Sight unseen, three couples have shelled out $615,000 to buy an entire Arizona town, Navajo, where Arizona was declared a territory 117 years ago.
The historic town, a 7.5-acre speck on the map about 15 miles from the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert, went to the highest bidders in an auction that attracted a couple of hundred speculators and spectators.
Navajo, home to 17 families, consists of a general store, gas station, a 27-unit hotel and cafe and a trailer park. Its owners said they hadn't inspected their newly acquired retreat and weren't sure what they were going to do with it.
Among those who had expressed an interest in buying Navajo but failed to show up for the sale Saturday were Elena Suhomlin, owner of Baltimore's Two O'Clock Club, and Dave Casper, tight end for the Houston Oilers. When Suhomlin heard that Pat Spurlock, a rancher whose family had owned Navajo since 1962, wanted to sell out, she envisioned the place as a retirement community for strippers.
"It's an idea I've had for many years," she said a couple weeks ago. "I've talked to my girls. They say it's great." She even planned to welcome fire eaters, comedy teams and other entertainers to the northern Arizona spot.
"You see, the dancers and the burlesque entertainers, they spend their whole lives in the limelight before crowds," said Suhomlin, who has never been a stripper. "They want to have some peace and quiet when they retire."
A few days before the auction, Suhomlin was in Tulsa on business, but wasn't able to get to Navajo. She decided the town was "too inaccessible."
Bidding on Navajo started at $400,000. The Spurlocks were hoping to sell for as much as $657,000.
Auctioneer Fred Quick went into his rat-a-tat-tat spiel. Up to $500,000 in one jump. Then $515,000, $550,000, $600,000, and finally $615,000.
"That's all folks," Quick warbled.
The winners, proud as new parents, are Lee and Betty Siebert of Bellevue, Wash.; Don and Rita Schwinghamer, a retired Phoenix couple, and Don's cousin, Frank Schwinhamer and his wife, Ann, of Canada.
Siebert, bursting to tell friends of his "steal," rushed to a pay telephone, but didn't even have two dimes in his pocket.
The three couples said they hoped their purchase would turn a profit.
Rita Schwinghamer said the thought of buying Navajo occured to her Friday. There was no time to drive there, so she asked her son Brian, who lives in Flagstaff, to check out the place. It looked okay to him.
Frank Schwinghamer said they would probably incorporate the town. "Then we can be mayors," he said.
But Quick, whose autioneer's instincts were racing ahead, observed, "It's nothing but income because Interstate 40 doesn't go through Holbrook anymore. It goes right by Navajo."
It could be preserved as an historic landmark because it was Arizona's first territorial capitol, Quick said.
Considering the possibility of incorporating the town, Quick broke into a sly grin and advised the new owners, "You could apply for federal revenue sharing and split it up among you. . . . "