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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)

Tucumcari Motel destroyed; apparent arsonist on the loose September 6, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motels.
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Abandoned Hotel - Tucumcari, New Mexico 20111220

The long-abandoned Tucumcari Motel near downtown Tucumcari, New Mexico, was destroyed by fire Friday — the third suspicious fire in less than a week.

The motel never was on Route 66, but it and its worn-down neon sign often was photographed by roadies who’d stumbled onto it. The motel was in a two-story structure at Adams and Smith streets (map here) and contains some cabins in the back.

Kevin Mueller, co-owner of the Blue Swallow Motel on Route 66 in Tucumcari, posted several photos of the smoldering rubble Saturday on Facebook, including this one:

Mueller said the motel sat on old U.S. 54 and believed it also was on an alignment of the old Ozark Trail.

I did some initial research on the motel a few years ago. It was owned by the local housing authority for years, until a fire rendered it uninhabitable. It had sat abandoned ever since.

If you know anything more about the motel, please give your addition in the comments section.

A fire destroyed an abandoned house and the long-closed Payless Inn in Tucumcari on Wednesday. Both fires were regarded as suspicious.

The arson fires are alarming because Tucumcari has dozens of abandoned buildings, especially on Route 66. Hope springs eternal these structures — many of them left after Interstate 40 bypassed the town — can be rehabbed and reopened in some fashion. Even if they aren’t, locals repainted many abandoned gas stations in a retro style and improved the look of the corridor.

And now a fire bug threatens to undo that.

The Quay County Sun newspaper in Tucumcari hadn’t posted anything Saturday. I’ll post more relevant information when it comes.

(Image of the Tucumcari Motel by Katy Connell via Flickr)

Fire destroys abandoned motel in Tucumcari September 4, 2014

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A suspected arson fire early Wednesday destroyed a long-closed motel known as the Payless Inn on Route 66 in Tucumcari, New Mexico, according to the Quay County Sun newspaper.

When firefighters arrived at the Payless Inn, 2000 W. Rte. 66 Blvd., three separate buildings on the property were engulfed in flames, Rigdon said.  The blaze leveled all three buildings.

At about 11 a.m. today, firefighters were still tending smoking ruins of the motel property. [...]

The Payless Inn is owned by Maggie Ventures, LLC., of Las Vegas, Nevada, according to Quay County Assessor’s Office information.  The property is valued at $155,155.  It had been devalued since 2013, when its value was assessed at $445,386.

Here’s a Google Street View of the motel, if you’re having trouble remembering it:

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The motel also once was known as the Taaj Hotels and Suites. The property was on the far west end of town, and had been closed for as long as I can remember. It was more than a mile from restaurants, gas stations and stores, in the center of Tucumcari; its relative isolation had to make it a tough go for any owner.

According to this postcard from the Illinois Digital Archives, the motel originally opened as the Sheraton Motor Inn, probably in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Here’s the text on the back of the postcard:

SHERATON MOTOR INN West Tucumcari Boulevard (I-40 U. S. 66 & U. S. 54) Tucumcari, New Mexico 88401 81 Bright new rooms in a convenient highway location, 1 1/2 miles from downtown Tucumcari. Air Conditioned, T.V. and Free Parking. Dining Room, Cocktail Lounge, Banquet Room, and function rooms to accommodate 150.

It was the second motel fire in Tucumcari in six weeks. The Hampton Inn on the east side of town was destroyed after a lightning strike ignited the second floor.

Albuquerque asks for proposals for De Anza Motel August 19, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Art, Motels, Preservation.
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The City of Albuquerque recently requested proposals to redevelop the historic De Anza Motor Lodge after two plans fell flat in recent years. However, one prominent business group is recommending a partial teardown of the motel.

A group of Albuquerque business owners put together a list of recommendations of what it would like to see on the site, reported Albuquerque Business First. The newspaper quoted O’Niell’s Irish Pub owner Robert Munro, president of Nob Hill Main Street.

“We’ve spent time studying the site and looking at the figures for what would be the best and highest use,” Munro told Business First. “What happens at this site is a bellwether for the future of East Nob Hill.”

Main Street’s recommendations are for a mixed-use development that includes restaurants, 48 hotel rooms, 41 apartments and a Route 66 museum.

Munro said the city’s RFP aligns well with his group’s recommendations. “We’re sensitive to its historic significance as was the city. We both felt like retaining the Central [Avenue] frontage was important and both felt it was important to save the murals,” Munro said. The RFP provides a potential $400,000 financial incentive for keeping historic murals accessible.

The Albuquerque Journal also elaborated on the $9.9 million proposal:

[T]he property’s three buildings fronting on Central and a basement with murals by a Zuni artist would be preserved and renovated.

