August 18, 2012

The El Trovatore: Beacon of Light and Hope

The magnificent 100-foot neon tower at sunrise.

Route 66 travelers who chase the sunset into the city of Kingman, Arizona, compare the experience with a long, slow airplane descent. The lights of distant motels and restaurants beckon travelers for miles, and those lights grew a little bit brighter this year thanks to the efforts of Sam and Monica Frisher.

This spring the Frishers accomplished a feat that I never dreamed possible: restoring the battered El Trovatore Motel and its spectacular 100-foot neon tower. Built in 1937 as a service station on a stony bluff, the tourist court was added in 1939 and offered travelers stunning views of the Hualapai Mountains to the east. Its first owner was John F. Miller, who famously built the first hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, the Sal Sagev (Las Vegas spelled backwards). When Route 66 was bypassed, the El Trovatore fell into disrepair and eventually became apartments.

On a warm May night I arrived via Andy Devine Avenue and immediately savored the motor court's pre-World War II atmosphere. Sam and Monica greeted me warmly and I unloaded my things into the Marilyn Monroe room before returning to the office to snap pictures of the Frishers and their dog Taco. Sam agreed to keep the neon tower lit until morning so I could view its glorious colors in the pre-dawn light (click photos to enlarge).

The Marilyn Monroe room: simple and comfy.
For 20 years I'd passed this old jewel of the desert and dreamed that a savior would one day restore her midcentury glory. Thanks to the Frishers, the dream is coming true. The soaring red and green neon tower was re-lit in March and 20 rooms have already been refurbished in old-school Hollywood themes. Eventually the entire motel will be restored; with so much open space, it's an ideal overnight stop for tour buses from Vegas and Laughlin. Sam is also planning an observation deck that will treat guests to a panorama of the Hualapai mountains and the parade of BNSF trains in the cut below. To book a room, visit their website at

Sam and Monica Frisher in the motel office, May 2012
 The Frishers have already overcome tremendous odds by saving the El Trovatore and these images are a tribute to their vision. These are the road warriors who keep the spirit of Route 66 alive, preserving the Mother Road as a lifeline for those seeking the true character of America, far from generic chains and interstates. Spend an evening with Sam and Monica at the El Trovatore and you'll quickly spot the qualities that make Route 66 special: individuality, community, and a bold vision of what lies around the next bend.

A guest's view of the neon tower. The LED lighting is temporary.

Only on Route 66 can you get a welcome like this!

The Frishers' dog Taco provides some evening entertainment.