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Skylark Motel tower glows again November 23, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Events, Motels, Preservation, Signs.
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The former Skylark Motel tower on old Route 66 in St. Clair, Missouri, shined with the glow of neon again after a ceremony Saturday night at the building, which now serves as the VFW Post 2482.

According to a news release about the event, about 150 people attending cheered when the light switch was thrown about 5:20 p.m.

The most unique feature, not found anywhere else on Route 66, is the glass block tower illuminated by red, gold, blue and green neon tubing behind it. It is a gleaming, sparkling sight at night, visible from a long way off, that no Route 66 roadie should miss on their tour of the Mother Road.

In addition to the tower, there is red striping around the eaves of the building, the word “Skylark” on the west side in blue neon, and “VFW” in green on the east side of the building.

The VFW membership celebrated the event in grand style with a BBQ dinner after the ceremony, which featured a tribute to all the veterans that were present, and speakers from the VFW State Commander’s office, the local community and the Route 66 Association of Missouri. The celebration also included music, vintage cars on site, and a special t-shirt to commemorate the event.

The VFW Post received  a $22,000 cost-share grant from the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program for the restoration of its neon. The VFW also received help from the Neon Heritage Preservation Committee of the Route 66 Association of Missouri.

The Skylark opened in 1952 and operated as a motel for about 25 years. It eventually was purchased by the St. Clair VFW in 1993.

(Image of the Skylark Motel tower courtesy of Jim Thole)

Neon relighting of former Skylark Motel is Saturday November 17, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Events, Motels, Preservation, Route 66 Associations, Signs.
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The relighting of the former Skylark Motel’s neon — including its distinctive glass-block tower — will occur about dusk Saturday at the site in St. Clair, Missouri, according to a news release from the Neon Heritage Preservation Committee of the Route 66 Association of Missouri.

The ceremony is scheduled to last about 20 minutes. According to Accuweather.com, sunset on that day will occur at 4:43 p.m., although clouds could make darkness arrive earlier.

According to the release:

The property is now owned by local VFW Post 2482 and is located at 1087 North Service Road WW, which is 1.5 miles west of I-44 exit 239 at St. Clair, on the north side outer road.

The VFW Post leadership welcome all to attend this event and are planning to serve food and refreshments after the relighting ceremony, which will include music, vintage cars on site, and speakers representing the local community and the Missouri Route 66 Association. A limited number of distinctive t-shirts commemorating this special event will also be available.
The VFW Post was the recipient of a $22,000 cost-share grant from the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program to assist in the restoration of this neon scene, which will now return one of the Mother Road’s most dazzling light displays for Route 66 travelers.

According to Jim Thole, the Skylark opened in 1952 and operated as such for about 25 years. It eventually was purchased by the St. Clair VFW in 1993.

(Image of the former Skylark Motel tower courtesy of Jim Thole)

Cuba adds five sites to National Historic Register November 8, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motels, Preservation, Towns.
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The town of Cuba, Missouri, recently had big news to announce — five sites were added in one week to the National Register of Historic Places, including two on Route 66.

Cuba’s new additions to the National Register were revealed in an email from the National Park Service on Thursday. The National Register listings were effective Oct. 29.

  • George B. Hamilton house, 401 E. Washington St. (Route 66)
  • John Manson Munro house, 305 W. Washington St. (Route 66)
  • Cuba City Jail, Prairie and 300 block of South Main streets
  • Cuba Lodge No. 312 A.F. and A.M., 201 N. Smith St.
  • Hotel Cuba, 600 E. Main St.

More about each one:

George B. Hamilton house (map here) — Built about 1896 in a Queen Anne style, it was owned by a wealthy Cuba businessman and remains one of the biggest houses in Cuba. Hamilton ran several businesses, including a farm-equipment dealership, a gravel pit, an oil business and a silent-movie theater.

John Manson Munro house (map) — The Victorian-designed house was built about 1880 by a local businessman and former two-term mayor. The house was closed for 30 years after his death in 1941.

Cuba City Jail (map) — The concrete block structure was built in 1908. It remained in use as a jail as late as 1954 and serves as a museum today. The interior features a guard space with a desk and wood burning stove and a rear cell with two hanging iron bunks connected by an iron door.

Cuba Lodge No. 312 A.F. and A.M. (map) — Construction on the stone lodge for Masons finished about 1940. The interior also contains its original layout and much of its woodwork. The construction is attributed to local mason David R. Sharp. It continues to serve as a Masonic lodge.

Hotel Cuba (map) — Also known as the Palace Hotel, the red brick structure was finished about 1915. It originally was built to face the railroad tracks, then added an entrance in the late 1920s to face the U.S. 66 and attract travelers. It operated as a hotel until the mid-1970s. The structure now is used as apartments.

(Images and information via the Missouri Department of Natural Resources)

Los Angeles station gives major time to Route 66 November 5, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Motels, Restaurants, Road trips, Television, Towns.
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KABC, the major affiliate of ABC in Los Angeles, in recent days gave a lot of time examining Route 66 in the region in its “Eye on L.A.” show.

Here is the San Bernardino to San Gabriel Valley segment:

Monrovia to South Pasadena:

The Arroyo Seco to downtown segment:

West Hollywood to the end of the trail:

You can read the online versions of the stories here.

It’s my understanding that Kumar Patel at the Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino lobbied the station for months to do a story about Route 66 in the Los Angeles area. Apparently someone listened.

Gardenway Motel closes October 31, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motels.
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The historic Gardenway Motel in Villa Ridge, Missouri, abruptly closed Monday for as-yet-undetermined reasons, reported Jim Thole with the Route 66 Association of Missouri.

Thole tried to contact the Eckelkamp family, which has owned the motel for nearly 70 years, to find out why, to no avail. A phone call to the motel Thursday went unanswered.

According to the late Skip Curtis in his “The Missouri 66 Tour Book,” the motel was built in 1945. The book also had this information:

Named for the Henry Shaw Gardenway (Old 66), this motel was built at its western terminus. The first units were constructed by Louis Eckelkamp a short distance from his family’s home. The motel grew to 41 rooms, all with tile baths. Wonderful sign!

And according to Quinta Scott’s book, “Along Route 66″:

Once 66 was abandoned to the interstate that cut through the hill below, Eckelkamp added the long GARDENWAY sign on the roof to notify travelers on I-44 of accommodations up on the ridge.

Reviews of the motel were grave years ago, but two reviewers on the motel’s Google page in the past year gave it high marks.

If anybody hears anything about why the Gardenway Motel is closed, give me a yell at route66news(at)yahoo(dot)com. It’s often described as being in Gray Summit, but lists 2958 Missouri 100 in Villa Ridge.

(Image of the Gardenway Motel in 2009 by Alan Berning via Flickr; postcard image courtesy of 66postcards.com)

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)

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)

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