Notes from the El Vado hearing

I acquired a draft of the minutes from the City of Albuquerque Landmarks and Urban Conservation Commission‘s Dec. 14 meeting regarding an application to recommend El Vado Motel as a city landmark. The commission approved the application by a 5-0 vote, and the measure goes to the city council in January.

The minutes include verbatum testimony from the commissioners, El Vado advocates and critics, and new El Vado owner Richard Gonzales, who wants to raze at least part of the historic Route 66 property to make way for luxury townhouses.

The minutes document is 36 pages, and it contains interesting tidbits that weren’t reported at the time.

— El Vado Motel was designed by the same people who built El Rey Inn of Santa Fe. Someone at the meeting asked whether El Rey was financially viable. Commissioner Edie Cherry said: “About two years ago, I had occasion to meet relatives in Santa Fe and thought it would be fun to stay there, and I couldn’t get a reservation and rooms were two hundred bucks a night. I think that’s pretty viable.”

— Gonzales testified that rehabilitating El Vado would be prohibitively expensive. However, when pressed by commissioners, he admitted he didn’t have a detailed written estimate. This despite having several weeks to get one.

— Commissioner Barbara Maddox remarked that repair estimates to historic properties can vary wildly. On one of her properties that needed a roof replaced, one bid $86,000. Another bid $56,000. But Maddox said one repairman who had a wealth of experience on historic properties bid just $12,500. This implied that Gonzales should have shopped around more.

— The commissioners discussed the impact of a landmark designation to El Vado. It was generally agreed that the designation does not hurt the property’s viability. In fact, they said the property probably would increase in value with the designation.

— Gonzales kept insisting El Vado was no longer financially viable as a motel. However, commissioners and city staffers said a landmarks designation did not prevent El Vado from being used in other ways.

— Planning staff member Maryellen Hennessy testified that Gonzales was told in August about El Vado’s historical significance:

“City staff advised Mr. Gonzales at that meeting that the El Vado was a significant cultural site with a great deal of popularity both inside and outside the community, and that any proposal to demolish was likely to generate a good deal of public comment in opposition to that concept. We also commented that it was also possible that the city wouild have an interest in preserving those buildings.”

This directly refutes Gonzales’ story that he didn’t know about El Vado’s significance until after he bought it in October.

— Eight audience members at the hearing stated their opposition to landmark status for El Vado. Five of them are practically neighbors of Gonzales’, according to a Google Maps search I conducted. Three audience members supported landmark status; they were a superintendent from the National Trails System, a member of the Albuquerque Conservation Association, and the president of Historic Albuquerque Inc.

— What helped convince the commissioners to recommend landmark status to El Vado were letters and e-mails from Route 66 aficionados, said Chairman William Dodge:

I was struck by the nature of support from around the world on this property. Now I understand that listserves and Internet has made this a different ballgame. It’s much easier for people to respond, but even given that, 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. Apparently a lot of people have given us a charge to what they believe is to preserve a very valuable piece of history along Route 66.

As I’ve said, there’s plenty of good stuff on this document. If you want to read the whole thing, e-mail me at route66news (at) yahoo (dot) com and I’ll send you an Adobe Acrobat attachment of it.

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