The Museum Club is the latest Flagstaff Route 66 landmark to close its doors, hopefully for only a brief time. The current owners closed the doors and put the business up for sale over Labor Day weekend.
The quirky building started life as a taxidermy shop and museum in the early 1930s by Dean Eldredge, said Martin Zanzucchi, who owns the building and property with his family. Eldredge had the building built from local timber including the unique tree that frames the doorway.
According to the application to put the museum on the U.S. Register of Historic Places, Eldredge had an amazing collection of more than 30,000 taxidermied animals of all kinds, including two-headed caves, rifles and artwork, leading locals to nickname it "the Zoo." He touted the museum as the biggest log cabin in the nation. He charged 25 cents for admission.
Eldredge was something of a curiosity himself, Zanzucchi said — the man was covered in tattoos. People would come just to see him and the museum was almost a bonus.
In 1936, Doc Williams, a Flagstaff saddle maker, bought the museum and turned it into a night club. Some of Eldredge’s collection was sold in the sale of the building, but even though the club was three miles past the outskirts of the city limits, it drew a crowd, according to Cline Library’s collection of oral history interviews. Several Flagstaff residents interviewed for the library’s archives recall going out to the Museum Club for drinks and dancing while attending Northern Arizona University.
Zanzucchi said the heyday of the club started in the early 1960s when Don and Thorna Scott purchased the building and turned it into a country western bar and dance club.
Don was a musician, Zanzucchi said, and a retired member of the Bob Wills and Texas Playboys band. He knew musicians and knew how to get them to come play at his little bar. He brought through Flagstaff a number of bands and performers who would later grace the national stage, including Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Wanda Jackson.
In 1975, the building changed hands again after the deaths of Thorna and Don. However, local legend has it that the Scotts never left the building. Customers have reported sightings of a woman behind the bar who ignores requests for drinks and footsteps have been heard in the old apartment that the couple used to live in upstairs.
Zanzucchi bought the club in 1978 in order to buy out the competition. He already had several bars downtown, such as the one at Granny’s Closet, but the Zoo continued to draw the biggest crowds despite its location on the far side of town, away from downtown.
Zanzucchi said he didn’t have the skill or connections that Don had in drawing in music acts. He sold the bar and dance hall business in 2005 to Brandyn Tullis, but kept the property.
Terre Reinhardt is one of the regulars who has been going to the Museum Club for nearly 40 years.
It sounds cliché, but it really was the kind of bar where everyone knew you and you knew everyone, she said. It was the place to hang out, listen to good music and get a cold one after a long day.
“I used to send friends who were visiting me there all the time, just so they could experience it,” she said. “It always had a homey environment. It was just that kind of place. It’s a Route 66 landmark.”
Reinhardt made her own mark on the building when, in 1984, bar owner Billy Weldon asked her to pose for two murals in the Zoo — one in the balcony behind the back bar and another in the men’s room.
Tullis kept the business going until March of this year, when the business was sold to Mary Butwinick and Bret Rios. Butwinick, who has family in the Flagstaff area, said she’s always had a fondness for the building and Flagstaff. Like all of the owners before them, they put their own stamp on the building and made some renovations.
A number of things caused the two business partners to close the Zoo, Butwinick said. They weren’t able to keep up with new building and health codes, and the small size of the venue made ticket prices to live music events expensive. Raising the prices in order to help cover some of the costs was met with great resistance, she said.
Zanzucchi is hoping someone will pick up the business.
“It’s one of the coolest buildings in east Flagstaff,” he said. “It really needs someone who understands music and the music scene.”