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.
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