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Developers tour El Vado Motel April 18, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motels, Preservation.
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The city of Albuquerque finally is pushing hard to have developers do something with the historic but long-closed El Vado Motel.

KRQE-TV in Albuquerque filed this report about developers touring the property this week:

A few weeks ago, the city released a request for proposals from developers. The deadline for submission is July 3.

The hope is someone will redevelop it into a boutique-type motel, with the rest for housing. The city will pick a developer by August, with construction targeted to begin in 2015. NewLife Homes, which has converted several historic Route 66 motels in Albuquerque into housing, reported is interested in the property.

Irish immigrant Daniel Murphy opened El Vado Auto Court Motel on Route 66 in 1937. It’s cited as one of New Mexico’s best examples of pre-World War II motels. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993.

El Vado closed in 2005 when new owner Richard Gonzales wanted to raze it for luxury townhouses. The city seized the property a few years later after a long fight to save it. Worldwide outcry from the Route 66 community was instrumental in saving the structure.

The near-loss that was El Vado convinced me eminent domain ought to be used to seize threatened protect properties that are on the National Register of Historic Places. Eminent domain often is cussed and discussed in many circles, but I suspect opposition to its use in such a context would be considerably blunted.

(Image of El Vado Motel by Pam Morris via Flickr)

Miss Belvedere languishing in a warehouse April 18, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Vehicles.
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The 1957 Plymouth Belvedere, aka Miss Belvedere, that was unearthed from a Tulsa time capsule to much fanfare in 2007, is sitting in a New Jersey warehouse, apparently unwanted, according to a recent story in Hemmings Motor News.

Because water inundated the vault during its 50-year residence, rust and mud covered the Belvedere and rendered it inoperable. The good news is Ultra One, a rust-removal company, did a bang-up job ridding the grime and corrosion from the car’s body, as you can see in a series of photos here.

Despite the car’s improved looks, its poor condition is the primary reason no one wants it:

Late last year, news surfaced that Foster, with Carney’s permission, was attempting to donate the car to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. While it’s known as “America’s attic,” Smithsonian representatives told Foster that they do not see it as “America’s garage,” and the offer was rebuffed, leaving Foster in continued possession of the car. The city of Tulsa also turned down Foster’s request to send it back home for public display, noting that the cost to retrieve a rusted and useless car from an old tomb (and, presumably, the giant letdown experienced collectively by the town) still left a bitter taste in some residents’ mouths.

As Miss Belvedere sits today, its condition remains largely unchanged since 2009, with all of the reasonable preservation work done that could be done. From a distance, the car almost looks presentable, but up close it becomes evident that the damage is irreversible. Foster compares the car’s frame to papier mâché, admitting that “there are spots I could put my hand through if I’m not careful.” Utilizing the frame from the donor Plymouth Savoy would be an option if Miss Belvedere were stronger, but the car’s sheetmetal is in equally poor condition, especially in the rear. While the exterior has been cleaned, the interior of the body is still caked with mud, and as Foster said, “this is actually shoring up the body panels.” The car’s laminated safety glass is damaged beyond repair after water seeped between the glass and plastic layers during the car’s years in storage. While the steering was functional at first, the steering box is “melted inside,” the result of years of corrosion, and none of its electrical systems are even close to functioning. Even transporting the car to another location would be a major undertaking, given Miss Belvedere’s fragile condition.

The car remains in the custody of Robert Carney and two other relatives of Raymond Humbertson, who was the closest to guess Tulsa’s 2007 population 50 years ago and thus won the car (Humberton was deceased when the Belvedere was unearthing). Carney still holds hope he can find an Oklahoma museum to display it permanently.

Although many regarded the Belvedere reveal as a bust, it remains one of the biggest publicity stunts I’ve seen. Thousands of people descended on Tulsa to view it (and drove Route 66 while they were at it). Many more checked out the festivities and news stories online. I worked at the Tulsa World newspaper at the time, and online traffic taxed the company’s servers like no story had before. One reporter said memorably in a column: “This story didn’t have just legs; it had stilts.”

