By Ryn Gargulinski: QCS
Cactus Motor Lodge may look like one of Tucumcari’s average RV parks – parking spaces, electric and cable hook-ups, an office with a sign that asks patrons not to steal the TV guide.
But upon closer inspection, and a chat with the motel’s current owner Andy Patel, one begins to understand why the New Mexico Cultural Properties Review Committee just voted Cactus Motor Lodge on to its Register of Cultural Properties.
“There’s a lot of history here,” Patel said, adding he has written to the committee for some time, and with each passing year the place falls into further disrepair.
“I wish they got back to me sooner; the last storm did a lot of damage,” he said.
Despite the chipping paint and crumbling façade, Patel points to points of the motel’s original grandeur.
“They (committee members) say it was built in 1941,” Patel said. “But I think it’s more like 1938, 1939.”
Regardless of the actual year, Patel said he has found out a great deal about the Cactus Motor Lodge’s history. He said the current office, which also serves as Patel’s home, used to be a grand dance hall featuring live bands. The halls still holds the original wooden floors – and a dark stain on the floor about which one can only guess.
A partial basement looms beneath the dance floor down a set of wooden steps. One of the basement’s original stone walls still stands while the rest is done in cinder block.
Patel said they had to reinforce the basement walls so the whole office above wouldn’t cave in.
“This is where they used to gamble illegally,” Patel said, adding during renovations he even found part of an escape tunnel leading out from the basement, so gamblers could flee from a raid, he said.
More grandeur, Patel said, was also found on the exterior.
“It used to have a big old swimming pool, advertised as the largest,” Patel said, adding the only evidence that remains of the pool is some of its equipment circa 1950. He said they filled in the pool when it became too expensive to maintain.
Besides, as cars got bigger, there wasn’t enough room for them to maneuver in the spaces between the motel rooms and the stone wall surrounding the pool.
“They kept knocking down the stone wall,” Patel said.
As for the inside of the individual rooms, several of the bathrooms are still in mint early 1940s condition.
“You see a lot of work they put in,” Patel said, pointing to the fully-tiled bathroom ceilings and shower stalls, still holding its original tile. “There’s a toilet in here stamped
According to the state’s Cultural Properties Review Committee, what sold them on the lodge’s historic status were the kitschy yellow and black tiled bathrooms, the original wooden floors and stucco walls.
And one cannot overlook the wrought iron gates leading to each room’s doorway with the slumbering man in a sombrero.
Patel, who bought the place in 1979 when it was still hopping, said he noticed a dramatic decrease in business with the introduction of newer facilities and chain motels. He said the late 70s oil crisis and the highway closing in the early 80s added the lodge’s dwindling business, as did its lack of bathtubs, modern amenities and overall appearance.
“When it rained, it looked really spooky,” Patel said, “historically spooky.”
Although he closed down the motel portion some years ago and transformed the lodge into an RV park, Patel said business is never booming and has even gotten worse due to high gas prices.
This self-proclaimed history buff said he doesn’t have enough money to renovate the lodge himself, but wanted to do everything in his power to help preserve its cultural value.
“I’ve been here so long my sweat, my blood has gone into this place,” Patel said. “But the state wants it,” he added, “they can have the dang thing.”
Tucumcari’s latest official cultural property
What: Cactus Motor Lodge
Where: 1300 E. Route 66
When: Originally built in the late 1930s, early 1940s
Why: Because current owner Andy Patel wrote a letter to the state Cultural Properties Review Committee and they agreed with him: If they don’t put it on the list of cultural properties, it’s going to get torn down.
An old brochure Patel found in the attic of Cactus Motor Lodge contained the following:
You know, folks, — Friendliness and hospitality don’t cost a dime and that’s why we like to give so much of it away.
For your information, convenience and comfort:
Ice cubes: Free for the asking.
Card tables: Yes, no charge, and we hope you win the game.
Radio: It’s free. We always did detest those quarter-in-the-slot contraptions….
Ironing board: Yes and God bless the ladies since they want to keep themselves looking attractive. That’s the way we like to see them. No charge.
Children’s playground: For the kiddies to use up some of that boundless energy that has been building up all day. If you allow them to stay up later than 9 p.m., please caution them to play quietly since the little monkeys don’t drive a car and might not realize that some other Daddy is worn out and wants to sleep.
Heated swimmin’ pool: Hours or operation: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Don’t lose your buttons: We have a sewing kit at the office we will gladly lend you so there’ll be no danger of your coming apart.
We’re not responsible: We’re always looking for our own stuff and wondering where we put it. So don’t depend upon us to keep track of your personal belongings and valuables. We’re a poor risk. But if you should leave something behind, we’ll be glad to forward it to you upon receipt of the necessary postage.