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Nonprofit challenges El Vado redevelopment plan October 22, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motels, Preservation.
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A nonprofit group that has experienced success in rehabbing vintage Route 66 motels in Albuquerque is appealing the city’s selection of another group that wants to redevelop the historic El Vado Motel, reported the Albuquerque Journal.

According to the newspaper:

Albuquerque-based nonprofit NewLife Homes, which finished second in the selection process to eventual winner Palindrome Communities, is seeking City Council action to either reopen the proposal process for the El Vado site or cast aside the Palindrome proposal in favor of its own.

NewLife’s letter of appeal, dated Oct. 3, criticizes Palindrome’s selection on a number of grounds ranging from the quality of the redevelopment design to the fairness of the selection process. [...]

In the letter of appeal, NewLife Executive Director John Bloomfield alleges the Palindrome proposal, which calls for a mix of fairly specific uses and 60 apartments, was too cluttered, lacked good traffic flow and parking, and likely would not meet historic preservation standards.

In addition, Bloomfield says there is evidence that the selection process was “not fair and open.”

The NewLife redevelopment proposal calls for 70 apartments and 16,000 square feet of commercial and common space on the 2.7-acre site, which includes a neighboring property called the Casa Grande site.

The city says it made “a very careful decision” in picking Palindrome Communities over NewLife.

The interesting part is NewLife owns a lot of credibility in such projects, so its criticisms in this case probably shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. It successfully rehabilitated the Sundowner Motel and the Luna Lodge, both on Route 66 in Albuquerque, into housing for low-income or special-needs residents. So it will be interesting to see how this wrinkle works out.

Palindrome’s $15.9 million proposal calls for a community food court, an amphitheater, a boutique motel and a small events center on the El Vado part of the site. The adjoining Casa Grande part of the site will include 60 units of workforce housing. Groundbreaking is planned for 2016.

Regardless, it’s encouraging to see El Vado has what appears to be two developers motivated to do something interesting with the property that preserves it as well. At the least, El Vado has a backup plan.

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

El Vado closed in 2005 after new owner Richard Gonzales said he wanted to bulldoze it for luxury townhouses. The city seized the property a few years later after a long fight to save it.

(Image of El Vado Motel sign by Tadson Bussey via Flickr)

Aztec Hotel may reopen next year October 15, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motels, Preservation.
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The Aztec Hotel on old Route 66 in Monrovia, California, may reopen sometime in 2015, reported the Pasadena Star-News.

However, with the report about the historic building containing caveats — plus the owner’s problems in managing the property — one has to wonder whether the hotel will reopen at all next year.

Excerpts from the story:

A former manager who started the renovations by overhauling the hotel restaurant is now entangled in a lawsuit against the hotel’s Chinese owner, alleging discrimination and wrongful termination.

Also, a series of negotiations to lease the hotel’s empty retail spaces fell through, leaving a long-established barbershop as the sole tenant. In January, one new business moved in — a Route 66 memorabilia and gift shop — but it was gone in less than six months. [...]

Despite its troubles, the current hotel manager says plenty has gone on behind the scenes as preparation, and he is optimistic about what the Aztec could become — a boutique destination for Route 66 travelers, ghost hunters and anyone interested in the hotel’s inherent nostalgia and kitsch.

“The goal is to bring it back to the 20s and 30s design, but with modern amenities,” said Peter Kertenian, whose background includes managing Marriott hotels. [...]

The restaurant and the Aztec’s other retail spaces have attracted plenty of interested parties, but several potential business owners said they walked away because Chen kept changing his mind about terms, often seeking more money or repairs. [...]

The newest renovation plans are on track to be considered by Monrovia’s Historic Preservation Commission and Planning Commission this month or November, according to Planning Manager Craig Jimenez.

Other problems include transformers that are too old to handle air-conditioning in the hotel’s rooms. And the parking lot doesn’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

It seems the China-based owner, Qinhan Chen, has made an effort to have hotel renovated with its history in mind. But the myriad other problems that have popped up during his stewardship makes one wonder whether he has the ability to ultimately do it. At the least, roadies probably will need more patience before they book a room there.

Architect Robert B. Stacy-Judd designed the Mayan-inspired building, which was built in 1925 on what turned out to be an early alignment of Route 66. The hotel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. A fitful restoration of the building began in 2000, which continues to this day.