And just days after Hemmings published its story, it gained more than 240 comments from readers. Years later, the Belvedere is still a phenomenon.

The Hemmings story closes with this poignant observation:

Until Foster finds a museum or other sympathetic caretaker willing to embrace Miss Belvedere, however, it sits in a corner of the Ultra One warehouse, free from its watery tomb but no less trapped in time and place.

(Photos of Miss Belvedere by Todd Lappin and That Hartford Guy via Flickr)

World’s Largest Covered Wagon repaired April 17, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Preservation, Weather.
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The World’s Largest Covered Wagon, aka the Railsplitter Covered Wagon, in Lincoln, Ill., has been repaired in time for tourism season after a severe windstorm damaged it in January.

The Bloomington Pantagraph reported:

“It was a challenge, and because it is in the Guinness Book of World Records, we had to make sure that we rebuilt it exactly as it was,” said Matthews Construction owner Brad Matthews, whose company completed the repair work.

“We called them a few times just to ensure we didn’t do anything differently that might jeopardize that, but we have it back exactly the way it needs to be.”

The Pantagraph also posted several photos of the wagon being fixed.

The job, which was completed Friday, also was helped by good weather in recent weeks. David Bentley, who built the structure in 2001, was a consultant on the rebuild.

Gusts of 50 mph collapsed the wheels on one side of the wagon and ripped off the canvas the night of Jan. 26. (Strangely enough, the Abraham Lincoln statue remained seated on the wagon the entire time.)

Insurance covered most of the repair cost, with a $500 grant from the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway Association covering the deductible.

The wagon once was along Route 66 in Divernon, Ill. Geoff Ladd, former executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Tourism Bureau in Logan County, Ill., led the way in having the wagon purchased and moved to Lincoln in 2007. It sits in front of Route 66 at 1750 Fifth St. at the Best Western Lincoln Inn.

The wagon weighs 10,000 pounds and measures 40 feet long and 24 feet tall. The fiberglass statue of Abraham Lincoln, seated in the front, weighs 350 pounds and is 12 feet tall.

(Image of the World’s Largest Covered Wagon by yooperann via Flickr)

Cow Bop embarking on another summer Route 66 tour April 17, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Music, Road trips.
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Western swing and jazz band Cow Bop, along with several other guest artists and bands, will go on another Route 66 tour this summer, according to a news release from Cow Bop guitarist Bruce Forman.

This time, the World’s First Linear Music Festival on July 25 to Aug. 9 will be sponsored by Rifftime, a new community website.

There will be music all along the Mother Road, sharing pictures, stories and streaming video on the web through one coordinated website: route66.rifftime.com

“This is an exciting way to share my experiences and love of Route 66 with other artists and to revive the tradition of traveling and interacting with new people. Now the internet has made it possible to share all this with the world!” says Forman. “Bands will play in clubs, restaurants, bars, at iconic roadside stops and along the street, even jamming with others that are making this trip.  Just like the generations of people who have made the trip searching for something new, we are creating another way to share our music and to build a more vibrant community.”

An archive of Cow Bop’s three earlier Route 66 tours can be found here. Acts that want to take part during the tour are encouraged to sign up at the dedicated Rifftime site.

Here’s one of Cow Bop’s performances east of Albuquerque during a previous Route 66 tour.

More about that Diet Mountain Dew commercial April 16, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Music, Television.
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Longtime readers of this site probably have seen a muddy-looking but still-invigorating Diet Mountain Dew commercial featuring an altered version of Bobby Troup’s “Route 66″ by John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols.

A high-quality version of the ad recently was uploaded by the AICP Show, which honors art and technique for those working the advertising world. Because the footage here is so much better, it becomes apparent Route 66 shield pops up everywhere and is a lot more noticeable.

1997_MountainDew_Route66.mov from AICP SHOW on Vimeo.

According to AICP’s archives, the Diet Mountain Dew commercial was made in 1997 by HKM Productions for the BBDO New York agency. The director was Michael Karbelnikoff, who still is doing commercials and the occasional feature film, including “Mobsters.” The AICP Show honored the ad that year for production design.

