Now that the dust has settled on the City of Albuquerque’s seizure of El Vado Motel to protect it from destruction by a developer, here are a few thoughts:
— Send a thank-you note to Mayor Martin Chavez. He is a relatively popular leader of that city, so his stance on any issue carries weight. He came out very early in his support for El Vado Motel when it was endangered. And it was Chavez who spearheaded the decision to seize the historic Route 66 landmark this week after lengthy negotiations with the owner broke down. E-mail your note of appreciation to the mayor at mayor(at)cabq.gov
— Send a thank-you to Ed Boles. The historic preservation planner was one of the city’s foot soldiers during the Battle of El Vado. He was most appreciative of roadies’ efforts, and we should be appreciative of him for his behind-the-scenes work. It was his Planning Department’s report early in the battle — suggesting that townhouses in place of El Vado would be inappropriate for the neighborhood — that gave the city an early upper hand. Boles’ e-mail is eboles(at)cabq.gov
— Give yourselves a pat on the back. William Dodge, then-chairman of the city’s Landmarks and Urban Conservation Commission, commented that he was “struck by the nature of support” for El Vado when the panel initially designated the motel a city landmark. “… The amount of response from across the world was quite amazing and quite unusual for properties that come before this Commission, and you have to raise your eyebrows and sit upright for a second or two,” he said. Roadies and preservationists, through their testimony, e-mails and letters, kept pressure on the city. El Vado became a victory for Route 66 preservation.
— Don’t knock eminent domain — at least all the time, anyway. El Vado is listed as a condemnation proceeding. But there’s a nickel’s worth of difference between it and eminent domain. Clamor ensued when the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 refused to curb the usage of eminent domain. However, El Vado makes it apparent that eminent domain can and should be used to protect important historic properties. I’m as leery of eminent domain for private purposes as the next fellow. But to lose this as a possible tool for historic preservation would be unwise.
— A preservation fight can be helped by a bumbling land owner. Richard L. Gonzales made just about every mistake possible during the first 24 months of his efforts to raze El Vado Motel. He was caught contradicting himself. During city hearings, he seemed unprepared. He became disruptive at a city hearing. By the time he wised up and hired an attorney to represent him, Gonzales had dug himself too deep of a hole. Gonzales nearly got his way twice, but his poor judgment clearly hurt his efforts. And now, because he didn’t bother to maintain the property, Gonzales stands to lose quite a bit of his initial investment during condemnation proceedings.
So what now? It seems unlikely that El Vado will reopen as a motel; the lodging market is too competitive. But Chavez’s idea for a drive-through Route 66 neon museum seems like a sound one. And for all of its history, Albuquerque doesn’t have any sort of local Route 66 museum. El Vado would provide the vehicle to start one.
(Photo of El Vado Motel, courtesy of The Lope.)