Fire heavily damaged the main office building and one room Friday afternoon at the long-closed Paradise Motel on the western edge of Tucumcari, New Mexico.
The fire didn’t damage the motel’s distinctive neon sign, its garage or much of the rest of the complex. But the blaze doesn’t portend well for the motel’s already-grim future.
Many roadies — especially Route 66 explorer Nick Gerlich — noted the complex’s garage for a long time had a radio playing inside. It seemed to be a ploy to keep visitors from thinking it was abandoned and therefore kept some vandalism at bay.
The motel and other properties along New Mexico’s Route 66 received a grant for neon-sign restoration in 2003.
At the far west end of town is the restored Paradise Motel sign, which presented the biggest surprise in the project. The unrestored sign included a lower section depicting portrait images of Tocom and Kari, characters from a tale of a tragic Indian couple from whom Tucumcari is said to have received its name. The project was bid as a restoration based on its existing Tocom-Kari features. However, subsequent research yielded an early photo on file at LaDeane Studios in Tucumcari.
The older photo revealed a very different sign that included a wonderful diving bathing beauty diving into a pool splash. After consulting with the Historic Preservation Division, it was decided that the restoration should include the original motif. At the same time, the creative use of the pool splash as a headdress for the Indian images and the quality of the images could be appreciated as folk art.
Therefore, the decision was made to allocate funding that would provide for the original restoration and also preserve the images of Tocom and Kari. The original “can” that included the two images was removed and installed on a pedestal in the vicinity of the sign while a new replica can consistent with the restoration was constructed. A remaining obstacle was the fact that the old sign displayed “POOL” in neon, yet the pool had been filled in and was no longer usable. It was decided to replace the word “POOL” with the word “OPEN” since the neon insulators supported four letters. In addition, it can be noted that both “POOL” and “OPEN” share two letters, “O” and “P.” Close enough!
Here’s the restored Paradise Motel sign:
Several online sources place the Paradise Motel’s to being built in 1950, but I’ve found little else about it. Below is a vintage postcard image of the motel, with an exaggerated likeness of Tucumcari Mountain in the background:
The fire seems suspicious. The Quay County Sun newspaper, based in Tucumcari, hadn’t yet posted anything about it as of late Saturday. We’ll update more information when we get it.
(Images of the Paradise Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico via Nick Gerlich, New Mexico Route 66 Association and 66Postcards.com)