By Susan Redden
CARTHAGE, Mo. —
The pounding on the roof of the Boots Motel in Carthage was a welcome distraction Thursday for Debye Harvey, one of the owners of the historic landmark.
Crews this week started tearing off the gabled roof to return the motel building to its original flat roof. Work also is under way to restore the sign and neon lighting on the building, also designed to take it back to the 1940s look that made it a Route 66 icon.
Harvey said restoring the original roofline will allow her to apply to get the property designated on the National Register of Historic Places.
“Once this is done, I’ll write the application,” said Harvey, who is a historic preservation consultant.
She and her sister, Priscilla Bledsaw, bought the Boots nearly two years ago, when it was put up for auction after years of being used as rental property. They have restored five rooms at the back of the property and last summer started opening them to Route 66 travelers who wanted the 1940s experience, when lodging amenities included “a radio in every room.”
The roofing project, under way on the front part of the building, is being partially funded by a grant from the National Park Service’s Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program. The $12,000 grant is paying for half the project costs, with the remainder coming from the owners, some donations, and money that came as part of a preservation award from the Route 66 Association of Missouri.
Harvey said the National Park Service had extended the deadline for the project, which the owners hope will be complete in three weeks, depending on the weather.
“They’ll also be opening holes in the parapet walls to take it back to its original look,” she said.
The original sign is being restored to identify the property as Boots Court, and neon that originally outlined the building will be returned, though Harvey said the owners do not know how much of the original material will be usable.
“The room windows had sort of a scrollwork design in neon around them,” she said. “And the canvas awnings will be refabricated and reinstalled. We’re hoping we can use the same Carthage company that did the originals.”
The motel didn’t have many guests over the winter, but business is picking up, Harvey said.
“We already have more reservations right now than we did for all the last three months, and we’re fully booked for the first two nights of the Route 66 festival” set for Aug. 1-3 in Joplin, she said.
Work also has started on restoring rooms in the main part of the building, but that will go more slowly than the five rooms at the back, which took nine months.
“Those rooms are in a lot worse shape because moisture collected behind the paneling, and those walls will have to be replastered,” Harvey said. “There were eight rooms originally. We plan to restore six, starting with No. 6,” which she described as “Clark Gable’s other room.”
Based on eyewitness accounts, the actor stayed at the Boots twice, also staying in No. 10, which is among the rooms opened last spring.
“We’ve been told of a lot of other famous people, but we’ve not been able to track down those accounts,” Harvey said.
DEBYE HARVEY said all the roofing work is being handled by professional crews after a snowstorm forced the cancellation of an event at which volunteers were to help.