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Gardenway Motel closes October 31, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motels.
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The historic Gardenway Motel in Villa Ridge, Missouri, abruptly closed Monday for as-yet-undetermined reasons, reported Jim Thole with the Route 66 Association of Missouri.

Thole tried to contact the Eckelkamp family, which has owned the motel for nearly 70 years, to find out why, to no avail. A phone call to the motel Thursday went unanswered.

According to the late Skip Curtis in his “The Missouri 66 Tour Book,” the motel was built in 1945. The book also had this information:

Named for the Henry Shaw Gardenway (Old 66), this motel was built at its western terminus. The first units were constructed by Louis Eckelkamp a short distance from his family’s home. The motel grew to 41 rooms, all with tile baths. Wonderful sign!

And according to Quinta Scott’s book, “Along Route 66″:

Once 66 was abandoned to the interstate that cut through the hill below, Eckelkamp added the long GARDENWAY sign on the roof to notify travelers on I-44 of accommodations up on the ridge.

Reviews of the motel were grave years ago, but two reviewers on the motel’s Google page in the past year gave it high marks.

If anybody hears anything about why the Gardenway Motel is closed, give me a yell at route66news(at)yahoo(dot)com. It’s often described as being in Gray Summit, but lists 2958 Missouri 100 in Villa Ridge.

(Image of the Gardenway Motel in 2009 by Alan Berning via Flickr; postcard image courtesy of 66postcards.com)

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

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motels.
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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.

UPDATE 10/30/2014: The former officer officially was charged Tuesday with arson and conspiracy to commit arson, according to the Quay County Sun. Four other people have been implicated in the state police investigation, including two charged.

State police received information there was evidence on Lopez’s cell phone connecting him and four others 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.

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