While cruising up Central Avenue on our way to visit friends on Albuquerque’s west mesa this past Saturday evening, my wife marveled at the restored neon saguaro cactus sign that demarks the Westward Ho Motel. I sighed under the weight of knowing that I have been sitting on that landmark as potential blogging material for some time now, yet unsure how to best present it to my readers. Luckily, I had removed the top of the jeep only minutes before the drive, so my sigh was drowned out by a combination of rushing warm air, the roar of tires across pavement, and Paul Westerberg’s vocals on the Replacements "Swingin' Party” issuing forth from the speakers.
I understand that the Westward Ho Motel was constructed in 1948 and was one of the first impressions of Albuquerque that eastbound Route 66 afforded visitors. I really don’t know a whole lot about this motel other than it looks like it must have been a welcome sight to innumerable road weary travelers in the 1950s and 1960s. For many, Tucumcari would have to wait for at least another day.
I suspect that like many Route 66 motels and roadside attractions, the Westward Ho Motel must have seen a marked decrease in business with the construction of Interstate-40. Certainly the property fell into varied states of disrepair, yet failed to kick the old bucket. Just prior to the turn of the century, the U.S. Congress passed the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Act. A brilliant plan to use funds designated by that act to restore old neon signs along the Mother Road was proposed by Elmo Baca, and accepted by the National Park Service. Thus, the postcard-worthy saguaro cactus shines brightly for all to enjoy each and every evening.
Although separated by a distance of some 450 miles, Albuquerque’s Westward Ho Motel reminds me of another personal significant cultural property… the Westward Ho located at 618 North Central Avenue in the heart of Phoenix, Arizona. That Westward Ho is inarguably one of the Valley of the Sun’s most legendary landmarks having pampered the world’s elite and famous since it was built in 1928. Today the Westward Ho serves to house some 300 elderly low-income residents. It’s once grand lobby now smells distinctly of stale perfume, forgotten cigars and undiscovered urine. It is simply fabulous!
For the past 12 years, it has been my dream to retire to the Westward Ho when the time comes… assuming, of course, that it is still available to old people in a few years. I’ve “heard” rumors that they are in the process of restoring the old hotel’s “Thunderbird Room,” that has been vacant since the hotel closed in the 1970s. My fear is that it will become a popular hangout and someone will recognize the fabulous structure for what it is, and convert it to luxury condos forever ruining it with the stink of money and corruption.
Certainly if the walls of either of these fantastic buildings could type, they would be capable of producing a blog worth reading.