Albuquerque's El Vado Motel Saved


Albuquerque named the National Register-listed El Vado a city landmark in 2006.

Credit: Frederick F. Porter, AIA

After years of debate, a Route 66 motel in Albuquerque can't be torn down for townhouses, the city ruled last month.

The city's landmarks and urban conservation commission voted 4-2 to deny a certificate of appropriateness for demolition to the owner of the El Vado Motel, built in 1937. Owner Richard Gonzales wants to build townhouses on the site and told the Albuquerque Journal he will appeal the commission's Jan. 10 decision.

The El Vado Motel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993 and was named a city landmark last year, at the request of Mayor Marty Chavez.

"I want the building preserved," Chavez says. "It's a really prominent architectural feature for Albuquerque."

Gonzales listed the El Vado for sale last year for $3.4 million and later lowered the asking price to $2.4 million. According to a city-commissioned appraisal, the property is worth $574,000.

Under city law, a demolition rejection invokes a one-year demolition delay. In a year, the city council will rule on the El Vado Motel's future. According to the city's ordinance, the council can approve demolition only if the owner will suffer economically.

Some of the El Vado's neighbors have been torn down: The 1959 Western Skies Motel fell in 1988, and condos replaced the 1958 Zia Motor Lodge five years ago. City council also approved the demolition of several other Route 66 motels, including the Horn Oil Company gas station and motel, which a developer replaced with townhouses.

"We've been preserving some, tearing some down," Chavez says of the city's Route 66 motels.

Chavez says city officials have been brainstorming about a new use for the Pueblo-style motel. "One of the ideas we're throwing around is a neon museum," he says. The museum could display some of Route 66's salvaged neon signs, Chavez says. "It would be almost like a drive-through museum."

Last month the National Trust urged the landmarks commission to deny Gonzales' request, pointing out that he could use tax credits to rehabilitate the El Vado. "To allow demolition of this historic resource would not only destroy a local landmark and remove a contributing building in a National Register district," wrote Daniel Carey, director of the Trust's Southwest Office, in a letter dated Dec. 20, 2006, "it would lessen the integrity of the tout ensemble of the entire length of Route 66." 

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