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The Hualapai Nation plans to restore a beloved Route 66 landmark in Arizona


If you get your kicks on Route 66, the famous road from Chicago to Los Angeles, you pass through Arizona. And along the way, you will see a crumbling old gas station. It's a century old. And to residents, it's more than a derelict building. That gas station was a gathering place for people of the Hualapai nation. Here's Melissa Sevigny of member station KNAU.

MELISSA SEVIGNY, BYLINE: What remains of the Osterman Gas Station sits between historic Route 66 and the railroad tracks. Some 80 trains a day sound their horns as they pass the tiny town of Peach Springs.


SEVIGNY: But inside the building, it's quiet - too quiet, says Hualapai tribal member Loretta Jackson-Kelly. She remembers a time when the lure of cold soda pop and a busy Greyhound bus stop made this the place to be.

LORETTA JACKSON-KELLY: Everybody would run, you know, come here to meet their relatives or sending somebody off. Everybody would come and, you know, say goodbye.

SEVIGNY: When the interstate bypassed Peach Springs in the 1980s, businesses along the Mother Road began to fade. Osterman's closed in 2005, and the building fell into disrepair. Three years ago, a storm blew off the roof and felled the tree that shaded the bus stop.

JACKSON-KELLY: I would have never imagined myself sitting here under this open roof. You know, it breaks my heart when I see this.

SEVIGNY: This year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the gas station as one of 11 most endangered historic places in the country. Archivist Sean Evans serves on the board of a local group dedicated to preserving the rich history of Route 66.

SEAN EVANS: Yeah, we lost some of the weird, funky motels and the gas stations and things like that. And what did we get? We got box stores. You know, you just see the chains. It could be anywhere. The Osterman tells you, you're in Peach Springs.

SEVIGNY: Evans says, for tourists, Route 66 is about the promise of travel and wide-open spaces. But for the Hualapai, it's literally Main Street, the beating heart of their community. And like Main Streets everywhere, it's fading.

EVANS: In Seligman and in Ash Fork and all across the road, every town has a place like the Osterman that kind of sits there and reminds you every day that your history is going away. And, hey, you need to do something about it.

SEVIGNY: That's just what Kevin Davidson is working on. He's the director of the Hualapai nation's planning department, which is raising funds to save Osterman's.

KEVIN DAVIDSON: People have been picking on me for years to get this thing fixed.

SEVIGNY: Oh, sure.

DAVIDSON: Well, now the building's in the emergency room, and now it's going to get fixed.

SEVIGNY: Davidson is collecting the fallen bricks to salvage. Back in the 1920s, they were stamped out of a kit from the Sears catalog. He unchains the door and goes outside to look at the vintage gas pumps, forever fixed at $0.99 a gallon.

DAVIDSON: And these, again, only have two digits, so you can't go to a dollar.

SEVIGNY: He estimates it'll take close to $1 million to repair and reopen Osterman's. The Hualapai Tribe has raised nearly half that from insurance money and grants. The building's future is wide open for now. It might become a museum, business incubator, coffee shop, artist gallery or even a gas station again - this time with electric chargers out front.

For NPR News, I'm Melissa Sevigny.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHUCK BERRY SONG, "ROUTE 66") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Melissa grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Arizona and an M.FA. in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State University. Her first book, Mythical River, forthcoming from the University of Iowa Press, is about water issues in the Southwest. She has worked as a science communicator for NASA’s Phoenix Mars Scout Mission, the Water Resources Research Center, and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Melissa relocated to Flagstaff in 2015 to join KNAU’s team. She enjoys hiking, fishing and reading fantasy novels.