March 20, 2022:
The photograph this week is from a 1970 postcard showing Fort Courage and the Van de Kamp’s Restaurant in Houck, Arizona. Houck played a pivotal role in my true crime book. Recently, I have seen photographs posted online of the dilapidated ruins of the old store and restaurant. Living in the part of the state back then, I frequented those businesses in their heyday. I last had dinner in that restaurant in 1975 when it was still called Van de Kamp’s. Here is a little background on those two businesses pictured on the post card.
Fort Courage was built in the mid-1960s, about the time that a TV show called F Troop was fairly popular. The original owners gave it the same name as the fort on the TV show and it is modeled after the show. At its peak, the attraction hosted a restaurant, gas station, grocery store, gift shop, post office, and a trading post selling a large selection of Indian jewelry and Navajo rugs and souvenirs. The fort also hosted motel rooms in a barracks-style building out back, a campground and a trailer park.
After the F Troop TV show went off the air (it only ran from 1965 to 1967), the popularity of the tourist attraction waned. The owners originally claimed the fort to be the “Home of F Troop”, but they never had the blessing of the television show to use the name. In later years, any mention of F troop was deleted from their signs, probably out of fear for copyright infringement. The fort changed hands many times and scaled back to a souvenir shop and post office. The original gas station on site was managed by Mayo Follett and sold Chevron products, but several owners after Follett sold different gasoline brands. The fort was eventually abandoned, and in 2020 an arson fire burned many of the buildings, including one of the wooden guard towers that were the centerpieces of the attraction. At the following link is a You Tube video showing the opening and closing segments of the TV show F Troop to give you a feel of what inspired the owners of Fort Courage to build. F Troop 1965 - 1967 Opening and Closing Theme - YouTube
The restaurant/coffee shop next to Fort Courage has its own unique history. It was built around 1967 and was a Van de Kamp’s Restaurant. It was built by the Van de Kamp’s Holland Dutch Bakery Company from Los Angeles but differed from other Van de Kamp’s restaurants because it never had a windmill on the roof, or a sign of a windmill attached to the business. This was likely because the windmill design would seem a bit out of place next to a 19th century cavalry fort.
The Van de Kamp’s company started in 1915 in Los Angeles as a potato chip stand, but quickly morphed into a bakery and later a coffee shop. Here is a link to a website that has a photograph of the first Van de Kamp’s Holland Dutch Bakery at Western Avenue and Beverly Boulevard. The first Van de Kamp’s
The company also was in the frozen seafood business, which was spun off from the restaurant/bakery chain and existed for many years. Not to be confused with Van Camps Seafood - the parent company of Chicken of the Sea Tuna. Here is a You Tube TV commercial for the seafood company. Van De Kamp's Frozen Fish TV Commercial HD - YouTube
As the bakery/coffee shop division of the company grew and spread out up and down the Pacific Coast, so too did the building design and the employees’ outfits. Here is a website that shows three photographs: the old Dutch garb worn by early employees, a vintage bakery exterior, and the headquarters in LA. The Allee Willis Museum of Kitsch » Campy Van de Kamps (awmok.com)
The company also experimented with some futuristic buildings, including a Van de Kamp’s Restaurant in Atwater village in Los Angeles, which still sported the trademark windmill attached to two futuristic oval buildings. Van De Kamp's Bakery and Drive-In :: Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection (lapl.org)
One of the later Van de Kamp’s Restaurants was built along Route 66 in Arcadia, California the same year that the Van de Kamp’s was built in Houck. It is the only one left which sports the windmill and is a Denny’s Restaurant. Here is a You Tube video showing the building and windmill in Arcadia after it was recently refurbished. This is a popular Route 66 icon. Windmill Themed Dennys - YouTube
After the Van de Kamp’s company declared bankruptcy in 1990, the restaurant at Houck changed hands. It simply became a restaurant and pancake house with two signs (“pancake house” above “restaurant”) that were mounted on top of the concrete spire in the center of the roof. That spire on most other Van de Kamp’s restaurants was where the windmill would be located.
In later years, the Houck building was bought by Armand Ortega, the owner of the Historic El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, and it offered tacos. It had a sign on it at one time that said “Taco Bell” and in its final years the menu inside said “Ortega Tacos”. The restaurant was abandoned several years ago. Here is a link to a picture showing the building with the pancake house and restaurant signs, as well as the Taco Bell sign. Legends of America Photo Prints | Route 66
The 1970 post card featured on this blog post is how the restaurant and the fort looked when the crime spree documented in my book occurred. Houck played a pivotal role in the book as Officer Jim Keeton was murdered in his patrol car ¾ of a mile west, and within sight of, Ft. Courage; the four cheerleaders who witnessed the second shooting stopped at the Ft. Courage post office where one of the girl’s mothers worked on their trip to Gallup; and the second officer who was shot, Don Beckstead, lived behind Ft. Courage with his young family.