According to the archives, there was a 60-second version of the ad that I still haven’t seen. And, according to my Shazam app, Lydon’s recording of “Route 66″ is not available commercially.

La Posada owner wants to buy another historic Las Vegas hotel April 15, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motels, Preservation.
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Amid the hubbub of La Posada Hotel co-owner Alan Affeldt recently buying the historic Castaneda Hotel in Las Vegas, N.M., one thing that’s been often overlooked is he wants to buy the historic Plaza Hotel in town, too.

Following up on an editorial Sunday in the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper, I found this excerpt in a recent edition of the Las Vegas Optic newspaper:

Affeldt, the man who purchased and restored the La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Ariz., has made it clear that he wants to purchase the Plaza Hotel too. Indeed, when the purchase agreement on the Castañeda was announced in February, Affeldt said he would move forward on that deal only if the purchase of the Plaza was looking favorable.

On Thursday, Affeldt told the Optic that he has met with the New Mexico Finance Authority board and the president of the bank, both of whom have an ownership interest in the Plaza, and they have agreed, in principle, that they want to sell it. The Plaza went into receivership in 2012.

“For us it’s kind of a leap of faith that everything is going to work out with the Plaza,” Affeldt said, explaining that acquiring that hotel is critical for his Castañeda plans.

Affeldt explained modernizing Castaneda — basically adding bathrooms to every room — would give it only 20 guest rooms and wouldn’t be economically viable by itself. So Affeldt wants to buy the nearby Plaza Hotel to generate more revenue. Because the bank wants to unload the Plaza, Affeldt undoubtedly will get it at a bargain price.

The Castaneda Hotel sits about a mile from the Plaza Hotel.

The Plaza Hotel, deemed “The Belle of the Southwest,” was built in 1882. It underwent a $1 million renovation in 1982, and in 2009 bought the next-door Charles Ifeld Building for more guest rooms, a ballroom and meeting areas. The hotel is home to the popular Landmark Grill, and has hosted everyone from western star Tom Mix to scenes in the Oscar-winning film “No Country for Old Men.”

Las Vegas sits a few miles from old Route 66, but has become a popular side trip for travelers on the Mother Road’s Santa Fe Loop.

(Image of the Plaza Hotel by Enrique A. Sanabria via Flickr)

“The Grapes of Wrath” was published 75 years ago today April 14, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Books, History, Movies, Weather.
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John Steinbeck’s famous novel about the Great Depression and a family’s Moses-like journey on Route 66, “The Grapes of Wrath,” was published 75 years ago today.

The National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, Calif., is marking the anniversary all year, and I’ll post a review of a new book about the writing of the novel when I’m done reading it.

In the meantime, NPR today posted a six-minute segment about the book and its impact on American culture and America in general.

A print article of the NPR segment is here.

The Telegraph newspaper in England also posted “10 Surprising Facts” about Steinbeck’s novel. One of the excerpts:

In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck became the first writer to refer to Route 66 – the two-lane, 2,448-mile-road that connects Chicago to Los Angeles – as the “Mother Road”. In doing so, he helped capture the road’s image of redemption and turn it into a cultural icon. The fictional Joad family of the novel was an example of the thousands of people migrating to California to escape the despair of the Dust Bowl states, and many used Route 66. “66 is the mother road,” Steinbeck wrote, “the road of flight.”

Steinbeck also reportedly adored Henry Fonda’s portrayal of Tom Joad in the film version of his book, as he should.

The definitive nonfiction book about the Dust Bowl is Timothy Egan’s “The Worst Hard Time,” which I recommend for its eye-popping accounts as well as its graceful writing. Strangely enough, it took more than 70 years after the disaster for someone to write a truly great account of the event.

Lest you think an environmental disaster such as the Dust Bowl won’t happen again, I’ve read reports on Facebook almost weekly of dust storms in eastern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle. And, in an ironic twist, California — where the Joads journeyed to escape the dust — is suffering from a historic drought of its own.

(An image of the cover of a 1945 edition of “The Grapes of Wrath” by Make It Old via Flickr)

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