401 E. Pima Street
Gila Bend, Arizona
In 2015, my husband and I took a mini road trip to the small town of Gila Bend to see the fabulously funky Space Age Lodge and to eat breakfast at its adjoining restaurant, the Space Age Outer Limits Restaurant. I’ve lived in Arizona for decades and had never been to Gila Bend nor seen this roadside, atomic-era motel and restaurant up close and personal.
I wanted to return so as to take some exterior night shots of this unique tribute to America’s 1950’s – 1960’s flying saucer/science fiction fascination. We finally were able to return in January 2017 when driving home from a Yuma road trip. Neon, neon, neon… It was eye-boggling the amount of restoration and love that has gone into preserving and improving upon this vintage Arizona gem.
Background about this mid-century motel and adjoining restaurant, both of which are still in operation and are thriving: The Space Age Lodge’s 41 guest rooms have space age-themed decor (too adorable – a small flying saucer with a room number adorns each door). Out front is a small, extremely clean swimming pool with a perfect view of the highway. Built in 1964/1965, the Space Age Lodge went through major restoration in 1996, and following a devastating fire in 1998 that was caused by a glitchy neon light, more restoration.
Historical overview from the restaurant’s menu:
The Lodge and Restaurant were renovated in 1996 by Duke and Carole Fox, partners with the remaining Stovall family. They implemented a newer, sleeker, futuristic design, using modern materials and a unique concept, integrating hand painted murals of outer space on the interior walls of both buildings. The satellites from above the hotel rooms were removed. A spaceship became the focal point of exterior design, landing on top of the lobby. This spaceship is 28 feet in diameter, and 28 feet high. On the inside of the spaceship in the lobby, you will see a three-tiered hand painted mural of outer space. The lobby has additional pictures on display, including one of the Mars Rover.
A fire destroyed the Restaurant in 1998, but it was quickly rebuilt with a new interior floor plan and a similar exterior design. The ideas and designs generated and implemented over 48 years ago have been updated, but the hopes and dreams behind their creation remain.
More lodge history, from a June 2015 Phoenix magazine article:
The year is 1965. The Space Age is in full swing in the United States following President John F. Kennedy’s promise three years earlier to land on the moon within the decade. While Buzz and Neil wouldn’t take their first steps on lunar soil for four more years, space exploration was in full force in Gila Bend. Al Stovall’s Best Western Space Age Lodge opened in the town, a natural stopping point for travelers on the way to or from California and Rocky Point. The retro hotel was one of five special “space age” destinations the late Stovall designed in the early to mid-’60s.
The lodge is now in the care of Bill O’Connell, who first began working with Al Stovall as a 21-year-old in the boss’ hotels in Anaheim, Calif. Every futuristic detail at the Space Age Lodge, from the lamps to room dividers, was hand-designed by Stovall, O’Connell says: “It was all his imagination and creativity that they used to build the hotel.”
Outer space was what “everyone was talking about” in the ‘60s, and the Space Age Lodge remains committed to the theme. In 1998, a fire sparked by a malfunctioning neon light destroyed parts of the lobby and restaurant; the owners took it in stride, stretching a banner outside the burned building that read, “Attacked by Aliens!” A UFO on the lobby roof, and murals of shuttles, satellites and spacemen were added throughout the lobby and restaurant in the remodel. “When you’re standing in the lobby and you look up, it almost makes you feel like you’re in outer space,” O’Connell says.
The hotel is still doing good business and standing strong after 50 years. O’Connell sees the hotel staying open for years to come, especially as the Space Age Lodge becomes more nostalgic as it preserves the increasingly distant era of moon landings, space races and road trip attractions.
About Gila Bend (pronounced HEE-la Bend), via Wikipedia:
Gila Bend, founded in 1872, is a town in Maricopa County, Arizona, United States. The town is named for an approximately 90-degree bend in the Gila River, which is close to but not precisely at the community’s current location. According to the 2010 census, the population of the town is 1,922.
Mini-road trip for my birthday with my husband, exploring southern Arizona roads and highways in Gila Bend, Tacna, Wellton, and Yuma, January 2017.
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