Endangered Motels on Route 66


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

Credit: Frederick F. Porter, AIA

A superhighway bisects the country now, and historic Route 66 is fading away, along with its historic motels.

"We have documented 333 motels through a survey and estimate that there are approximately 500 on the route," says Kaisa Barthuli of the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, part of the National Park Service. Many of these 500 motels are vacant and deteriorating, though some have been restored. "We have been working with a new generation of Route 66 motel owners to raise public awareness," Barthuli says.

Triangle Motel, Amarillo, Texas

Reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated. After being condemned and set for demolition, the Triangle Motel, built in 1946 in Amarillo, Tex., has received grants for its restoration from the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program and from the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Southwest office. The grant money will assist in preservation plans and emergency repairs, such as a new roof.  The owners are also raising funds locally where one can pledge a donation and adopt a brick from the motel; brick number 66 is being auctioned off to the highest bidder.

De Anza Motor Lodge and El Vado Motel, Albuquerque, N.M.

Hoping to save these 1940s icons of Route 66, the city of Albuquerque stepped in to buy the De Anza Motor Lodge in 2003. It named the El Vado a city landmark, imposing a one-year demolition delay last year so the motel's owner couldn't tear it down for condos. But both motels are still empty, waiting for the city to turn its attention to its piece of the Mother Road.

Motel Safari, Tucumcari, N.M.

Built in 1959 and opened in 1962, the Motel Safari was recently renovated by entrepreneur Richard Talley, who started Smalltown America last year with the goal of preserving historic motels on Route 66. "Eventually we'd like to renovate one Route 66 motel from every state," Talley says. The Motel Safari, which reopened on Feb. 18, was updated with brand-new amenities while maintaining a retro feel, he says. Additionally, the renovation went green by incorporating low burning water heaters, reducing water use, and utilizing low voltage electrics. Up next: Talley is interested in restoring the 1930s Boots Motel in Carthage, Mo.

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