(Image of the Aztec Hotel by Dan Barrett via Flickr)

Tucumcari cop implicated in arson probe October 10, 2014

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A man who recently resigned from the Tucumcari, New Mexico, Police Department is the subject of an investigation into several arson fires last month, reported the Quay County Sun, including those that destroyed the long-closed Payless Inn on Route 66 and the closed Tucumcari Motel on old U.S. 54.

Dustin Lopez quit the force the day after New Mexico State Police conducted a search of his home, including seizing his cell phone. Four other people also are implicated in the investigation, reported the newspaper.

Some interesting things from the investigation are revealed in an affidavit, according to the Sun:

— State police received information there was evidence on Lopez’s cell phone connecting him and four other men with a series of arson fires set in Tucumcari in September.

— Investigators said they were told there were pictures of a building burning that they believed to be the Tucumcari Inn. There were also collaborating statements from additional witnesses implicating Lopez in arsons that occurred in the city. The four others are implicated as well.

— A witness told state police he was at a drinking party on Sept. 3 with Lopez and the others and someone came up with the idea to burn a vacant house in the 500 block of North Fourth Street.

— The next morning, the witness said, he saw a text message sent to one of the five men that included photos of the Tucumcari Inn burning the same night as the vacant house. The witness told investigators the person receiving the text turned to him and said, “You never thought you would be burning down houses with cops.”

Tucumcari Police say Lopez didn’t give a reason for his resignation.

La Fonda changes ownership October 4, 2014

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La Fonda on the Plaza in downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico, changed hands last week, but reportedly little else will change with the historic hotel, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper.

The Ballen family had owned the hotel for more than four decades. They turned over the assets to Jennifer Kimball, a current chairwoman of the board, and her brother, Philip Wise, a managing partner of Cienda Partners real-estate firm in Dallas. The Ballens and Wises were described as longtime family friends.

Kimball will continue as board chairwoman of the new company, La Fonda Holdings LLC. The change in ownership is not expected to have any impact on the hotel’s 225 employees. The sale is expected to close in the next few weeks.

“The Ballen family decided this was the right time to sell because [La Fonda] will still be family owned,” Kimball said. [...]

Penina Ballen, who recalls watching Fiesta parades from the hotel roof (packed in like sardines) and meeting actor Peter Lorre there, said her father was “adamant that he didn’t want La Fonda to become another Ritz-Carlton or chain hotel.”

Monday’s announcement, Kimball said, “ensured that is not going to happen. … Nothing [about La Fonda] is changing other than who owns it.” [...]

Kimball declined to give the purchase price. But she did say that the 55 shareholders — who, in addition to Kimball, include the comptroller, the hotel’s head of human resources, the head housekeeper and chief engineer — would receive a nice check.

La Fonda also finished a major renovation about a year ago that aimed to bring the hotel closer to the look that famed architect Mary Colter initially envisioned.

La Fonda sits less than a block from the 1926-1937 alignment of Route 66 that goes into downtown. Even though La Fonda was built in 1922, records show an inn has been located at that site as far back as 1607 as the first business in town.

(Image of La Fonda entrance by Robert Reck via La Fonda)

Developer chosen for El Vado Motel October 2, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motels, Preservation.
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A developer has been picked by the city of Albuquerque to redevelop the historic El Vado Motel — including it being partly revived as a boutique motel, according to Albuquerque Business First.

Palindrome Communities is the developer, which is a partnership between PacifiCap and the Sawmill Community Land Trust.

Its proposal calls for creating a community food court, an amphitheater, a boutique motel and a small events center on the El Vado portion of the site.

The adjoining Casa Grande portion of the site will include 60 units of workforce housing, the city said.

Redevelopment costs are estimated at $15.9 million, according to the city.

Groundbreaking is planned for 2016.

Here is KRQE-TV’s report about the developer, which includes artist’s renderings of the completed project:

The Albuquerque Journal has a few more details about the redevelopment, including an artist’s rendering of the overall plan. It appears the boutique motel will be in the back half of the motel, and the front half will be the food courts.

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

El Vado closed in 2005 after new owner Richard Gonzales said he wanted to bulldoze it for luxury townhouses. The city seized the property a few years later after a long fight to save it.