While the city’s RFP doesn’t get into details on what happens to the rest of the property, the hypothetical plan calls for tearing the rest down and replacing it with a 45-room hotel and 41 apartments, both in three-story buildings. The hotel and apartment would share a clubhouse, fitness center and swimming pool.

The hotel and apartments would be built atop “subterranean” or partially underground parking structures.

And, according to KOAT in Albuquerque, the city is offering $400,000 in incentives to anyone who redevelops the property.

The motel is on the National Register of Historic Places and the State Register of Cultural Properties, so demolishing even a part of it would carry significant hurdles. However, at least one report says even a full redevelopment of De Anza would carry only a “marginal” profit margin. So a partial demolition may be a best-case scenario for the property. De Anza has seen two developers in recent years walk away from renovating the historic property.

The deadline for proposal submissions is January.

De Anza is at 4301 Central Ave. S.D. Hambaugh, a tourist court operator from Tucson, Arizona; and C.G. Wallace, a trader for the Zuni Indian tribe, built De Anza Motor Lodge in 1939. It closed during the 1990s. De Anza received some recent notoriety when it was included in a scene in the acclaimed “Breaking Bad” television drama.

(Image of De Anza sign by Boortz47 via Flickr)

A profile of the Wigwam Motel’s Kumar Patel August 14, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motels, People, Preservation.
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Wigwam Motel

The Asian American Hotel Owners Association recently posted a feature about Kumar Patel, the operator of the historic Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino, California.

Most stories focus on the motel, which was built along Route 66 in 1949 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. But this one focuses more about Patel himself.

A few tidbits from the story:

— Patel, the son of Indian immigrants, was in accounting before taking over the motel.

— The “rundown” motel – “The man who owned it before was renting rooms for $15 a night” – was bought for $1 million in 2003 and another $500,000 has been spent renovating it.

— Patel’s family also owns franchised motels, in addition to the Wigwam.

— Like many other Route 66 business owners, Patel’s connection with its people and history are what stands out:

“The biggest powerhouse tool I have is the connection I have made with the people along Route 66,” he said. “They are basically like a family now. I pack my car with all sorts of Wigwam [promotional] material, and I leave them at all these places along Route 66 at which the tourists are stopping.”

When he’s at the Wigwam, Patel will host fundraisers and concerts. He loves spending time with his guests, too, taking them out for breakfast, showing them historical sites or hosting a barbecue for them.

“Anything local to bring people in and show them the Wigwam is there, that it is a great place and that it is family oriented,” he said. “I don’t have millions of dollars to market, so I have to use all my energy and power to go out and get different ideas.” [...]

Patel wants more travelers to explore Route 66, even if they don’t always pick the Wigwam as their destination of choice.

“It’s OK that the money is not going to me. The money is going on Route 66. Route 66 is benefiting the hotel industry no matter what,” he said. “If I’m pushing Route 66 and [travelers] come out and they fly by me, I can’t feel bad about it because I love the road so much, and I just want to see people traveling it.”



El Rey Inn’s commitment to its employees August 2, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motels, People, Preservation.
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Nearly 35 years ago, the owner of the historic El Rey Inn on Route 66 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, instituted a profit-sharing plan for employees.

According to CNN Money, owner Terrell White has put $7 million into the plan and paid out $5 million over the years. The hotel has 26 employees, with many of them who’ve worked for White for decades.

Employees are 20% vested in the plan after two years and become fully vested after seven. The plan’s investments are overseen by White and are a mix of real estate holdings, rental properties, savings, bonds and stocks. He said the inn’s gain in profitability — which didn’t waver until the recession of 2008-2009 — meant that some employees were making as much in profit as they were in yearly earnings.

“I think this is a much better alternative than a hearty handshake and a gold watch,” he said.

Business dropped 30% during the recession, and while it continues to improve, White hasn’t been able to resume funding the profit-sharing plan. He hopes to start it up again this year, but he noted the plan has continued to earn 10% to 12% annually.

White said the plan is worth it because it fosters employee loyalty. On top of that, he provides all workers medical and dental benefits, up to three weeks of paid vacation, and regular raises.

El Rey Inn, built as the El Rey Court in 1936 just before Route 66 was realigned, has more than doubled in its capacity since White bought it in 1973. More than half of its overnight guests are repeat customers.

El Rey’s developer also built El Vado Motel in 1937 on Route 66 in Albuquerque. El Vado is closed, but the city is seeking to redevelop the property using its existing buildings.

(Image of one of the rooms at El Rey Inn in Santa Fe by cool.as.a.cucumber via Flickr)

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