than inside?
It was a Russian immigrant, a former hard rock miner named Conrad Minka that beat the system in Kingman, Arizona. In the early 1930s, after purchasing a barren piece of rocky ground east of town along Route 66, Minka began quarrying volcanic tuff stone outside of town and hauling it to the site. Then he began excavation of a cellar and utility tunnels, construction of a two story home, and then the auto court, an “L” shaped complex of rooms with attached garages.
What set the White Rock Court that opened in 1936 apart from the thousands of motels that lined Route 66 from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California was Minka’s ingenious way of keeping the desert heat at bay. On the hill behind the motel, in the shadow of the Sleeping Dutchman, he sank an air shaft and then dug a tunnel that connected to the utility corridors under the auto court. At the bottom of the shaft he set a vat filled with water and hung sheets of burlap to act as a wick. Then he added fans to the rooms to pull cool air from the utility tunnels. It worked like a charm as his rooms were ten and even twenty degrees cooler than outside.
The 1950 American Motel Association Guide noted that the “White Rock Court featured 15 modern, air cooled cottages. Rates $3.00 per night.” The White Rock Court survived and even thrived into the early 1960s, but only because the flow of traffic along Route 66 was ever growing tsunami. In 1939 the state of Arizona noted that for the first time, more than one million vehicles entered Arizona on Route 66 in a twelve month period.
Minka’s brilliant solution was quickly eclipsed. In 1939 the Arcadia Court, a Spanish Mission styled court opened directly to the east. The 1940 edition of the AAA Directory of Motor Courts & Cottages notes that the Arcadia was a complex of fifteen air conditioned cottages with rates that ranged from $3 to $3.50 per night.
The old motel still stands along Andy Devine Avenue, Route 66, in Kingman. It is a true rarity. The World Monuments Fund recently noted that fewer than one percent of prewar auto courts along the Route 66 corridor are still standing. But the properties importance doesn’t end there. The White Rock Court was the only motel in Kingman listed in the Negro Motorist Green Book. It is unknown how many of the properties listed in these guides remain along Route 66 but estimates are that they are numbered in double digits. Surprisingly the Arcadia Court, now Arcadia Lodge is also still standing. Both properties are long term rentals.
Air conditioning changed everything. Motels. Restaurants. Theaters. And even communities. Air conditioning made the desert bearable, and even desirable. With AIRzona Comfort Solutions you don’t have to beat the heat like Conrad Minka. From service to installation beating the heat is as simple as one phone call.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckely’s America