The Space Age Lodge in Gila Bend, Arizona.
A flying saucer (on the right) sits atop the lobby of the Space Age Lodge at 401 East Pima Street, Gila Bend, Arizona.  7-01


Gila Bend (the yellow dot) along the Gila River as it flows toward the Colorado River after joining up with the now normally dry Salt River.

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

Fodder for Fred at I-8 and SR-85. 2-01
Gila has been a water stop for pioneers, stage coaches, trains, and early motorists.  Today, Gila Bend serves less as a watering stop than a place for motorists to find food and lodging at the intersection of Interstate 8, and State Routes 85 and 238.

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.

Space Age Time Line2
OCTOBER 4 - Russia launches man's first satellite, the 184 pound Sputnik 1.
SEPTEMBER 15 - Russia's Luna 2 becomes the first space artificial object to reach the surface of the moon.
APRIL 12 - Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human in space, orbiting the Earth once, spending an hour and 48 minutes aloft.
MAY 5 - Alan Shepard becomes the first American in Space in a 15 minute, 300 mile suborbital flight.
May 25 - President John F. Kennedy 1110 W. Katella Ave. Anaheim moon and return him safely to Earth by the end of the decade.
FEBRUARY 20 - John H. Glenn, Jr., becomes the first American to orbit Earth, making three orbits, spending 4 hours 55 minutes in space.
AUGUST 27 - America's Mariner 2 Space Probe, the first space probe to reach the neighborhood of another planet (Venus) is launched.
The Space Age Lodge opens in Gila Bend, Arizona.

APRIL 6 - U.S. launches the first commercial satellite, communications satellite Intelsat II.
DECEMBER 21 - U.S. astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders are launch in Apollo 8, to become the first humans to reach lunar orbit.
JULY 20 - U.S. Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin become the first people to walk on the moon.
April 11 - The ill-fated Apollo 13 is launched with crew James A. Lovell, Jr., John L. Swigert, Jr., and Fred Wallace Haise, Jr. Two days later, an explosion puts the return to the earth in jeopardy.
APRIL 19 - Russia launches Salyut 1, the first space station.
JANUARY 5 - President Richard Nixon authorizes a $5.5-billion, 6-year space shuttle program.
DECEMBER 7 - Apollo 17, man's last trip to the moon, commanded by U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan, is launched.

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 lobby of the Space Age Lodge encircles visitors with space achievements.
As you sign up for your room at the Space Age Lodge a mural of space achievements encircles your head.  7-01
Bend. For a modest price, guests could--and still can--step into the future as we saw it when there still was a cold war, before man walked on the moon, and before there was anything like a personal computer or an internet.

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

The Space Age pool is LEM shaped.
The LEM [Lunar Excursion Module] shaped pool and geodesic domed mechanical building escaped updating attempts.  7-01

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.

The Outer Limits Cafe features Space Age Mexican cuisine.
The Outer Limits Coffee Shop, features Space Age Mexican cuisine.  7-01

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.

The Golden Star Motel, where the body was found.  3-02

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.  Back to text

2. Timeline, Encarta Encyclopedia 2001, Microsoft. Back to text

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. Back to text

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 OnlineGoogie 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. Back to text

5. The Golden Star Motel, 1046 E Pima St., Gila Bend, AZ; 1-520-683-6303. Back to text

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.


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