Sunday, September 6, 2015

Flagstaff, Arizona: So Cool, So Very Cool

On Friday, a young woman on the 50-Camelback bus broke down in hysterical sobs about how much she hated summer in Phoenix and needed to get out of the Valley of the Sun. The lucid and sensible homeless guy suggested Jesus could help, while the rest of us were looking at one another with the mutual discomfort of strangers, wondering who was going to snap next.

Not Babbitt as in Sinclair Lewis, but Babbitt as in Bruce.
On Saturday, I took the Arizona Shuttle to Flagstaff, which is 7,000 feet up in the pine forests of the San Francisco Mountains and promised highs in the low 70s at most.

Last time I went to Flagstaff, in the summer of 2009, downtown was rife with vacancies and slowly being taken over by Thai restaurants. This year, it's full, it's lively, and its main products are pizza, beer, and Route 66 memorabilia. It should be possible to stay for a long weekend in Flagstaff without ever tasting the same microbrew twice, and that's including having beer with breakfast. I did not take this challenge, but with the Northern Arizona University campus right there, somebody probably has.

Really, I'm distracted from any sort of reasoning by the cornice of the Babbitt Brothers building. It's the most over-the-top piece of Eastlake frippery I can recall seeing -- and Eastlake frippery ought to be a contradiction in terms, since that was a simplification and reform movement, but it's not -- and combining it with a neon sign of a much later era is all sorts of awesome. (The current business is not run by actual Babbitts but is named for the building.)

You may find yourself with a fancy cornice...
Downtown Flagstaff smells like patchouli and looks like a place where every building has a history, but it turns out that some buildings are remarkably tight-lipped about it. Take, for instance, the Kinlani Apartments. It's at 8 Aspen Street, so it appears to be part of the Railroad Addition Historic District -- but nobody wants to cough up a building inventory. Going for Baroque over the door makes me think Beaux Arts, but mostly because that's usually the answer for Western buildings that look ambiguously old. The only internal photos I can find confirm that the building is old but could place it any time from the 1880s into the 1930s.

So I googled more generally for Kinlani, and it turns out to come up a lot locally. It's the historic name of the Flagstaff High School yearbook, the name of a dorm on the Northern Arizona University campus, and the name of an archaeological research firm. Desperate, I took a look at the dorm.

The dorm turns out to be a residence hall for Navajo students studying at Flagstaff High School. I'd figured "Indian schools" like the one in my neighborhood were long gone -- but the real answer is "no and yes." Mandatory indoctrination of the native peoples is no longer officially done, but northern Arizona is so sparsely settled that teenagers who want to be at a "big city" high school that offers college-prep courses will come board in Flagstaff.

Kinlani might be a Navajo word, so I went looking for that. The first translation I found says that it means "place of many buildings" and is thus the Navajo way of indicating Flagstaff. So these apartments would be the Flagstaff Apartments, with a hint of regionalized exoticism and Beaux Arts ornamentation... that practically runs a flag up a staff *cough* proclaiming it's from the 1910s or 1920s, an era defined by romanticizing earlier styles and the local past.

Come, let us have beer...
This building, I photographed because, although the style is consistent with late-Victorian commercial buildings, something in the proportions looked much later to me. It's a retail and office center owned by the local Hopi community. Sure enough, it was built in 1999 as part of the downtown revitalization effort. (The Skyscraper City post also has terrific photos of downtown Flagstaff, with a few facts on each.)

Where Smokey the Bear waits for the bus.
The bus shelters are pure Civilian Conservation Corps Rustic, which at this point is more a regional vernacular than an indication of actual age. I did take buses! Flagstaff has lovely pale blue hybrid-electric buses. I found myself a bus that went up a mountain through the woods and dropped me on Cedar Avenue at the location of Aunt Maude's Antiques. (More on that below.) When I was subsequently dithering on a traffic island because I hadn't quite thought through how I was getting back to downtown Flagstaff, the same driver spotted me and waved me to an actual bus stop. That kind of service is not to be found in Phoenix.

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign.
This style of sign is surprisingly common in Flagstaff, though it's so aggressive that it really takes only three of them to be "surprisingly common." I think it's to be visible to drivers on Route 66.

The bungalow court it straddles turns out to be the Motel Dubeau, which answers the question of where I'm staying the next time I come to Flagstaff, since what I really want to do is stay overnight and either have a longer trip or take the Flagstaff-Sedona shuttle and see Sedona. (My homeward driver also revealed the secret of switching from a Flagstaff-Phoenix shuttle to a Phoenix-Prescott shuttle at Camp Verde, so there's that option, too.)

Three sausage types, no waiting.
For lunch, I chose a random brewpub south of the railroad tracks -- seriously, close your eyes, spin three times and point, and you'll be looking at a brewpub. The Beaver Street Brewery is in a former supermarket, which means supermarkets in Flagstaff were once stone so solid they might as well be fortified.

Where Smokey the Bear buys guitar strings.
This building, I photographed just because it is so very Flagstaff. It turns out I'm going to have a use for that.

