Route 66, the stretch of road that took motorists from Chicago to the Pacific Coast with a menagerie of great Southwestern spectacles in between, is best remembered as a source of pleasure. With the rise of automobiles and the pavement that accommodated them, people took to the highway, exploring their country’s wonders and curiosities in big, shining, mechanized sculptures on wheels.
That open road founded a homespun tourism industry. The northwest corner of Central and Washington in Upper Nob Hill was once a lively outpost of the Route 66 era. Today it remains the site of the De Anza Motor Lodge, built in 1939 by Charles Garrett Wallace. His dilapidated legacy, imbued with unusual Zuni works of art, is an elemental contribution to the distinct Americana of the Mother Road. Plans are being hatched to give it new prominence.
My involvement with the motel began last fall when I enrolled in UNM’s Historic Preservation and Regionalism program. As part of an assignment, I photographed the De Anza’s perimeters. After helping update the record of the motor lodge for the city, I learned about plans to reuse the property. A few weeks ago I found out I was given an internship on the De Anza project in connection to my graduate work. I can’t wait to see it transformed from decaying memory to renewed landmark—especially because it has a particularly good story.
Wallace was a trader from North Carolina, who in the early ’20s began dealing fine arts and crafts of Navajos and Zunis. For a time, Wallace lived in the Zuni Pueblo. He spoke the language—in addition to Navajo and Spanish—and the people there called him Lhamsta (tall, thin man). Trade routes once ran through Zuni, south of Gallup about 150 miles west of Albuquerque. However, the driving terrain that surrounded the pueblo was cumbersome. That, coupled with the 1926 creation of Route 66, left the pueblo remote from burgeoning automobile culture and tourism.
"One of his main goals in life was to bring Zuni jewelry to the world," says Elizabeth Chestnut, a former director of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and today the project coordinator with the Route 66 De Anza Association. Wallace had owned a trading post 40 miles away from Zuni in Gallup since the late ’20s. In 1937, Route 66 was realigned so it no longer ran north and south along Fourth Street but east and west along Central. Wallace purchased a plot of land on the artery, on what was the eastern edge of the mesa, just a mile away from the State Fairgrounds. There the De Anza Motor Lodge was built, named after the 18th century Spanish colonial governor of New Mexico, Juan Bautista de Anza.
For Wallace, the De Anza was certainly a moneymaking opportunity. By accounts the man was an exuberant entrepreneur who raced horses, ran greenhouses and sold piñon nuts. But due to medical issues within his family, he also needed to live in a less remote locale.
"He had been traveling to sell those kinds of goods for a long time," says Ed Boles, Albuquerque's historic preservation planner. "With the opening of Route 66 along Central Avenue in 1937, he realized that he had an opportunity to let the tourists come to him in their cars."
His motel was built in the enduringly popular regional Spanish Pueblo revival style, which emerged after New Mexico's statehood in 1912. Its sign, meanwhile, was a triangle suggestive of a teepee—a touch in keeping with kitschy themes that occupied parts of Route 66. The lobby became a trading post for Zuni and Navajo arts and crafts. Wallace recruited Zunis for jewelry-making demonstrations and to work as sales people. The U-shaped motor court housed 30 rooms, each with its own carport.
In the late ’50s and early ’60s, a series of remodels expanded the building. The Spanish Pueblo revival style was softened and a regional modernism was incorporated. Sandstone was brought in to create a quarry-face porte-cochere (carport) around the lobby area, the interior of which was reinvented as a standard lobby, sans curios. A pool was added, and the carports were converted into small rooms.
A café—The Turquoise Room—was established, its terrazzo floor embedded with jewelry and thousands of turquoise chips. Murals were added too—three exterior and two on the interior. “Wallace increasingly evoked pueblo life through art rather than retaining the De Anza's original architectural style,” says Boles. “The Pueblo revival, after all, was used in so many motels here that it didn't differentiate the De Anza from other lodgings.”
Around this time the De Anza became one of the first members of the Best Western motel chain. Wallace started the chain with several other Route 66 motel owners who would communicate by telephone, making advance reservations for travelers on the highway. The De Anza drew not only cross-country travelers but also people from New Mexico: Those attending the State Fair, a host of local politicos and prominent business people stayed there.
Chestnut says Wallace missed Zuni. It prompted him to commission two 20-foot-by-4-foot murals, which were painted in a private basement conference room where Wallace held meetings. The murals depict Zuni winter solstice ceremonies and dances called Shalako. They were painted in an undetermined material—casein, or possibly oil—by Tony Edaakie, a noted Zuni artist, between 1956 and 1959. “Tony lived in Albuquerque because he was being treated for tuberculosis at the Indian Hospital on Lomas,” says Chestnut. “Wallace let Tony work and stay at the De Anza during this period.” He returned to Zuni on weekends. The Edaakie murals, along with efforts from the motel’s neighbors, are what eventually saved the De Anza from demolition.
With the rise of the Interstate system in the late ’50s and the decommissioning of Route 66 in the mid-’80s, the motel became unprofitable like so many others of the era. Wallace reluctantly sold the De Anza in 1983.
In the early aughts—after a national drug retailer proposed to raze the building, erect a chain store and begin selling liquor at the site—the Nob Hill and Highland Neighborhood Associations took action to have the motel preserved. The city purchased it, and the De Anza was listed on the National Register of Historic Places shortly thereafter. This year it became a city landmark. Because of the Pueblo-
Between 2006 and 2010, the city was involved with a developer working on the De Anza's adaptive reuse. A variety of concepts were considered, but the deal was eventually canceled after the developer defaulted on the agreement. A request for new proposals for the site's development was issued, and Paradigm and Company's approach was selected.
"We're looking to go back to a point in time in the ’50s when the De Anza first became part of the Best Western motel chain," says developer Rob Dickson—who incidentally, like Wallace, is a tall, thin man from North Carolina. He’s also the developer behind the conversion of the old Albuquerque High School. The same public-private partnership, where resources are pooled and profits divided, is being manifested in the case of the De Anza. The city is contributing the land, shuttered buildings and $421,500 in cash. The developer contributes about $3.9 million in cash equity and loan funds. The total cost of the project is $4.3 million. Profits will be split equally between the city and developer. A federal and state grant is also being shared by the Pueblo of Zuni and the Route 66 De Anza Association.
By mid-July Dickson hopes to start construction, transforming the motel property into 39 residential cabanas with a clubhouse and pool facilities. On-site there will also be a small café, a museum and visitors center run by the Route 66 De Anza Association, and an arts and jewelry outlet. The Pueblo of Zuni will control and ultimately own the basement room that contains the Edaakie murals. Dickson says 98 percent of the existing structure will be reused.
Dickson also seeks to transform the streets that surround the De Anza. Off-site proposals include pedestrian-friendly curb extensions on Central, angled parking on Graceland to the west of the property, and changing Copper to the north from an arterial street into a neighborhood street by adding parallel parking.
The project’s completion is expected next spring. As with EDo, activating the vacant corner of Central and Washington will likely act as an anchor for further redevelopment in Upper Nob Hill and the Highland neighborhoods. It will also represent the city’s investment in its own history.
“As with The Lofts at Albuquerque High, the renovated De Anza Motor Lodge will represent everything great about Route 66 history,” says Dickson. “And everything great about Central Avenue's future as Albuquerque's Main Street.”