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El Vado Motel
The El Vado Auto Court is a surviving example of a modern building type that, like the gas station, was created in response to the automobile.
The motel was constructed in 1937 at Albuquerque’s western edge, in anticipation of the increased traffic that would come from the realignment and completion of Route 66 that same year. Dan Murphy, its owner and builder, had previously managed the downtown Franciscan Hotel (1923, Trost and Trost) and he was attuned to changing tastes in lodging that had been driven since the 1920s by the automobile and the parallel growth of mass tourism.
Once signaled from the highway by a tall, neon-lit sign, El Vado has a front office and two facing wings of 32 units paired with individual garages to either side of an asphalt court. In its heyday, motorists arrived in a continuum of mechanized comfort that took them directly to their private room and bath, with only a brief pause to register at the front office; gas pumps outside the office invited them to fill up the car’s tank at the same time. This modernity was carefully wrapped in the Pueblo Revival imagery of vigas, stepped massing, buttresses, and curvilinear parapets. These details conjured romantic associations of the Southwest that were reiterated by the motel’s name. Meaning “the ford” in Spanish, El Vado recalls Albuquerque’s seventeenth-century origins as a small Hispanic settlement near a crossing over the Rio Grande.
El Vado lost the gas pumps but gained a swimming pool, and continued to operate long after traffic patterns and tastes in lodging had shifted again with the interstate highways and chain motels constructed in the 1960s. Listed in 1993 on the National Register of Historic Places, it now catered to tourists who tolerated outmoded small rooms as they sought out historic fragments of Route 66. After even nostalgia passed on, El Vado finally closed in 2005. In 2010, the motel was purchased by the city, which is currently working with private developers on its adaptive reuse as part of a mixed-use housing complex.
Jakle, John A., and Keith A. Sculle. The Motel in America. Johns Hopkins: Baltimore, 2002.
Kammer, David, “El Vado Auto Court,” Bernalillo County, New Mexico. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 1993. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
Usner, Don J. New Mexico Route 66 On Tour: Legendary Architecture from Glenrio to Gallup. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico with the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division, 2001.
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