Architectural Feature: El Vado

2019 NMAF Award Winner
For important historic buildings or sites that have had a lasting effect in bringing together our community.

The El Vado Motor Court was built in 1937 to cater to visitors traveling through Albuquerque on Route 66. The motel, designed in the Spanish Revival style, housed 32 motel units with adjoining carports and a gas station. El Vado has been designated a City Landmark and is listed on the New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties and the National Register of Historic Places. El Vado is ideally located on Central Avenue between Old Town and the Rio Grande, and directly across from the City’s Botanical Gardens and Aquarium. Its location makes it the perfect place to serve as a hub for many of the City’s cultural assets in the area.

After the closure of the motel in 2005, the buildings began to deteriorate and stood in disrepair for years, with some suggesting the demolition of this historic property. Recognizing the iconic presence and potential of the property, the City of Albuquerque purchased El Vado in 2010 to save and preserve the property, with the goals of preserving the existing buildings and bringing new life and activity to the property and surrounding area through innovative and adaptive reuse. The City, through its Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency (“MRA”), began searching for a private sector developer to partner with to revitalize and redevelop the property, while preserving the existing historic buildings on site. The MRA created a public-private partnership with Palindrome Communities in 2016 with the ongoing goal of redeveloping and bringing new life into the historic property and into an under-utilized part of Albuquerque.

Today, after years of work, a variety of approval processes, exceptional preservation efforts and exciting design elements, El Vado is full of life and activity – attracting patrons and guests from not only Albuquerque and New Mexico, but nationally and internationally. The old motel that had become dilapidated and blighted is now a focal point for the area bringing excitement and reinvestment. The redevelopment of El Vado successfully pays homage to Route 66 and the growth of Albuquerque – thus reactivating what was once a wildly popular hospitality destination. The character-defining exterior design features such as undulating parapets, garage portals and blue steel windows are carefully preserved while the interior spaces are elegantly transformed to accommodate contemporary uses.

The successful redevelopment of the property preserves the historic buildings (15,145 s.f.) and reactivates an important node in Albuquerque’s urban fabric into a mixed-use project consisting of a 22 room boutique motel, pool, new 3,050 square foot event center, micro-retail, micro-restaurant spaces, local brewery tap room and amphitheater.

BEFORE RENOVATIONS

Historic preservation goals of the National Parks Service and the design strategies required for a successful adaptive reuse of El Vado – sometimes provided competing demands. For example, as the historic auto court, the central courtyard was required to be as visually open as possible by the NPS. However, separation of the public plaza from the motel courtyard, as well as providing a safety fence around the new pool, required barriers. The design team worked with SHPO to develop a fence design that addresses both these criteria. The SHPO has been extremely helpful in providing clear guidance and brainstorming alternative approaches to similar competing criteria which supported the project’s aesthetically beautiful and unique design.

The exterior of the motel buildings and the open motor courts were painstakingly restored; many of the original character-defining historic elements such as adobe walls, undulating parapets, plaster finishes, wood vigas, and wood doors were preserved or re-purposed. Several original steel sash windows, most of them in the original lobby fireplace room, were restored and made operational. All other aluminum windows were removed and replaced with replica steel windows.

The original complex included two parking lot median planters, one of which is now a tree island in the new soaking pool. The original guest rooms had attached carports, a unique feature of historic Route 66 motels. The majority of these existing carports have been filled in and converted into additional motel rooms in the 1980s. These wall infills were removed and replaced with dark tinted, frameless glass to accentuate the original stucco archway profiles of the carports.

The historic El Vado sign was restored to its original glory with neon light accents by the City of Albuquerque as part of Route 66: Radiance, Rust, and Revival on the Mother Road, an exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum.

The interiors of the guest rooms and suites were elegantly transformed to suit contemporary travelers while still maintaining the flavor of the heydays of Post WWII interstate road travel through Albuquerque.

The color of the exposed wood vigas and tongue and groove ceiling was changed to lighter gray to make the rooms feel more bright and spacious. The guest room bathroom tile pattern evokes the original basket weave and pinwheel marble mosaic tiles uncovered under linoleum flooring. Many of the interior elements of the guest rooms are the work of local craftsmen and artists. The Mid-Century Modern furniture was built by a local business, Rio Woodwork and Design. The artwork around the property showcases several local artists and celebrates Albuquerque and Route 66 culture.

The original motel lobby with a kiva style fireplace was restored to its original condition and now serves as a living room for the complex as the new Tap Room. This is the only location where the original dark brown stain color of the vigas and tongue and groove roof deck was maintained. A new 4,000 square foot Event Center with three event rooms was added at the east end of the complex. It provides a new amenity to the hotel guests as well as to the Albuquerque community.

Today, after years of work, exceptional preservation efforts and exciting design elements, El Vado is full of life and activity – attracting patrons and guests from not only Albuquerque and New Mexico, but also nationally and around the globe.

Information submitted by award nominator

Architect: Design Plus, LLC / Rupal Engineer R.A.
Photos by Matt Oberer

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