Tag Archives: Broadway of America

A Modern Motel Ghost Town

Report From a Motel ‘Ghost Town’
May 6, 2010
By Leslie Linthicum
Journal Staff Writer

Hawkins' Court, Lordsburg, New Mexico

LORDSBURG — Spring weeds have shot up through cracks in the pavement and a swimming pool sits filled in with concrete, a surrealist’s vision of summer fun.

The wind persuades some hanging metal to break into a tuneless song while faded paint advertises a menu lost to the passage of time, as well as the grammarian’s pen: “Truckers Special $5 Super Breakfast Anytime.”

Life along Motel Drive in Lordsburg can be pretty lifeless.

Oh, there are things happening along the three or four miles of the drive, which stretches from the easternmost offramp of Interstate 10 to its westernmost on-ramp.

Chile is being ladled out to a lunchtime crowd at Ramona’s Cafe. Downtown,they’re just putting this week’s issue of the Hidalgo County Herald to bed. And the TVs are on in a few of the rooms of the handful of motels still open for business.

Motel Drive has not been entirely forgotten, but it sure can feel that way.

In the 1930s, when cross-country car travel was young, Lordsburg — jammed into the bottom-left corner of our map — was sitting pretty on U.S. 80. The “Broadway of America” linked the East Coast and San Diego and was more traveled than Route 66.

By 1964, Lordsburg had 31 service stations, 21 motels and 20 cafes, mostly clustered along U.S. 80, and it was the biggest travel stop between Texas and Arizona.

What happened?

Two things: An interstate highway replaced Highway 80, spelling a familiar doom.

And, maybe because it’s harder to find rhymes for U.S. 80 than it is for Route 66, nobody wrote a famous song about the road that passed through Lordsburg, depriving its ghostly remnants of nostalgic cachet.

This is not ancient history. The interstate was completed in the 1970s, so thedecay of Motel Drive is only about 30 years old.

Still, it qualified recently for the Society for Commercial Archeology’s list ofthe 10 most endangered roadside places in the U.S.

John Murphey, a board member with the Society for Commercial Archeology and architectural historian with the National Park Service in Santa Fe, nominated the drive for the designation after taking a lonesome trip down the road.

“I was struck — for lack of better words — by this modern ghost town of motels,”Murphey tells me. “And I’ve watched them dissipate over the last 10 years.”

That dissipation has included some examples of important architectural styles, especially “cabin courts,” falling down or being torn down.

A few motels are open for business, catering mostly to long-term rentals, and a few still stand vacant. But most live on only in photos.

Lordsburg has been tied to transportation since its beginning. It was founded in 1880 on the route of the Southern Pacific Railroad and named for a train engineer, Delbert Lord.

When U.S. 80 was being replaced by Interstate 10, Lordsburg did not just roll over. Its townspeople knew that traffic flying by at high speeds did not mean good things for the town. One property owner built herself a shack on one of the proposed ramps, moved in and held up the project for three months. Her sit-in ended when she was arrested and thrown in jail.

The town won some concessions: The highway was elevated slightly so travelers could look down over Lordsburg, see its amenities and be encouraged to stop there. And three exits — one at each edge of town and one in the center — were
supposed to draw people through town.

They didn’t. They stopped them at the edges, where chain motels and truck stops now sit. People who study transportation patterns call these “interstate villages” — places where travelers jump out of their cars for a bathroom break,a fuel-up and some fast food.

Debbie Greene bought the old Vendome Hotel building in downtown Lordsburg on Motel Drive and is running her bookkeeping business out of it. She would like to renovate and open to interstate travelers, but she suspects that would be futile unless something changes in tourist patterns.

“You get off (I-10) and go to the bathroom and get your stuff and go. And you don’t see Lordsburg,” she says.

What you miss when you stay in that interstate bubble, according to Murphey, is a good collection of vernacular architecture of the 1920s and ’30s and 1950s and ’60s. The one remaining little cabin court with its Mission Revival parapet is a gem, and the big “spreaders” with their pools and neon come-ons conjure up images of family trips taken at a more leisurely pace.

“It’s a fairly good representation of the full spectrum of roadside accommodation in New Mexico.” Murphey says. “If these were along Route 66, they would have been nominated to the National (Historic) Register years ago. But that hasn’t happened here.”

