The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

September 4, 2011

Jo Ellis: Sisters plan open house at Boots Motel

CARTHAGE, Mo. — Ever been in the Boots Motel? I think the answer from most readers would be “no,” even though, as a native Carthaginian or a longtime area resident, you may have driven by it a thousand times.

Now is your chance. This weekend, the new owners, who plan to restore the iconic Route 66 property, are inviting everyone to get a “before” idea of what the motel looks like as they begin their historic restoration project.

Deborah Harvey, of Decatur, Ga., and Priscilla Bledsaw, of Decatur, Ill., closed on the purchase in late August. The sisters had been looking for some such project on Route 66; the Boots Motel really seemed a perfect fit with their ideas and their training.

Priscilla was the owner of a jewelry store business for many years, and Deborah has a historic preservation enterprise in Georgia. Previously, Deborah worked for an architectural and engineering firm that was contracted by the National Park Service to provide the conceptual design and specs for restoring the Tuskegee airmen site.

She evaluated whether the buildings were salvageable and if they were structurally sound. She wrote the historical background of the buildings and designed a museum to showcase the history of the Tuskegee airmen.

“Essentially, it was building a national park from scratch,” said Deborah, who was project manager on the job that lasted seven years.

The sisters plan to fully restore the Boots to its original purpose, but they cautioned that changes will come slowly because they want the restoration to be authentic. “It will take a lot of investigation,” Deborah said.

The Boots Motel was constructed by Arthur and Ilda Boots in 1939 at a time when its Central and Garrison location was known as the Crossroads of America, the intersection of Highways 71 and 66. As other commercial buildings of that era have fallen by the wayside, the Boots has grown to iconic status in Route 66 history, attracting national and international visitors.

Through efforts by Ron Hart, president of the Route 66 Chamber of Commerce, the building was added to the Society of Commercial Archeology’s list of 10 most endangered sites. The sisters have contracted with Hart to provide security and start the cleanup before actual restoration can begin.

The gable roof with its green and pink neon tubing will be removed. The original building had a flat roof, a classic example of Streamline Moderne in the art deco style. The gables were added in 1977 or 1978, according to building permits at the city engineer’s office.

“Priscilla and I have always believed that the original color scheme was white with black trim, green neon tubing, and red awnings and stoop,” Deborah said. “The car bumpers at the entrance to each carport were also red.”

The motel was purchased in 1948 by the Asplin family, which operated it for 43 years. It has had subsequent owners, and after closing as a motel, it was operated as low-rent housing units, gradually falling into disrepair.

The sisters want to restore the motel as it appeared about 1949, when the rooms behind the original motel were built and business was booming. The rooms were rented for $2.50 a night, and modern conveniences like tiled showers and thermostat-controlled heating and air made the motel attractive even to such notables as movie stars Clark Gable and Gene Autry.

To that end, Deborah and Priscilla are looking to chat with Carthage old-timers who may remember tidbits about the Boots or who have old photos or news clippings they could share. The hours of the open house — 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 9-11 — would be a good time to meet with them.

You can also tour an underground utility chase that runs from the back building all the way to the front. Saturday visitors may chance upon some of the vintage autos that used to frequent Boots. The Missouri Route 66 Association is holding its annual motor tour Friday through Sunday from Miami, Okla., to Leasburg, Mo.

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