By Susan Redden
Globe Staff Writer
CARTHAGE, Mo. —
The Boots Motel won’t reopen until Tuesday, but already visitors from several continents have signed the guest book.
Five rooms at the iconic Route 66 court will reopen in conjunction with a travel and tourism rally to mark the start of the summer tourist season. The new owners are making plans to take the building back to its origins, when the motel bragged about having “a radio in every room.”
Despite its popularity on Route 66 calendars and in guidebooks, the future of the Boots Motel has not looked positive in recent years. Carthage preservationists and Route 66 aficionados worried earlier when the site was being considered for new, commercial construction. Those concerns rekindled last year when a bank, after foreclosing on the property, offered it for sale. In fact, a local group formed to look into its purchase.
It was a relief, said Judy Goff, of Carthage, when sisters Deborah Harvey and Priscilla Bledsaw bought the property and announced plans to restore it.
Goff called the sisters’ plans “very significant to the community from an historic standpoint and an economic standpoint.”
“Lots of people from lots of different countries go through Carthage traveling Route 66,” said Goff, who is on the board of Carthage Historic Preservation and was a member of the committee that looked at buying the property.
Work on the property was still under way last week, and Harvey said the owners are pushing the opening a little bit to get the building ready to coincide with the travel rally.
The five rooms at the back of the property will be available, and all are booked for opening night. Bob Boots, son of original owner Arthur Boots, will be among the guests. The first-night room rate will be $2.50, the same as when the motel opened. After that, rates will be $66 for one-bed units and $71 — as in Highway 71 — for those with two beds. The rooms available include No. 10, where Clark Gable once stayed, Harvey said.
“We have a waiting list for that first night, and we have reservations all the way out to Maple Leaf,” she said, referring to the community’s October festival.
The rooms will have a radio but no television, and those who want ice will get it delivered from the front office. Wireless Internet will be available because it can supplied with no visible evidence of the amenity, said Harvey, who has a degree in historic preservation.
“We want people to be able to be immersed in the 1940s,” she said. “We’ll also have board games in the office they can borrow.”
‘Leap of faith’
Ron and Barb Hart have done much of the work to prepare the rooms, which now have white walls, shiny hardwood floors and beds with chenille spreads. The beds are new, but the built-in vanities have been refinished. Other furnishings are either from the building or from the 1940s and purchased locally.
The work has been a labor of love for Ron Hart, of Joplin, who is founder of the Route 66 Chamber of Commerce. He was among those who worried about the fate of the Boots and feared that it might be demolished.
“He called and offered to help, and we hired him,” Harvey said. “They’ve both done yeoman’s work.”
“They took a giant leap of faith buying it, as run-down as it was,” Ron Hart said. “Because people will be coming here to spend the night, they’ll be staying longer, seeing more of the community and spending more money.”
Wendi Douglas, executive director of the Carthage Convention and Visitors Bureau, agreed.
“I think it will have a significant impact,” she said “Route 66 is an international attraction, and people who may have never heard of the courthouse or the Civil War Museum might see them when they come here on Route 66. And the Boots has its own history as well.”
Hart, who calls himself a “roadie,” has traveled much of Route 66 and has produced cable television programs featuring parts of the Mother Road.
“When people want to see the real America, they take Route 66,” he said.
Renovations are being completed first on the part of the building that was constructed in 1947, then will move to the original structure, which was finished in 1939. The sisters also are applying for a grant from the National Park Service to help replace the gabled roof on the original building. The goal is to get the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The travel rally is set for 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Boots Motel, Central and Garrison avenues. It will include a ribbon-cutting and a proclamation on the importance of tourism. Similar rallies will be held in about 75 U.S. cities that day.