LORDSBURG, NEW MEXICO
Motel Drive—a strangely desolate strip of highway devoid of operating motels—defines, for better or worse, Lordsburg, New Mexico.
“This used to be where we went for burgers and shakes, and now it’s nothing, gone,” says Lordsburg resident Edmund Saucedo pointing to a crumpled drive-in surrounded by dead cars.
Things were different before the interstate arrived.
In 1964, Lordsburg boasted 21 motels, 20 cafes and 31 service stations—making it the biggest gas-food-and-lodging stop between Arizona and Texas. But less than ten years later, big, bad I-10 took it all away.
Rita Hill, owner of nearby Shakespeare ghost town, saw the handwriting on the wall, and in 1973, moved a shack onto the path of one of the interstate’s planned interchange exits. There she sat defiantly for several months, protesting the Highway Department’s condemnation of her ranch land, and in effect, Eisenhower’s juggernaut. The standoff came to end in November 1973, as the Hidalgo County Sheriff led the 71-year-old widow away in handcuffs.
The Highway Department tried to appease Lordsburg merchants, promising to build the interstate at a slightly higher elevation so that travelers could look down and “see” their businesses.
But this failed and the interstate dealt a crippling blow to Lordsburg, a trauma its never recovered from.
Saucedo, who left for San Francisco as Rita was being whisked away, returned to Lordsburg 30 years later, stunned by its desolation.
While still shocked, he and a few other forward-thinking locals are turning their attention to a five-block section of commercial buildings, forming the historic core of Motel Avenue.
These buildings—most constructed before 1950 and made solidly of brick—hold promise as a potential historic district, maybe to become an “old west” tourist spot.
But for now, tumbleweeds are its most frequent visitors.