A glimpse of the Boots Motel’s past

One of the pleasures of a Route 66 restoration or preservation project is you occasionally get a look at the long-ago past.

We had that unique opportunity over the Labor Day weekend when Emily (aka Redforkhippie), Ron Hart of the Route 66 Chamber of Commerce, and I embarked on a repainting of the historic Boots Motel sign in Carthage, Mo.

Take a closer look at the photo at the top. Do you see that glimpse of the past?

It was taken shortly after we removed a panel on the sign that covered the motel’s original name, Boots Court, for decades.

A closer look:

No one is positive when the Boots Court, which opened in 1939, became the Boots Motel. But it probably was in the late 1940s or early 1950s, after the term “motel” was popularized. Instead of taking on the substantial expense of a new neon sign, the owners of that time used the current sign and affixed new pieces of sheet motel that said “Motel.”

As this vintage postcard shows, the original colors of the Boots Court sign wasn’t black, white and turquoise, but more of a red and white. Traces of the original red could be seen with the sign, even now.

Eventually, the motel’s new owners, Deborah Harvey and Priscilla Bledsaw, will restore the Boots Motel sign back to its original colors, neon, and name. But that’s years down the road.

For now, our job was to repaint the fading and peeling sign and make it look more attractive to Route 66 travelers. Here’s a “before” photo of the sign, looking from the south.

A “before” look at the sign, from the north:

Using a donated bucket truck, sprucing up the sign required scraping off loose paint and rust before applying coats of oil-based enamel, as Emily is doing with the “Boots” channel letters.

Emily also repainted the removed “Motel” panel:

And Hart, who provided a lot of assistance and tools, used an ingenious system of ropes and bungee cords to help reattach the sign panel:

Finally, here’s what the sign looked like Monday evening, from the south:

What the sign looked like from the north:

It wasn’t completely finished Monday night. We lost one work day because the remnants of Hurricane Isaac brought persistent rain and gusty winds, and the heat that followed became oppressive. But Hart, who is the Boots’ property manager, will repaint the sign’s turquoise trim and do some minor touch-ups sometime this week. A completely repainted sign should be evident within a few days.

But the project also revealed gerry-rigged and even unsafe writing within the sign. Unfortunately, its neon will remain dark until those problems are resolved. In the interim, Hart says he’ll likely install a lighting system to illuminate the repainted sign at night.

The Boots Motel itself also is awaiting full restoration. In the meantime, several rooms have been brought back to their late 1940s splendor, including a “radio in every room.”

Rooms are $66 a night (appropriately enough) for a single bed. Information on reservations to the Boots Motel can be found here or by calling 417-310-2989.

(Vintage postcard of the Boots Court courtesy of 66Postcards.com)

7 thoughts on “A glimpse of the Boots Motel’s past

  1. Nicely done. Very generous of you and your cohorts to donate your holiday weekend. Think how many more Route 66 travelers will stop now for photographs–because of you.

  2. “No one is positive when the Boots Court, which opened in 1939, became the Boots Motel. But it probably was in the late 1940s or early 1950s”

    It wasn’t the 1940’s… that much is easy to determine from the photographs you’ve shown. See that “Boots Court – Television” on the postcard? The first stations to actually be within range, one in each of Joplin and Springfield, signed on in 1953.

    If the televisions went in before the new name went on?

    That pretty much forces the “Boots Motel” panel into mid-1950’s, well after the 1949 “radio in every room” era the sisters were targeting as a restoration.

    1949 would be the year that brought the “66 Drive-In” to Carthage (originally with speakers on poles and no widescreen projection, much like the cartoon “Radiator Springs Drive-In” in ‘Cars’).

    Tulsa got TV in 1949 only due to one stubborn and determined Miss Helen Alvarez who, unable to convince owners at her radio station of the potential of the new medium, resigned to seek a competitor’s backing to build KOTV atop a local bank building. Over a hundred miles away, hers was the closest station for four more years.

  3. The painted sign looks much better. Too bad that the neon will no longer work. Just as a point of information, the vintage postcard you posted is a photograph taken 1953 or later. We know this because the addition where the arrow is now says “television,” and Carthage did not have television service available until 1953. So that tells us that the Boots was still a Court at least until 1953. Because our restoration aims for the late 1940s appearance, we plan to return the name of the motel to Boots Court when we can afford to replace the neon and repaint the sign. That is why the rooms also do not feature televisions. Thanks for all your hard work on the sign!

  4. Good job on the Boots’ sign. It is on its way to being properly restored albeit more work needs to be done particularly when it comes to the neon.

    Carl B and Debye are on to something about the transition from “Court” to “Motel.” I can push to date out to at least 1954. I have a AAA “Accommodations Directory” from 1954 and it has three listings for Carthage, MO: the Drake Hotel, the Boots Court, and the Dazy Court, the latter two being on US 66. So it was “Court” to 1954 at least.

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