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Albuquerque mayor: $20M plan will revive Route 66 motels

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(AP Photo)
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A $20 million restoration project is poised to revive two shuttered motels along separate sections of Historic Route 66 in Albuquerque, where the neon signs of motor inns once lit the highway’s miles-long run through New Mexico’s largest city.

Standing in front of the boarded-up De Anza Motor Lodge on Wednesday, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry announced plans for the renovation project, saying it will turn the sprawling inn and another historic road stop, the El Vado Motel, into extended-stay motels with breweries and food carts.

The city and private developers will fund the project, Berry said.

“Everything we’re doing on this — the signage, the lighting along the way, the landscaping — we’re trying to stay true to that historic Route 66 form,” he said. “That’s what Route 66 is known for are these motor lodges.”

In recent decades, Albuquerque has built and developed many of the city’s main attractions — including a zoo, concert venue, aquarium and several-block shopping strip — near the historic highway that once stretched 2,400 miles from Chicago to the West Coast.

But in pockets nestled between the city’s BioPark and Nob Hill neighborhood, lined with restaurants and shops, officials have struggled to turn around high-crime areas, where many of the iconic Route 66 motels remain.

The De Anza and El Vado, situated more than 5 miles apart, will be significant bookends for a corridor of the route that the city wants to revitalize, the mayor said. A planned rapid transit project that faces strong opposition from local businesses along the route includes a stop across the street from the De Anza.

Before it closed down, the motel was a popular spot owned by Zuni trader and Indian art collector Charles G. Wallace, who commissioned American Indian murals for the motel that was once a popular spot among writers and artists.

The Pueblo-style El Vado Motel first opened in 1937 with 32 units and a neon sign depicting a Native American wearing a headdress. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. There have been few changes to the pre-World War II motel’s facade over the years, according to the National Park Service.

Palindrome Communities, a partnership of the Sawmill Community Land Trust and Portland, Oregon-based Pacificap, was selected for the restoration. Work is expected to begin by January.

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