When you roll along Motel Drive, it’s not that hard to envision the properties rehabbed to their historical glory and tourists making a destination of the old road in their classic cars. Route 66 through Tucumcari easily comes to mind.

Will it happen here? Is it too late?

The Society for Commercial Archeology distinction comes with nothing but attention. It’s going to take local action to make anything happen.

Edmund Saucedo, a Lordsburg native who returned home after a 35-year hiatus in San Francisco and was saddened to see the downfall of downtown and the rest of Motel Drive, has tried to ignite interest in preservation and revitalization. He
has, frankly, been frustrated by the response.

In City Hall, there’s a new mayor — Frank Rodriguez — who says he loves nostalgia, but knows there is little money available for rehabbing an entire street.

He hopes some moneybag is out there with an eye for neon and cabin courts, someone who can see all those potential customers zipping by on I-10.

“If somebody came in with the right ideas and some financial backing, that would be great. That would be great for our city,” Rodriguez says.

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UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Reach Leslie at 823-3914 or llinthicum@abqjournal.com.

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Filed under Broadway of America, Road Trip, Route 66, Uncategorized, US Highay 80

Rare Broadway of America Mural Found

Rare BOA mural discovered.

The Broadway of America was an important highway. Formed in the fall of 1927, it was the “last” named highway, and learned from the mistakes of its predecessors. As an organization, it continued (regionally) until the late 1970s.

The BOA started in New York City and ended in San Diego. It didn’t follow US 70 all the way. Making the cross-country trip, the BOA stitched together eleven different US highways that had already been improved; this is how it succeeded where other named highways failed.

Tennessee is the only place along the BOA that still retains the name. And this find contributes to our understanding of the highway.

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Filed under Broadway of America, highways, preservation, Road Trip, Travel, US Highway 70

Desolation Boulevard, Lordsburg, New Mexico

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.

Down the avenue an abandoned café announces “Trucker’s Breakfast, Only $3.50,” and beyond, starts a parade of eviscerated motels, some missing roofs, others with their pools full of garbage.

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.

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Filed under Broadway of America, history, New Mexico, Old Spanish Trail, Southwest New Mexico, Uncategorized, US Highay 80

Historic Overpass Threatened

It’s a long, steep climb up and over the Union Pacific Railroad at Cambray, Luna County, New Mexico. Providing the thrill is a timber, steel and concrete viaduct — the Cambray Overpass. But the thrill may end, as the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) contemplates replacing the 80-year-old bridge.

Crossing the Railroads

Constructed in 1929-30, the overpass was built as part of a program to eliminate dangerous railroad crossings in New Mexico — to separate highway traffic from fast-moving freight trains.

The unhealthy mix of automobiles and trains first came to the public’s attention in 1921, when a study revealed 7,000 fatalities had occurred that year at rail crossings across the United States.

In 1924, the first National Conference on Street and Highway Safety recommended state highway departments make the elimination of hazardous grade crossings a top priority. By 1927, at least 19 states had formed agreements with railroad companies to build grade separations.

Starting in 1926, the New Mexico State Highway Department worked with the railroads crossing the state to realign tracks and construct new underpasses and overpasses to eliminate the problem.

Each year the program set a goal of eliminating bad grade crossings, removing 47 in 1929 alone, and building 25 major grade separations between 1926 and 1934. Nationally, 385 hazardous railroad crossings were eliminated in 1929.

The overpasses were often built at a skew to allow passage for freight trains. To provide the extra horizontal clearance, the piers of the Cambray Overpass were arranged at 45-degree angles.

But during its first seven decades of operation, it only crossed one track —the Southern Pacific — and now spans the double tracks of the Union Pacific.

A Sturdy Crossing

The 229-foot-long bridge rests on braced timber bents and huge concrete piers arranged at a skew. Smoke guards, coated rusty brown, protect the deck from errant sparks. Old telegraph lines of the Western Union pass under its east span. Its steep approaches are humped; their shoulders covered with native vegetation.

Started at the onset of the Great Depression, the Cambray Overpass — the fifth grade separation to be built under the program — cost a total of $47,602. Its completion contributed to a program to improve U.S. 80 across New Mexico.

