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Group seeks to restore old schoolhouse in Phelps October 27, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, Preservation, Towns.
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A nonprofit group is raising money to shore up and restore a long-abandoned, century-old Phelps School in the tiny Route 66 hamlet of Phelps, Missouri, reported the Joplin Globe.

According to the article, Phelps School was finished in 1889 until it and other one-room schools in the region were consolidated into the Miller School District during the 1950s. The school reportedly fell into disuse during the 1980s.

Washam said the community group’s first goal is to raise enough money to put a new roof on the schoolhouse, estimated to be around $8,700. That work has already begun, with cedar-colored asphalt shingles chosen instead of metal because of their resemblance to the original oak-shakes roof, he said.

“We want to restore it as much as possible to how it looked originally,” he said.

The group hopes to finish repairs to the exterior by next year and to the interior, including new heating and air conditioning units and a functional bathroom, within five years. Washam said it’s possible, after the restoration is complete, that the community group could submit the schoolhouse for consideration to the National Register of Historic Places.

The group held a cruise-in fundraiser at the school over the weekend.

Phelps School is located on the west end of the original 1920s pavement, which now serves as a north frontage road for Highway 96.

(An image of Phelps School by John Hagstrom via Flickr)

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)

Future of Shea’s Route 66 Museum likely won’t be known until next year October 21, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Gas stations, Museums, Preservation.
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What’s in store for the closed Shea’s Route 66 Museum in Springfield, Illinois, likely won’t be known until sometime early next year, reported the State Journal-Register newspaper.

The museum, long operated by former gas-station operator and gas memorabilia collector Bill Shea, closed except for appointments in late 2012 after Shea became too frail and was moved into a nursing home. Shea died at age 91 about a year later.

Bill Shea Jr. told the newspaper he now has station in his name after five months in probate court. Now that’s settled, the younger Shea said he’ll discuss the future of the property.

Nearing age 66, O’Shea Jr. said he plans to discuss the future of his father’s museum with his three adult children before making a decision. He added that there have been off-and-on discussions with city and local tourism officials about the future of one of Springfield’s biggest Route 66 tourism draws.

He said he would like to see Shea’s Route 66 Museum preserved but that he would not be part of day-to-day operations.

“I worked heavy equipment for 40 years and would go there after work,” Shea said. “It’s time to let them (his children) have it, or if they don’t want it, maybe sell it.”

Springfield had long discussed having a Route 66 visitors center at the Bel-Aire Motel, but backed away from the potential deal because of lack of money. Perhaps there’s another opportunity at Shea’s.

Bill Shea Sr. started his career in the filling-station business shortly after leaving the military in 1946 — which included being part of a harrowing D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach. He owned Marathon and Texaco stations in Springfield. Shea was old enough to remember when Route 66 in Springfield was paved with bricks.

Later, Shea converted a Marathon station on Route 66 into a museum of gas-station memorabilia. It included a 1920s gas station he moved from Middletown, Illinois. Shea greeted thousands of Route 66 travelers from dozens of countries at his museum.

Shea was inducted into the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame in 1993. Dec. 30, 2011, was declared Bill Shea Day in Springfield in honor of his 90th birthday.

(Image of Shea’s by Sandor Weisz 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)

Santo Domingo Trading Post wins a large grant October 14, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, Preservation.
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The historic Santo Domingo Trading Post along old Route 66 in Santo Domingo Pueblo, New Mexico, earned a half-million-dollar federal grant for its renovations, according to a news release from U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico.

The $511,118 comes from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

The project revives an historic Native American tourist attraction and increases retail opportunities for native artists who produce world-renown jewelry, pottery and other artisan goods, which will stimulate the regional economy.

“Small business is the backbone of New Mexico’s economy, and the EDA’s partnership with ACCION will provide much-needed support to budding entrepreneurs across the state,” Udall said. “Similarly, the continued restoration of Santo Domingo Trading Post, which was all but lost in a 2001 fire, will help preserve this cultural landmark and provide economic opportunities to the Pueblo’s artisans.”

“This grant will help bring the Santo Domingo Trading Post a step closer toward full restoration,” Heinrich said. “The Trading Post plays an important role as a marketplace that helps grow the local economy. I’m also pleased the EDA has made investments in promoting entrepreneurship by funding New Mexico’s ACCION Presto Loan pilot program. When women, veterans, and other aspiring entrepreneurs have the opportunity to gain access to capital to start their businesses, it helps create jobs and spurs the economy.”

The Seligman family, which were traders in the Southwest, built the two-story trading post in 1922 that incorporated a one-story 1880 building to the structure. The village became part of Route 66 from 1926 to 1937. President John F. Kennedy reportedly visited it in 1962. The Pueblo of Santo Domingo now owns the property, and it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.

Except for the outer walls, the trading post was destroyed by fire in 2001. Since then, the front half of two-story building was restored. However, the 1880 part of the complex was lost in the fire.

(Old postcard image of Santo Domingo Trading Post courtesy of 66Postcards.com; restored image of trading post via Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program)

A tour of the Tower Theatre October 12, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, Preservation, Theaters.
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A few days ago, The Oklahoman newspaper provided a tour for 30 subscribers to the historic but long-closed Tower Theatre along Route 66’s Northwest 23rd Street alignment in Oklahoma City.

As you will see, the tour contained a few former employees or patrons of the Tower.

The tour also included a Q&A with the developers David Wanzer, Ben Sellers and Jonathan Dodson, who plan on preserving the theater space in the building. The rest of the complex will be opened for business space.

“We want the theater to be something the community can enjoy,” Wanzer said.

It will take time, however, to renovate the space. For that reason, the developers didn’t mention a reopening date.

According to the Cinema Treasures website, the Tower Theatre opened in 1937, with a seating capacity of about 1,500. It closed in 1989.

(Image of the Tower Theatre in 2006 by Jason B. via Flickr)

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