The historic Bel-Aire Motel in Springfield, Illinois, is known for its retro neon sign and Sputnik structure on the roof. It’s also known for hundreds of code violations and criminal activity by many of its tenants.
It didn’t used to be the latter. Columnist Dave Bakke of the Springfield State Journal-Register spoke to the daughter of one of the Route 66 motel’s owners, long before the Bel-Aire became an eyesore and a problem for the city.
Sandra Brunner’s father, Charles Ciesler, built the motel. The newspaper’s story focuses on her regret of the motel’s decline after it was sold, but it also serves as a history.
Tidbits from the article:
- No one seems certain when the motel was built, but city directories and the family’s memories narrow it down to 1949 or 1950.
- The Bel-Aire started as a small bunch of cabins and grew from there.
- Ciesler at one point during the mid-1960s planned to convert the Bel-Aire into an six-story motel with a restaurant, tavern, and convention space. Why the plans never came to fruition isn’t known.
- Brunner and her cousin, Chuck Ciesler, said they saw the property decline almost immediately after Gopal Motwani of Florida bought it in 1986. Chuck Ciesler said Motwani laid off many of the housekeepers about two weeks after he took possession.
- The city and a court ordered the motel closed in 1995 because of varying code violations. Somehow, it was allowed to reopen after a few improvements and repairs were made.
The city at one point floated the idea to buy the property and convert it into a Route 66 tourism center or museum. But the city lacked the money. And Mayor Timothy Davlin, who championed the idea, committed suicide in 2010.
Despite more than $100,000 in fines and countless other problems over the years, Motwani continues to hold on to the motel as it continues to deteriorate. Bakke writes:
What does a person have to do to be shut down, their property condemned or be hauled into court? Motwani’s Bel-Aire is as hard to kill as its cockroaches. So you can expect to read the same story again in the future.
There must be some financial advantage to owning a place like this. I’m just not savvy enough to know what it could be.
But really, how toothless are Springfield’s ordinances to allow this situation to fester for so long? It’s nuts. I feel bad for the Ciesler family, and I feel embarrassed for Springfield.