BISBEE — For years now, a group of locals has been working to preserve the storefronts on Erie Street in Lowell in memory of a slice of time in 1950s America when window shopping was a favorite Saturday outing.
It has become a favorite tourist destination and many have their photos taken by the antique cars and storefronts along the street.
“It’s said to be one of the most photographed streets in the state,” said Dan Simonis, one of the founders of the Lowell Americana Project. “We’ve had people from Denmark coming here.”
Album covers have been shot there and the street was featured in Arizona Highways magazine.
Simonis joined with others to form the Lowell Americana Project to protect and preserve that time of peace and prosperity in the country. It has been a slow process, but many private owners have restored their buildings. Others, some owned by the mining company Freeport McMoRan Inc., need a bit of work, which LAP has taken on to showcase what the previous heart of Lowell was like 60 some years ago.
For the most part, LAP members have dug into their own pockets for the facelifts on the building fronts with many volunteers and supporters helping the efforts.
They help with funding, so they set up a GoFundMe page to raise $5,000 to move forward with a few projects they would like to see completed, said Simonis.
The first project is to repaint the old Gulf Station, repair the overhang and create an indoor display to mimic a gas station’s interior, he said. Though painted just five years ago, the hot desert sun has made the paint chip and peel.
In addition to the facelift, LAP wants to offer people the opportunity to see what the interior of gas stations of the era were like as they peek through the windows. Someone generously donated an old cigarette machine and another an old Coca Cola machine. Simonis said they needed more memorabilia for the interior.
Simonis and Michael Page, an artist and co-founder of LAP, also want to create a barbershop window display and are looking for an old barber pole for the front of the shop as well as all the fixtures and furnishings.
Then there’s the Wolfman Jack radio station display they have been working on for the past two years, gathering equipment used in the days of early rock radio, though they are missing an old-time microphone. The plan is to cover the walls and ceiling with egg cartons, donated by the Bisbee Breakfast Club, to give it the soundproof look. Already there are hundreds of records, none of any value, lining the shelves. The radio station, like all the displays planned, will be viewed through the windows.
Simonis hopes to broadcast over a loudspeaker the music of the Top 40 Arizona bands throughout the day for an audio experience.
Page said a statue of a miner will be placed near the building, which is soon to be the new, temporary city hall, to honor the miners who toiled just feet away for decades. And a 20-foot rocket is planned for installation somewhere around the radio station.
Businesses can get in on promotion of the popular destination as well, and for $500 can get a 4-by-5-foot billboard created by Page touting their business. He gives them the quaint ‘50s feel. The billboards bring a homey touch and cover windows up and down the street. Each one helps fund LAP and preserves the overall cultural aesthetic of Erie Street.
There have been windows broken by vandals, and someone broke the windows of the old truck that used to sit at the entrance to Erie Street, Simonis said. It now sits, forlornly, in the parking lot across from the Bisbee Breakfast Club.
“We have to fix the windows and it gets expensive,” said Simonis. “The wind blasted through here one day and blew out the windows of the Sprouse Reitz building, an old five and dime store.”
Some of the buildings are owned by Freeport McMoRan, and the company has agreed to let its real estate get facelifts. It has been a good partner of LAP, he said. Other buildings are privately owned and they have given support to the effort by allowing LAP to do its work.
All of this will help support the tourism economy in Bisbee as visitors photograph themselves by the antique cars and in front of the existing displays like the gas station and the old police station LAP also restored, said Simonis.
LAP will soon be a nonprofit, which will enable it to seek grants to help cover the cost of upkeep of the historic facades.
The Bisbee Breakfast Club has a unique donation “jar” for LAP — an old tabletop jukebox — so patrons can support the ongoing work.
In the meantime, LAP hope people will show their support through the GoFundMe page and donate to the cause, said Ariel Robinson, the fundraising adviser. So far, $1,000 of the $5,000 needed for the projects has been raised.