By Jeffrey L. Neumann
1: The Red Ball Café, Albuquerque, NM
The Red Ball Café opened in 1922 on the original alignment of Route 66. The cafe “gained a local following for New Mexican food and its famous five-cent Wimpy Burgers, complete with a secret chile sauce. But after World War II, business dropped off at the nearby railyards, and the surrounding Barelas neighborhood went into a lengthy period of decline,” wrote Andrew Webb in the Albuquerque Journal in 2005.
The Red Ball Café closed in 1979, and the building became a magnet for crime. Vagrants set several fires in the lobby, and the original stove and red neon sign were stolen.
The federal and local government began efforts to rehabilitate the historic neighborhood in the 1980s. As part of the facelift, grants and tax breaks were offered to local entrepreneurs. Contractor Jim Chavez bought the derelict restaurant for $10,000 and, after $100,000 of rehabilitation work, the Red Ball reopened to a prosperous lunchtime business. The interior retained much of its original charm, like the painted menus on the walls, along with a few updates, such as air conditioning. A local shop recreated the Red Ball’s neon sign.
I visited the Red Ball Café as one of the featured stops on the SCA’s 2008 Conference tour. Unfortunately the café closed again, in 2012. Thanks to the SCA I was able to visit the famous eatery and capture the reference photos for this painting. The resulting artwork is another example of my effort to preserve a part of vanishing Americana.
2: El Capitan Motel, Roswell, NM
I’m a big fan of Mom and Pop motels and other roadside businesses that are evocative of my childhood. The El Capitan Motel was built sometime in the 1930’s or 1940’s on U.S. Route 285 on the south side of Roswell, NM. I was on a back-to-my-roots solo tour of New Mexico in 1992 when I took the reference photos for this small painting. As an art subject, I was attracted to the neon sign with the blinking arrow and the hand-lettered “Color TV” “Truck Parking” plywood sign propped up underneath it.
And I also slept there. I believe The El Capitan may be still in business, however, when I stayed there 25 years ago, it had seen better days. But it worked for me that night because of its nostalgic connotations.
To read the rest of this article, members are invited to log in. Not a member? We invite you to join. This article originally appeared inSCA Road Notes, Winter 2017, Vol. 25, No. 4. SCA Road Notes, informally known as SCA News, is a quarterly publication and a member benefit of the Society for Commercial Archeology. Back issues are available for download.
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