Nostalgic images of them pop up on old postcards placed on the web. Today they are too often  rundown, decrepit and declining. They are Albuquerque's Route 66 motels. University of New Mexico Architecture Professor Mark Childs taught a class this fall where he challenged his students to think creatively about how to adaptively reuse these old gems.

In an article for ABQ Arts published in November of 2011, Childs wrote, “Of the approximately 100 motels that were operating on Central in the 1950s, only a handful of them continue to operate as motels. If Albuquerque loses our Route 66 motels, there will be little substance of Route 66 left. We will have squandered a vibrant part of our history that is not only valuable in itself but is part of our continuing story.”

He said that it is important to look at a combination of ways to create a future for the motels. “Thrive, adapt and riff.” He said that it is important to help the still-operating motels to thrive and suggests that preservation efforts, marketing, networking with motels along Route 66, business management training, and technical assistance with zoning and rehabilitation are avenues for maintaining those motels that more often offer shelter to the nearly homeless than those cruising in a '57 Chevy.

Adaptive reuse, or modifying buildings to fulfill a new purpose, is also a means of hanging on to this heritage. “Done well, adaptive reuse also can lower the environmental costs of building and add to the stories of place,” he wrote.

He points to the Nob Hill motel which was turned into small offices and stores; and New Life Homes' move into the Luna Lodge. Reuses are dependent upon size and distribution of motel spaces and needs for the adaptive reuse.

After listening to many people with a vested interest in the motels, including city planning experts, Childs' students spent the semester selecting a site, deciding upon a program, or use, for the site, and then designing it. At semester's end, they pinned up their boards and hosted a gallery review for professors, professionals and others to see the possibilities and in some cases critique their work.

Student Concepts 

Jeff Dellis selected the Americana Motel on West Central. His design included a park for truck vendors. “The site includes a community kitchen for food preparation, an open market area that could be used during the summer, and shower and restroom facilities that could be used by the vendors and the public,” he said. He also designed an innovative roof structure. 

Victor Munoz explored the possibilities for the Bow and Arrow Lodge on East Central. His idea, “Las Tienditas,” captures the Hispanic heritage prevalent in the city. One of the buildings would be adapted into apartments and retail space that includes group living, Munoz said, because many immigrants reside as extended family. The other building will be updated for street appeal and sustainable features, including communal spaces that attract pedestrians who are also visiting the area's market, clinic, pre-school and assisted living facility.

Alfred Kahn looked to reclaim the native heritage that was displayed indiscriminately in the old El Vado, located near the Rio Grande river. “Many native centers tend to put Native Americans in a museum,” Kahn said. He wants to create an area for the urban Indian to celebrate his heritage and tradition. His design includes a tree-lined path so that people would have a chance to prepare their minds to enter the ceremonial space. “A garden is featured so that food could be raised, but so could the herbs used in ceremonies,” he said.

Berenice Grijalva took on the Desert Sands, located near Central and San Mateo. Her idea, titled “The Rink,” featured a synthetic ice rink. “The synthetic rink is one quarter the cost of a refrigerated ice rink,” she explained. Her design also features a roller raceway on a second level. The site also features a climbing gym and a restaurant. “I was looking for ways to promote active living, especially for teens who often have nothing to do,” Grijalva said. The space around the ice rink is adorned with replica Rt. 66 signs and an LED interactive screen.

Rick Maldonado looked to punch up the Americana Motel. He studied the area and its access to boxing facilities, which are often a draw for low income, high risk teens, he said. His design featured a boxing arena that could also serve for mixed martial arts in the center, often unused parking area. He designed housing on either side of the arena site to accommodate both athletes and high risk teens. Communal space, concessions, workout and sparring areas and a courtyard are all part of Maldonado's design, which is adorned with red neon.

Richard Cano took on Hiway House, located in Nob Hill. His design focused on expanding the walkability of Central Ave. to the side street, Bryn Mawr. The site features a light farm, which draws passersby; and a reflecting pool and a multipurpose flexible open space. Programmatically, he includes retail space on the ground level with apartments above.

Maggie Merrigan's plan involves a boutique hotel system by incorporating three motels: Highway House, Town Lodge and University Motel. “If they share valet and cleaning services, for example, it would reduce their overhead,” she explained. She sees families staying at University House, where she focused her design efforts, because she adapted it for better security. “By removing the lobby, a secure entrance can be established,” she said. The motel, which features 42 rooms, would feature a bamboo edge with a glass curtain wall on its Central Ave. side. All three motels would serve for visitors to Nob Hill or the University, she said. 

Esteban CdeBaca looked at Town Lodge, which he notes was originally named El Oriente. His plan is for a Veterans Integration Center featuring inpatient and residential facilities. “It incorporates assisted living, administrative, educational, therapy and gardens,” he said. The garden would be placed in the center of the old courtyard. “Since there are vacant lots around the motel, we can use the entire block and add retail to bring revenue into the facility,” he said. He also made many sustainable adaptations. 

Filemon Aragon redesigned the Premier Hotel as a complex of residential lofts over stores.  He also redesigned the back parking lot to harvest rain water, shade the cars and buildings, and create a pleasant edge to Silver Street.  Carefully examining how the block and adjacent streets work allowed his project to  improve the area.

Ryan Hebert developed a regional mint that could produce coins for tribes and other groups at the Horn Motor Lodge site. Like most of the other projects, Ryan’s refilled an mostly empty lot along Central Avenue with new activities, thus leading to a more compact and walkable city while retaining a portion of our history.

Childs suggests that new buildings along Central Ave. and 4th Street, the original Route 66, could follow the courtyard-motel style, and that there is a broad range of possible reuses of our remaining motels. He hopes these exercises helps prompt discussion of way to revitalize the Mother Road in ways that both respect the past and open new futures.