So I went to a downtown arts fair in the rain -- yes, I brought an umbrella, because although my skewed definition of "sensible" allows me to just vaguely hope the bus system will rescue me, it does include packing an umbrella and a sweater -- and then decided that the only thing better than an arts festival in a rainstorm would be the Coconino County Fair in a rainstorm.

The county fair is hidden deep in the woods... but there's a free shuttle from NAU. I love fairs of all sizes, both with and without pig-racing, and will happily slosh through the mud to go to all the livestock barns. So, it seems, does everybody in Coconino County, as the barns were packed body-to-body like a bus at rush hour in Rome. The rabbits seemed a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing.

Flemish Giant Rabbit.
The chickens were mostly annoyed.

Who ya callin' SPECKLED?
Fried Reese's peanut butter cups on a stick.
At this point, I was feeling uninspired by solid food, but a food truck labeled FRIED TREATS called out to me. This had to be explored, on the theory of "you only live once" (and, if you eat much of this stuff, that once doesn't last long). Fried Reese's peanut butter cups on a stick give all the joys of a melty peanut butter cup melded with distinctly donut-like qualities, plus no messy hands!

I sat in the rain with my fried treats and listened to a traditional country band.

The truck we're singing about is a Ford Model TT.
Flagstaff is very, very serious about being along a rail line. Every five minutes or so, portions of downtown shake as a train rockets through. Most are freight, but the Southwest Chief also stops here on its way between Chicago and Los Angeles.

Three-locomotive train heading west.
It still seems weird to see Burlington Northern on a train that's not green-and-white. Santa Fe used to be orange-and-yellow. This orange-yellow-blue combo makes me expect Chessie System (which is admittedly my favorite railroad livery, so it's not like I'm complaining).

Here, Alexis demonstrates how I felt upon waking up on Sunday morning.

There ain't enough coffee, Fitzroy.
The stone cup is from an antique store mildly up the hill from downtown Flagstaff, where a friendly white standard poodle helped me shop.

Musical instruments for the very small.
The 3/8-scale Chicken Coop's resident is taking up guitar, and the 1/4-scale Swamp Home is getting a keyboard, both from Animas.

Now, things get perhaps too exciting. My Phoenix-Flagstaff driver turned out to also build dollhouses (way better than I do), and the conversation sort of veered into sort of talking me into sort of considering taking one more shot at a tab-and-slot kit, maaaaayyyyyybeeeee a Corona Concepts Primrose, which has the advantage that it's too small to get oneself into a lot of trouble. (Best shuttle ride ever. Seriously.)

I had no idea what I'd do with a one-room kit, since it is drilled into my DNA that a dollhouse must have a kitchen and bathroom, which rules out single-room dioramas (and yet, I shrug off staircases).

Manuel and Abigail check out their new dining set.
And then, up at Aunt Maude's -- which had already lured me into luridness by being jam-packed with stuff and having the walnut smell of an East Coast antique store, which you don't really get out here -- I found the kind of peasant-style table-and-chairs set that I'd been thinking wistfully about for four or five years, in an irresistible color scheme. These sets start with Occupied Japan and then just keep on a-comin' well into the 1970s, so I've no idea what provenance this one might have, but it needed to come home.

With the furniture in hand, I went back to the really cute tchotchke store that had handmade paper and bought gleefully over-scaled wallpaper to match. That kind of 1970s Victorian-revival-on-LSD pattern is very Flagstaff.

Yes, the shop owner wondered what the heck I was doing.
The exterior is going to be based on the guitar store, way up several photos ago, as there's a way to make convincing stone from egg cartons, and the Primrose is small enough that I won't lose my mind trying (or have to live exclusively on eggs from now to December).

So Manuel and Abigail are going to have a trendy standalone dining, craft, and games hut for no really good reason other than that Arizonans get really excited about sheds. I have promised myself to have this done in time for the 2016 State Fair.

My Flagstaff-Phoenix driver and I talked about intellectual curiosity, since she'd figured out, in high school, that she could learn Spanish more easily by listening to Spanish-language music. I should really, therefore, close with a ranchero or mariachi song, but it's almost impossible to read about Flagstaff without being ear-wormed by the Route 66 song, and it's time to get that out of our collective systems.


  1. Fried Reese's peanut butter cups on a stick! I clearly need to visit this place!

    1. I'm sort of hoping that these become standard fair fare. It's not like I go to enough fairs in a given year to do myself too much damage!

  2. What a wonderful trip you took. I don't know Arizona at all. Your photos and narrative were both very interesting. That table and chair were a real find. I also love the paisley printed wall paper. The pink, in particular, is really pretty.

  3. Looks like you had an awesome trip! Great shopping scores too, esp. the wall paper.

  4. You visited interesting places, this was a great virtual tour! The furniture is a good find.

    1. Thank you! I was kinda pleased with how much there is to do in Flagstaff.

  5. You only live once, but some things I don't want my tummy to experience, lol.

    That sure was a cute chicken!

    1. The chickens were downright feisty. I love visiting the chickens.