Begun also in 1929, the program paved the roadbed with asphaltic oiling, eliminated sandy stretches and bypassed earlier alignments, upgrading the highway for cross-country travel.

The highway, finished in 1931, became the first hard-surfaced highway in New Mexico, six years ahead of Route 66.

For years the overpass carried the transcontinental traffic of U.S. 80 as well as the Old Spanish Trail, Borderland and Broadway of America highways, giving passengers a high view of the surrounding desert scenery below.

But the construction of Interstate 10 to the north changed everything, diverting traffic and drying up tiny Cambray to its current state of one inhabited house.

Bypassed for over 40 years, the overpass serves a local and sparse population of ranches in western Dona Ana and eastern Luna counties.

One can drive this stretch and never see another living soul. Yet, according to NMDOT statistics, over 800 vehicles cross the bridge daily.

Bridge Threatened

In 2002 the NMDOT determined the overpass eligible for listing the National Register of Historic Places at the state level of significance. They noted the structure was the oldest railroad overpass in the state and remained in good condition.

But its virtually unaltered design is also what threatens its future.

While a 2007 bridge inspection report found the overpass in fair condition, requiring no immediate action, NMDOT considers it structurally deficient — it is narrow and steep and does not meet current standards of road geometry.

Adding to this, the Union Pacific Railroad wants additional vertical and horizontal clearance, which could require demolishing or greatly altering the overpass.

If replaced, so will go one of the last 1920s highway bridges in New Mexico and the thrill of driving up-and-over the railroad.

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Filed under Bridges, Broadway of America, highways, history, New Mexico, Old Spanish Trail, preservation, Southwest New Mexico, Uncategorized, US Highay 80

Highway Overpass Added to Most Endangered List

BERNALILLO, NEW MEXICO

The New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance announced the listing of the Cambray Overpass to its 2009 “Most Endangered Places in New Mexico” designation. The alliance advocates protecting New Mexico’s heritage, especially places it considers imminently threatened.

More than 60 places have been recognized as endangered since the program started in 1999. The bridge joined the Coronado State Monument in Bernalillo, the Luna-Otero Mansion and fence in Los Lunas and the De la O Saloon and Village of Doña Ana in Doña Ana.

Built in 1929-30, as part of a project to improve U.S. Highway 80 (the Old Spanish Trail and Broadway of America highways) across New Mexico, the overpass carried automobiles over the Southern Pacific (now Union Pacific) railroad for decades, until bypassed by Interstate 10.

Despite its current light use, the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) considers the bridge outdated and plans to replace it. Adding to the pressure, the Union Pacific seeks additional clearance for its trains, threatening the bridge’s future.

Radian Engineering of Santa Fe, New Mexico is conducting a study of the overpass for NMDOT. The study will result in a report proposing alternatives for the structure, including a potentially “no-build” option, though replacement is expected. At the same time, Radian, Parametrix, an Albuquerque-based consulting is preparing a historical study on the overpass and the village of Cambray. The study will be available to the public.

With the recent demolition of Bridge 8, an early Route 66 bridge north of Bernalillo, New Mexico, the Cambray Overpass moves to the position as one of the oldest “on-system” highway bridges in New Mexico.

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Filed under Bridges, Broadway of America, highways, history, New Mexico, Old Spanish Trail, preservation, Road Trip, Southwest New Mexico, Uncategorized, US Highay 80

BOA Stirs in the Volunteer State

Jumping onto the Broadway of America bandwagon, Clayton Hensley, a Tennessee-based Examiner writer has stitched together a tour of old US 70 in the Volunteer State.

Sparta, Crossville, Rockwood, Dandridge; Hensley dashes across Eastern Tennessee, sampling everything from waterfalls to a fire lookout tower built by the CCC.

Making a comparison to Route 66, he gets it right: the BOA started in 1927 as a fight against US 66, the so-called Main Street of America.

But on termini, he’s dead wrong.

It started in New York City and ended in San Diego. And no, it didn’t follow US 70 all the way. Making the cross-country trip, the BOA glided along eleven different US highways.

Tennessee is the only place along the BOA that still retains the marquee. That’s right kids; you can stop and take a picture of a humble street sign graced with the huge name, “Broadway of America.”

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Filed under Broadway of America, highways, Road Trip, Route 66, Travel, Uncategorized, US Highway 70