Signs at Paradise Motel in Tucumcari removed

The signs at the Paradise Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico, were removed this week after the long-abandoned property suffered two fires in less than six months — including one in February.

Vanessa Miller, service manager the Clovis Sign Services in Clovis, New Mexico, confirmed by phone Wednesday she had possession of both signs, including the distinctive diving-woman part of that stood near the main building. Clovis Signs is the closest neon sign company to Tucumcari, about 85 miles away.

She said the signs’ owner had purchased them, and they would be restored for his personal collection.

The former site of the Paradise Motel’s main sign, Wednesday morning.

Miller declined to name the owner but said he was not local to the Tucumcari area. A message was left with the owner; it was not returned.

Emily Priddy of Tucumcari (Disclosure: I am married to her) on Tuesday afternoon said she saw a truck pulling a flatbed trailer carrying a neon sign, along a bucket-lift truck trailing behind. They were heading south on Highway 209 south of Tucumcari. Playing a hunch, she drove to the Paradise Motel and saw its main sign was gone.

Fire first damaged the motel in September, then again in February. No clear damage occurred to the signs, but the owner probably held no more confidence that would continue.

Paradise Motel
The main building of the Paradise Motel after fire struck it in September 2017.
The Paradise Motel’s main building Wednesday morning, without its rooftop signs.

According to county property records, the Paradise Motel is owned by Abel Cullum of Tucumcari. Its actual assessed value is $8,213. A clerk at the Quay County Assessor’s Office said the motel at 2202 W. Tucumcari Blvd. closed in 1991 or 1992. Several online sources place the motel opening in 1950.

The motel’s ground-level sign and other properties along New Mexico’s Route 66 received a grant for neon-sign restoration in 2003.

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.

In recent years, many roadies head a radio playing inside the motel’s cafe / garage building. It seemed to be a ploy to keep visitors from thinking it was abandoned and therefore kept some vandalism at bay.

(Image of the restored Paradise Motel sign circa 2003 via New Mexico Route 66 Association website; other images by the author)

13 thoughts on “Signs at Paradise Motel in Tucumcari removed

  1. Sorry to read this, but at least the signs were saved and not trashed. I didn’t realize the motel had been abandoned for so long. It seems strange that they received a grant to restore the main sign when the motel had been closed for over a decade (and would remain closed).

  2. Is there any historic protection of the Paradise? Might this be the first step toward demolition at the site? A shame.

      1. Such s shame. The far west end of 66 in Tucumcari has become so derelict: the Shell Truck Plaza, the former Sheraton/Payless, and the Paradise, all long closed (and the Stuckey’s at Palomas gone, too). Not much reason to travel there, except for the road itself, or to take photographs. I mourn the loss of these pieces of our roadside heritage.

  3. As the Project Manager for the Neon Restoration Project here in New Mexico, which included the Paradise sign, I was extremely disheartened to see the sign removed. Taxpayer money (50%) was used to pay for the sign restoration and to see an owner profit from selling the sign is wrong.

    At the time the sign was restored, there were month-to-month tenants living at the Paradise and the owner at that time hoped to use the sign to attract overnight guests. Abel Collum has been identified as the current owner of the motel and I do not recall that he was the owner at the time the sign was restored – I’d have to dig through my records to confirm.

    I will work with the Kaisa (NPS) to create a contract stipulation that will prevent this in the future. I also take issue with a “collector” removing the sign to a personal collection. If the intent was to “save” the sign, the New Mexico Route 66 Association should have been contacted.

      1. Yes, the Cactus Motor Lodge/Cactus RV Park sign was put up for sale. It was another sign that I had secured funds to restore. It presents a dilemma. The issue is “collectors” creating a market that results in signs being removed from historic properties. I ask, “What is motivating these collectors?”. Is it some sort of self indulgence or is it profiteering.? On the other hand, a collector might be serving as a preservationist saving a sign from destruction. In the case of the Cactus sign, it was put on the market and a timely decision had to be made. I decided to contact a preservationist friend of mine here in NM who purchased the sign. This sign, and many others, are destined for a publicly accessible neon park in the Albuquerque area. I’d very much prefer to leave these signs in place but we are in a capitalist society where individuals can purchase historic artifacts for private appreciation. So, allow the sign to go out of state to a private collection as was the fate of the Paradise Motel sign or enable the sign to remain in state and installed in a public neon park? It is interesting that city governments can have a role in preservation, as was the case for the El Vado Motel where the City of Albuquerque declared the property a Historic Landmark which applied regulations on what could be done with the property. This landmarking is controversial in that the government is compromising private property rights. For El Vado, the landmarking withstood legal challenge, and the El Vado was saved from demolition. Could a city government enact landmarking statutes to landmark historic signs? I think it would be wise for a city like Tucumcari to consider such action.

  4. with the signs removed, well it pretty much seals the fate of the Paradise Motel. It is such a shame to see it so destroyed. I would love to try and save it, but there is hardly anything at that end of town and that has makes it an easy target for vandals.

  5. I don’t think getting the signs out of harm’s way was a bad idea. Their deterioration since the restoration just a few years ago was striking! How long would it have been before the signs were no longer salvageable? But I agree it should be preservationists doing this work, not an owner.

  6. So sad, but am glad I managed to take a number of pictures of the motel and signage in June 2016 while retracing a trip I took on an all too small motorcycle from Kingman to Joliet on our beloved Route 66.

  7. johnnie meier Thank you for your reply on the Cactus Motel/RV Park sign that was recently acquired. It is good to know now the story and it is good to see their are well intended actions for the future of this one. On that, it is a terrible shame Tucumcari is losing these pieces of the town’s history to the biggest bidder. I guess the Paradise one will never be seen by the public again, so sad. It is good that this one, Cactus, will stay in NM and I think was an awaking of what more could happen in the future is something is not done in the town to help save these pieces as they are part of the unique history of the city itself. Thank you for your details on Landmarking, and yes, although controversial, it did save the El Vado for generations to come, which is wonderful. Thank you and others for taking this step and saving our NM history. Small towns like Tucumcari can’t win in a bidding war on these pieces and they must act; do something more to ensure they are preserved for the town, the state and for others for years to come. I have passed this information from you along to folks at the museum and others in the town and I am hoping that next steps are done so more of this great part of the history of Tucumcari is not lost, again.

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