Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Blue Swallow on sale block

The motel lists for $1.2 million.


September 5, 2018

Ron Warnick

Blue Swallow Motel co-owner Kevin Mueller takes a photograph of Route 66 tourist Michael Graham of Ireland with his saxophone and his rented Fort Mustang convertible under the motel's neon sign.

With mixed feelings, the owners of the Blue Swallow Motel - Tucumcari's most famous Route 66 motel - said they have decided to put up the property for sale as their eighth tourist season there comes to an end.

Co-owners Kevin and Nancy Mueller announced the listing on Facebook last week. The Michigan natives bought the motel in 2011 and made numerous improvements to the property, including new plumbing, new subfloors, new tankless water heaters and, most recently, a new roof.

Hamilton Reality in Tucumcari lists the motel at $1.2 million. It includes a vacant lot behind it, a former gas station next door repurposed into a workshop and charging station for electric cars, plus a 1957 Hudson car that's parked underneath the main neon sign.

David Hamilton, owner of the firm, said the amount of interest of the property was "phenomenal" and generated "a lot of leads" the first day the listing became publicly known.

"We got hammered when (the Muellers) put it out on Facebook," Hamilton said.

The post on the Blue Swallow's official Facebook page announcing the motel was for sale had been shared more than 100 times and drawn more than 12,000 views.

The Blue Swallow Motel long has been acknowledged as one of the most iconic sites on Route 66. A Google search of the property turns up 75,000 hits. It's been featured in countless books, websites and videos (including by the New Mexico Tourism Department).

Nancy Mueller said they had considered putting the Blue Swallow on the market for the last 18 months, "but it didn't seem like the right time" until now.

Kevin Mueller said it was "a combination of factors" that prompted them to offer up the motel. One was the recent death of Nancy's father in Michigan. Another was their son and daughter-in-law -- who are partners -- declined taking over ownership and want to be closer to her family in Kentucky. Another was the day-to-day grind of repairs to a nearly 80-year-old structure and greeting travelers.

"We feel like we've done our diligence with the place," Kevin said. "We've worked really hard and spent a ton of money to put it in the best shape it's been in a long time. It's going to survive us."

That doesn't mean the Muellers won't miss the Blue Swallow Motel when they walk away.

"In so many ways, it's been one of the most amazing experiences of our lives," Kevin said, his voice cracking with emotion, "and we're going to miss a lot of it. But we won't miss everything.

"We hope to keep the friends that we made, and maybe we can enjoy Route 66 as tourists instead of business owners. It's so much different being a business owner instead of being an enthusiast. Once you commit to a project like this, it becomes your life."

As for post-Blue Swallow plans, the Muellers seemed somewhat uncertain.

"He's going to retire. He wants to ride his motorcycle," Nancy said. "I'll find a part-time job or something somewhere. I can't imagine retiring."

That doesn't mean, however, the couple will sell to anyone who wants to buy it. Potential buyers must answer six to eight prescreening questions first.

"We're going to sell it to the right people, because our legacy is who we sell it to," Nancy said. "Our legacy is what happens to this place after we walk away."

As an example, Kevin said they would reject any prospective buyer who, to increase revenue, wants to convert the motel's distinctive attached garages into additional rooms.

"We're going to say 'no' to that person because that's going to compromise the listing to the National Register of Historic Places," he said. "It would destroy the uniqueness of this place."

"It has to keep going the way it is," Nancy said.

W.A. Huggins built what then was called the Blue Swallow Court in 1939 (the name changed to Blue Swallow Motel during the 1940s). The motel's much-photographed neon sign was added during the 1950s.

The Blue Swallow Motel was designated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1993.

Part of the motel's fame often is attributed to Lillian Redman, who owned it for more than 40 years. Her kindness to overnight travelers and her perseverance after Tucumcari was bypassed by Interstate 40 kept the motel going when many others perished.

Dale and Hilda Bakke in 1998 bought the Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari from Gene Shelton, who owned the property for a short time after acquiring it from Redman. The Bakkes sold it seven years later to Bill Kinder and Terri Johnson, who ran it for five years before selling it to the Muellers.

Redman died at age 89 in 1999. Dale Bakke died in 2016 at age 60.

A day after the Blue Swallow Motel's listing went public, Route 66 tourist Michael Graham of Ireland was trying to set up a photograph of himself with his saxophone and his rented Ford Mustang convertible under the motel's main neon sign.

Graham said he'd experienced several memorable moments during his Route 66 trip so far, but being at the Blue Swallow was "special" and felt compelled to document it with his camera.

"It's the most American picture I'll ever get," he said.


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