A few purists will quibble about El Vado being redveloped into other purposes. However, adaptive reuse often is advocated by the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program as a way to keep historic properties. And Albuquerque’s Route 66 corridor has such a glut of motels, keeping El Vado as just a lodging establishment would be a very doubtful proposition. Having this motel used in multiple ways probably is the best and most viable option.

(Image of El Vado Motel sign by Pete Zarria via Flickr)

Owner of troubled Bel-Aire Motel dies September 16, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motels, People.
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bel-aire manor

Gopal Motwani, owner of the historic but troubled Bel-Aire Motel on Sixth Street (aka Route 66) in Springfield, Illinois, died Saturday near his home in Naples, Florida, reported the Springfield State Journal-Register.

After putting the motel up for sale for $750,000 — plus $114,000 in fines for 700 code violations — this summer, Motwani told the newspaper he was doing it because of health problems. The code violations included unsanitary bathrooms, dirty carpet, potholes and lack of smoke detectors.

His wife still co-owns the property.

The newspaper reported:

Bel-Aire employee Dominic Marando said repair work underway at the property in response to a host of fines and citations from the city will continue as planned.

“I’ve known him for a long time,” Marando said Sunday evening. “He had a lot of pressure lately on him.” [...]

Motwani was in Springfield last month for a city administrative court hearing on the alleged code violations. At the two-day hearing, he disputed many of the problems city inspectors identified at the property and said that, in some cases, the city hadn’t given him adequate direction for making repairs. The hearing officer later toured the motel to see it firsthand.

According to a story in the newspaper earlier in the year, Motwani bought the motel in 1986. The property went into decline almost immediately after the transaction, according to relatives of the previous longtime owner, Charles Ciesler.

If anything comes of good from Motwani’s death, it’s his family likely will be more amenable to a discounted price for the property. The current asking amount is far too high, especially when it will take hundreds of thousands of dollars to rehab the building.

The city of Springfield a few years ago proposed buying the circa-1950 property and converting it into a Route 66 tourism center or museum. The motel’s retro neon sign, including a Sputnik structure, would have made it a beacon for Route 66 travelers.

But the city lacked the money, and the idea was quietly dropped. Mayor Timothy Davlin, who brought up the idea, committed suicide in 2010.

(Image of the Bel Aire Motel by Jackie via Flickr)

Southwest Missouri county will dedicate three historic sites September 12, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, Events, Motels, Preservation, Signs.
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The Greene County Historic Sites Board on Saturday will dedicate three locations west of Springfield, Missouri, along Route 66 as historic sites, reported the Springfield News-Leader.

One of the ceremonies will include a lightning ceremony for a restored neon sign at a former tourist cabin complex.

The sites are:

  • Barnes Town & Country, 8240 W. Highway 266, formerly known as the Barnes General Store.
  • Main Street Feeds, 8270 W. Highway 266, formerly known as Barnes Feed Mill.
  • R&S Memorial Decorations, 9323 W. Highway 266, formerly known as Graystone Heights Modern Cabins, built in 1935. The ceremony will include a lighting ceremony for the restoration of the cabins’ original sign between 5 and 8 p.m. Saturday. You can see an image of the restored sign here.

Other historic sites along Route 66 in that area are Bennett one-room school, Clearwater Angus Farm, Yeakley Chapel, and the ghost town of Plano.

R&S owners John and Alexa Schweke, who are restoring at least two of the cabins, said they were inspired by the movie “Cars”:

In fact, seeing that movie is what got him started thinking about the importance of his property’s history, including the demise of little businesses like Graystone Heights after interstates replaced Route 66.

“It didn’t really hit me and hit my heart until I saw that movie,” he said.

Two years ago, the Schwekes joined the Route 66 Association and got the ball rolling for their property’s designation as a Greene County Historic Landmark and for restoration of the original sign.

All of those sites are within a short drive of each other, on a nice stretch of old 66 that veers away from the interstate and provides a glimpse of the past.

UPDATE 9/15/2014: Swa Frantzen, owner of the first Route 66 site on the Internet, happened to be traveling in the region that weekend and snapped this photo of the restored Graystone Heights Modern Cabins sign:

(Image of Greystone Heights Modern Cabins courtesy of 66Postcards.com)

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