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Shapes from the Past: The Meteor City Trading Post

The iconic Route 66 landmark known for its giant roadside dream catcher and its geodesic dome design is getting a new lease on life.

Today, The Meteor City Trading Post may not look much like the once popular roadside attraction that pulled visitors off of Route 66, entertaining scores of folk from far and wide, but change is in the air. Over the past 5 years the Post has been sitting in the middle of the Arizona desert, abandoned and desolate, sun bleached by the unforgiving desert sun. But there’s a new sheriff in town and there is a renewed hope circling the attraction.

Named in honor of the nearby Meteor Barringer Crater, the Post first opened in 1938 as a Texaco gas station under the ownership of Joe Sharber. In 1941, Jack Newsum bought the property and added a store component so that tourists, on their way to see the giant meteor crater in the desert, could stop and buy souvenirs and groceries. “Lonesome Jack,” a nickname that Newsum seemed to embrace wholeheartedly - he had a city limits sign for the Meteor City Trading Post that read “Population: 1” - ran the trading post alone until he married his wife Goldie and updated the city limits sign to a population of 2. There’s a black and white picture of the couple standing on either side of the city limits sign with nothing but desert behind them. Jack looks off at something to the side that we can’t see, while Goldie looks straight into the camera. The loneliness and isolation of the place is palpable in the photo. After Jack died, Goldie lived with her mother and erased the number 2 on the city limits sign, in fear of what people would do if they knew there were two women, living alone.

The Good and Bad Times

However, it was only in 1979 that the original rectangular building housing the trading post was replaced with the eye catching geodesic dome with the yellow Mohawk down the center. This could be considered the heyday of the Meteor City Trading Post, when tourists came in by the droves to buy their souvenirs - Baja jackets, tumbled stones and samples of petrified rocks and Native American goods - and grab a soda pop while children played in the concrete teepees. This was the time when tourists could view the nation’s largest dream catcher and the 100-foot map of Route 66 painted by Bob Waldmire, American Route 66 artist and cartographer. This was the time when the 1984 movie Starman, starring Jeff Bridges and co-star Karen Allen, featured the dome in one scene, as a restaurant, where they are seen having cherry pie and peach cobbler.

But the trading post has also had its fair share of hard times. In 1990, the original dome burned down and was replaced by the structure that stands today. It was then briefly shut down in 2001, reopening later that year with new owners, Richard and Ermila Benton. Because the 100-foot map of Route 66 had fallen into disrepair, the new owners painted over the original around 2002-2003. Despite their efforts, the Bentons put the trading post up for sale with an asking price of $150,000. By 2012, when no buyers came forward, the doors to the trading post shut, seemingly for good. The property sat in the desert, ignored, deteriorated, all but forgotten.

In true desert fashion, the entire property was effectively being slowly erased, disappearing into the past. Its decay accelerated by the sun and wind and perhaps by its sheer loneliness; just as the population number had been erased on the city limits sign by owner Goldie Newsum decades earlier. The once vibrant artwork painted on the buildings became faded and defaced. Inside the dome, the windows and doors and display cases were all smashed. Glass covered the floor. Graffiti marked the walls inside the abandoned dome. One read, “Go vegan.” Another depicted an inverted pentagram and 666. Debris littered the floors of the buildings and the trading post grounds. The dream catcher netting became tattered. The wall featuring the Route 66 map had collapsed. The Meteor City Trading Post was then put on a ‘to-be-demolished’ list. And all hope looked lost.

But the Meteor City Trading Post had an unexpected saviour - a couple from Jeffersonville, Indiana, who were keen to bring life back to the trading post appeared on the scene.

Unexpected Saviors

Joann and Michael Brown spent most of their childhoods in sunny California and regularly traveled Route 66 to visit friends and family. They had always loved the lore of the southwest and had been thinking of moving back for some time. They began looking for property in Arizona, New Mexico, or Texas.

Considering a few businesses along Route 66, like the Jade Restaurant in Kingman, Arizona, the couple ultimately settled with the Meteor City Trading Post in March of 2016, when they saw that it was set to be demolished. “We loved the wide-open spaces and the hospitality of the people of Arizona. We have a deep love for Route 66, and when we toured [the] Meteor City Trading Post, we knew we had to make an offer for the property as soon as possible.”

The couple has worked tirelessly clearing the debris and clutter from the once bustling business and now hope to complete the interior of the dome in the spring of 2018, before starting to work on the living quarters. They will devote a small portion of the dome to presenting visitors with the history of the Meteor City Trading Post from 1938 to the present day. They are also considering dedicating one section of the store to the film Starman. Another priority is to restore the original Justice of the Peace building for Coconino County on the property. They’d like to restore the 100-foot map of Route 66, but it’s proven difficult to find complete photos of the original.

The new owners have big plans for this piece of history. Perhaps more than anything else, the Browns want the Meteor City Trading Post to act as a time capsule that offers tribute to when the original dome was first constructed, for visitors in the present to experience. Although there is a lot of work ahead of them, Joann and Michael Brown aim to open the Meteor City Trading Post in the summer/fall of 2018.

Thanks to the efforts of the Browns, a solid piece of vintage Americana now has a new lease on life.

If you are interested in helping fund the restoration of the Meteor City Trading Post, you can go to the Meteor City Trading Post Facebook Page and purchase t-shirts and stickers. All proceeds go to the restoration.

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