A vintage ’55 Ford station wagon is parked next to a gas pump that hasn’t pumped a gallon since the ‘70s. Antique signs creak in gentle breeze that carries the earthy fragrance of loose dirt from the open mining copper pit just behind the strip of Erie Street.
This is the Lowell section of Bisbee, an area physically separated 50 years ago from the rest of the town by the mining pit. It used to be a thriving and vivacious area where people went for socializing and shopping. That’s not the case today, but a group of merchants and volunteers would like to see that change.
Volunteers have banded together to start the Lowell Americana Project, which aims to take residents and visitors back to the area’s heyday. The project has already begun recreating the 1,000-foot stretch by placing vintage cars in the lots, dressing up the old gas station on the corner with vintage signs and coat of fresh paint, and hanging hand-painted signs around the street.
Jim Danylko has put a pair of 1950s and ’60s-era gas pumps in front of his Arizona Thunder motorcycle repair shop. An old delivery truck painted orange and blue sits in front of the pumps.
Danylko said the goal is to keep things looking as original as possible.
“We’re not trying to make it look too modern. The signs that we get, we try to get them hand painted,” he said.
Dan Simonis, who is involved in the Lowell Americana Project, said the goal is to remind people of America’s greatest pastimes.
“I think it’s going to be a kind of mirror that Americans can look through to see ourselves, like an outdoor museum,” he said. “I believe that every country has something that makes it distinct and I think for America that point was in the 1940s and 1950s. Drive-in movie theatres and tail fins. That kind of thing.”
Bisbee Mayor Adriana Badal, who grew up in the town, applauds the Lowell project. The area holds special meaning to her and others who grew up there.
“There was a place where I would go with my father a lot. He was a carpenter; there was a very large lumberyard,” said Badal, a native of Bisbee. “Then as a teenager I’d throw parties because there were a couple of really nice clubs and bars down there so we were there all the time.”
The Lowell Americana Project will host a festival March 21 on Erie Street to raise money for Lowell’s historic and cultural preservation.
Whitney Burgoyne is a reporter at Arizona Sonora News, a service from the University of Arizona. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org