It should come as no surprise that Gila Bend gets its name from the proximity of the bend in the Gila River as it continues flowing westward to the Colorado River. The bend in the
The sharp curve at the I-8 exit provides an element of excitement to the speeding semi driver. From the number of rolled semi-trailers on Fred's Towing lot, it appears that the curve may be one of the town's leading industries.
In 1963 Disneyland's Rocket to the Moon ride was 8 years old, the United States was poised to overtake Russia in the Space Race, and the Space Age Lodge opened in Gila
The 41 unit motel was one of a number of futuristic themed lodges opened by Al Stovall, a friend of President Eisenhower, a supplier of manganese to the government during World War II, and the owner of copper mines and a plastics factory. Stovall invested heavily in the future with the Fabulous Space Age Lodge at Disneyland, the Inn of Tomorrow, the Cosmic Inn, and the Galaxy, all in Anaheim. Alas, all of the other Stovall properties have morphed into more pedestrian themes.3
In the mid 1980's Best Western required the lodge to update its look to maintain its franchise membership. The Space Age's managers, Carol and Duke Fox who share ownership with the Stovall family, did not want to lose the theme, but changes had to be made. Sputniks atop the motel were removed, blue plastic lamps were replaced, and "moon rocks" on bathroom dividers were discarded. During the renovation, a flying saucer landed atop the lobby and the entire facility was spiffed up. Fortunately, the Googie architecture4 survived the renovation and the facility remains true to its origins.
No respectable motel would let its guests go hungry, so in 1964, a suitably themed restaurant was added next to the motel. In 1998, the restaurant burned down but was rebuilt with an updating of the theme. The menu from what is now named the Outer Limits Coffee Shop discloses that the food of the Space Age is, in fact, Mexican, and--from our sampling--quite well prepared. On the day of our last visit, July 1, 2001, the cafe adopted a new non-smoking policy for the whole restaurant, much to the distress of the party seated at the booth behind us. Time will tell if this policy remains, but as the cashier remarked, "Where else are they going to eat?" In Gila Bend, she may have a point.
The Space Age Lodge has gained a well deserved reputation among roadside kitsch fans. The only thing missing from the property is the quintessential artifact of the 1960's: The Lava Lamp.
Down the street at the Golden Star Motel,5 all is not fun and kitsch. Gila Bend's own Hollywood whodunit took place at the Golden Star, then a TraveLodge, while the movie "The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing" was being filmed nearby. On February 11, 1973, the body of a handsome 26 year old aspiring screenwriter was found face down near a pool of blood in the room of British actress Sarah Miles. The air was full of suspicion. Miles, then 31 and married, later admitted to having an affair with the screenwriter. The tabloids would have described a violent altercation between Miles and her younger paramour upon her return to the room from a pre-38th birthday party for her costar, Burt Reynolds. They would report on an urgent phone call to Reynolds for help, and Miles overnight stay in Reynolds's motel room.
The anticlimactic ending to the Gila Bend whodunit came with the Coroner's jury finding that the screenwriter died as a result of a drug overdose. Testimony had shown deceased to be manic-depressive and a manipulator who had threatened and attempted suicide previously to keep his position in the home of Miles and her screenwriter husband.
1. "Table DP-1. Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 2000--Arizona," American FactFinder, U.S. Census Bureau.
3. According to the Anaheim Archives at Googie Architecture Online, the Fabulous Space Age Lodge at Disneyland is now the 290 room Stovall's Inn at 1110 W. Katella Avenue. The other Stovall properties are the 199 room Stovall's Park Place Inn at 1544 S. Harbor Boulevard, the 99 room Stovall's Pavilions at 1176 Katella Avenue, the 88 room Stovall's Anaheim Inn at 1630 S. Harbor Boulevard.
4. Googie Architecture: A post-WWII architecture style which thrived in the 1950s and 1960s, featuring bold angles, colorful signs, plate glass, and pop-culture imagery, resulting in buildings that look as if they belong in Tomorrowland or Jetsons cartoon. The name is derived from the 1949 design of Googie's coffee shop at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights in Los Angeles. See Googie Architecture Online, Googie Central, and Shelby Grad, Googie Architecture. Some Googie seems to have escaped from its LA origins and can be seen to this day in Phoenix.
Sources for The Outer Limits Lodge:
Angela Cara Pancrazio, "ROADSIDE MOTELS KITSCHY SURVIVORS\ THEY'RE STILL A LURE FOR FANS OF AMERICANA," The Arizona Republic, 07-23-2000, pp F1.
Outer Limits Coffee Shop Menu, Space Age Lodge and Restaurant, Gila Bend, AZ.
Sources for the Hollywood whodunit:
Charles Kelly, "GILA BEND HOLLYWOOD WHODUNIT\ '73 DEATH STILL HAS ELEMENTS OF MYSTERY," The Arizona Republic, 02-27-2000, pp F1.
John Stark, "SCREEN: SARAH MILES STARS IN AN INCREDIBLE STORY OF SCANDAL AND LOVE -- AND NO, IT'S NOT HER NEW FILM, HOPE AND GLORY, IT'S HER LIFE," People, 11-23-1987, pp 73.