Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Green Book traveling


January 9, 2019

Ron Warnick

David Brenner, co-owner of the Roadrunner Lodge in Tucumcari, stands in front of the closed La Plaza Court part of the motel complex. La Plaza was listed in the Negro Motorist Green Book in 1952, according to the National Park Service.

A guidebook that helped African-American travelers find safe and hospitable services - including in Tucumcari - during the Jim Crow segregation era will receive unprecedented attention in the next year or so.

New York City postman Victor Green published the annual Negro Motorist Green Book from 1936 to 1966. Green created it "to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trip more enjoyable" in an era where many businesses refused to serve African-Americans or even threatened them.

In November, the movie "Green Book" was released to U.S. theaters. Starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, the film portrays a 1960s tour of the Deep South by an African-American pianist and Italian-American bouncer. The film, named for the Green Book, won the Golden Globe Sunday night for best motion picture as a musical or comedy.

Candacy Taylor's volume about her years of research into the guidebook, "The Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America," likely will be published this fall by Abrams Books. Taylor also plans a children's book on the subject. "CBS Sunday Morning" recently interviewed her about the "Green Book" film, and another interview of her will appear in the film's DVD.

Tucumcari contains an unusually high percentage of surviving Green Book properties. Taylor estimates 80 percent of the properties listed in the Green Book have been demolished. In Tucumcari, four of six Green Book sites survive, according to the National Park Service.

According to a list compiled by the park service, Tucumcari properties in the Green Book are:

n La Plaza Court motel at 1023 E. Tucumcari Blvd. is closed but remains part of the Roadrunner Lodge complex. According to the Park Service, it was listed in the Green Book in 1952.

n Cactus Motel, a long-closed part of the Cactus RV Park at 1316 E. Tucumcari Blvd., holds a cloudy future because the owners are negotiating to sell the property to the O'Reilly Auto Parts chain. It was listed in 1953.

n Amigo Motel and Café at 1823 E. Tucumcari Blvd. reportedly was demolished decades ago. A gas station stands at that site. The Amigo was listed from 1956 to 1963. Quay County assessor records show a motel never existed at that location and that a gas station was there since the 1930s. However, a 1955 phone book at the Tucumcari/Quay County Chamber of Commerce lists the Amigo Motel at 1823 E. Gaynell Ave., which became Tucumcari Boulevard.

n A residence at 524 W. Campbell Ave. known as the Rocket Inn offered overnight lodging and meals. The residence stands. It was listed from 1947 to 1963.

n A residence at 520 W. Campbell Ave., known as Jones' Rooms for lodging, apparently vanished many years ago. It was listed from 1948 to 1963. However, county assessor records have found no home ever existed at that location.

n A residence at 406 N. Third St., known as Mitchell's Rooms, offered lodging. The home stands but is abandoned. It was listed from 1953 to 1961.

Discrepancies in the park service list and assessor's office might be due to errors in the original Green Book editions or incomplete data. In the case of 520 W. Campbell, perhaps another structure at the rear of 524 W. Campbell served overnight travelers.

No other Green Book sites ever were listed in Quay County. The next-closest one was the Will Rogers Court in Santa Rosa.

David Brenner, co-owner of Roadrunner Lodge and the adjoining but closed La Plaza Court, owns probably the best-preserved of the Green Book sites in Tucumcari. According to his records, La Plaza was built in 1947.

Brenner said he plans to restore La Plaza once his Roadrunner Lodge is busy enough to warrant it.

"We'd like to restore it to its original condition if we get enough business to start that kind of work," he said. "We do need to put a new roof on it, probably in the next year or two to prevent further damage to the interior of that property."

When La Plaza finally is partially restored and reopened, Brenner said it would be a separate business from the Roadrunner.

"We would most likely market it as La Plaza Court," he said. "We would not restore it to the original style because that would involve tearing down a lot of our current lobby. We would take the covered walkways down, open the garages again, remove the concrete walkways and probably build up the ground level, the way it was."

Joseph Cordova, who lives at 524 W. Campbell, said he wasn't aware of his home or being a restaurant or an overnight-lodging establishment.

But when told it was listed in a guidebook for African-American travelers, it sparked a memory. He said black residents lived in the neighborhood through the early 1990s. He pointed down the block, where he said African-American residents once operated a church, a store and a smokehouse.

Because the three Tucumcari homes listed in the Green Book sat closer to U.S. 54 and the railroad tracks, one might surmise they served those travelers than from Route 66.

But Taylor said that assumption is wrong.

"Most black travelers had to leave the route to find services," she said of Route 66. Taylor said it wasn't uncommon for them to travel several miles from the highway to find accommodations.

Taylor has said she hopes more knowledge about the Green Book will spur preservation of the existing sites and be an incubator for African-American tourism and related businesses.


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