Route 66 in the News

Future of Local Icon Uncertain

2007-06-20 07:50:53

CARTHAGE, Mo. - Carthage's historic Boots Motel could probably be turned into a profitable tourist destination, but the current owner says he's not the guy to do it.

Vince Scott, Carthage, bought the Boots Motel almost four years ago as an investment -- he originally intended to sell it to the Walgreen's pharmacy chain, which was looking to build a new store on the corner of Garrison Street and Central Avenue -- but the deal fell apart. Walgreen's ended up building at Garrison Street and Fir Road, and Scott is stuck with a historic motel he'd really rather not have.

"I bought it to turn around and make some fast money, and now I've still got it," Scott said. "Now I've got lots of advice from people, but not many people stepping up with any money to back up that advice."

The Boots Motel is one of a number of properties Scott and his family own in Carthage and in other locations in Southwest Missouri and Northwest Arkansas.

The Boots Motel was built in the 1920s, about the time Route 66 received its official designation from the federal government. Route 66 snaked its way across the country from Chicago to Los Angeles. The old route came into Carthage on Central Avenue, then made an abrupt turn at Garrison, and another quick turn and left town on Oak Street bound for Brooklyn Heights, then Carterville, then Webb City, then Joplin.

The corner of Garrison and Central became what it is today, the busiest intersection in Carthage, and Arthur Boots decided to build a motel and drive-in eatery at the corner.

Since it was decommissioned in 1985, Route 66 has become a symbol of America, especially in foreign countries.

The Boots Motel is still much as it was in its heyday, Scott said.

"The rooms really aren't much different then they were when it was a motel," Scott said. "You have the same stucco walls and same tile bathrooms. Some of the tiles might be missing. I put new carpet in the front rooms, but the rooms in the back building were built later and the oak floors are in pretty good shape."

Scott said some of the neon that marks the hotel as a Route 66 icon is broken, but it's fixable.

Last week, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the hotels along Route 66 as icons worthy of preservation despite pressures from development.

"Affectionately called 'The Mother Road,' Route 66 is known for quirky roadside attractions and unique mom-and-pop motels," the trust said on its Web site, "In recent years, Route 66 motels in hot real estate markets have been torn down at record rates, while in cold real estate markets, motels languish and are being reclaimed by the forces of nature."

Scott said owning a Route 66 icon has been interesting. Not long ago, the cable television network HBO filmed a segment of a one-hour show about Mickey Mantle, the late Yankee slugger who grew up in northeast Oklahoma and got his start in professional baseball in southwest Missouri, at the Boots Motel. A Japanese television crew, filming a program about Route 66 for broadcast in their homeland, filmed at the motel.

Scott said he has visitors from dozens of foreign countries ask him if they could stay the night at the Boots. He currently operates is as a weekly rental and all 12 rooms are full.

"There used to be 13 rooms, but rooms one and two were opened up and the manager lived there at one time," Scott said. "They could be separated again to make 13 rooms."

Glenda Pike, with the Route 66 Association of Missouri, said hotels like the Boots are becoming rare and need to be preserved.

"These particular structures seem to be harder to adapt for reuse," Glenda Pike said. "I mean you can just have only so many weekly or monthly apartments made out of them. By virtue of the way they were made, it's very hard to adapt them for reuse. Not all stories are like the Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven in Springfield. That one has been refurbished and kept up and is a very good success story. There are a couple of motels in Albuquerque that have been refurbished."

Pike and her husband Tommy Pike, both of Springfield, were in Carthage in 2003 when Walgreen's was deciding whether or not to buy the corner of Garrison and Central and spoke to the Carthage City Council and Scott about preserving the hotel.

"Our association, especially my husband and I, have been doing everything we earthly can do to convince them that this is something that needs to be maintained and kept in Carthage because it is such an icon of the road and so well known and in so many Route 66 publications and how important it is to your town," Pike said. "I'm hoping that somewhere in history it will be noted that the Route 66 Association of Missouri had something to do with convincing Vince not to sell it to them."

Scott said more likely economic factors, such as the fact that the company purchased the land on Fir Road for less than half the cost it would have to build at Garrison and Central, probably had more to do with Walgreen's moving south than anything.

Michael Taylor, coordinator of the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program for the National Park Service, said the motel would qualify for a federal cost share grant of up to $50,000 to help preserve it.

Scott said a person could make the Boots Motel a profitable venture on Route 66, but it would take the right person, someone with the money it would take to buy the motel from him and fix it up. The person could live on the property, either in the two rooms that were joined or in the small house immediately south of the two motel buildings.

"It does have a certain cool factor to it," Scott said. "It's a great opportunity for a couple, probably in their 50s or 60s, who had money and were interested in the history of the place."

~John Hacker, Carthage (Mo.) Press


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