CARTHAGE — A national group has named a Route 66 icon in Carthage to its second-ever "10 Most Endangered Roadside Places" list.
The Boots Motel, a classic Route 66 motel now operated as low-rent housing, was included on the list by the Society for Commercial Archeology, a group which bills itself as "the oldest national organization devoted to the buildings, artifacts, structures, signs and symbols of the 20th-century commercial landscape."
John Murphey, a spokesman for the Society, said Ron Hart, who founded the Route 66 Chamber of Commerce, nominated the motel, saying he was looking for a way to "purchase the property to preserve it as a vintage motel and potentially a museum."
"But until that happens, the future of this Route 66 landmark is unknown," Murphey said. "The Boots Motel is an iconic motel on Route 66. Many people have photographed it, visited it; a number of people have written about it, so it's assumed this higher status in the consciousness of roadies on Route 66."
Vince Scott, the current owner of the Boots Motel, admits it's in need of repair and restoration.
Scott said he bought it about five years ago to resell. At that time, the Walgreens pharmacy chain was looking to build a store on the corner of Central and Garrison avenues and would have torn down the Boots Motel and the other structures on the corner to do so.
Since then, Scott said he's operated the motel as low-rent housing.
"It's in rough shape," Scott said. "They've torn it up. I've been renting it out as lower rent housing for five years, and these people have no money, so they've stolen everything they could steal."
Scott has put the motel up for sale. The property he's selling includes a home next-door that he purchased later. That home once housed Carter-Brown Realty Office.
Scott said the building is sound, though. He said he put a new roof on the front office area in the last couple of years, and he's maintained the building as best he could.
"It would take some money to restore it," Scott said. "It's got a new roof; I put a new roof on the front, but someone would have to rewire it and replace a lot of things. It could be brought back, though, if a person had the interest. You could take the house and gut it and turn it into a visitor's center. It could be a hub that people could stay in."
Hart said he's got a plan to restore the building and he's put that plan on his website. He also said the building is structurally sound, but it will need some work after it is purchased to become a usable business.
"Structurally, it's fine, and I've just about had it with everybody sitting back around the outside of the wall when there's a table with Vince Scott waiting for someone to step up and sit down next to him and hand him a proposal," Hart said by phone. "That's what he's waiting for, and maybe what we can do will kick start it."
Hart has lived for 35 years in Florida, but he has roots in the Joplin and Carthage areas. He operated a Route 66 Visitors Center for a couple of years in an old gas station in Carterville before the economy took its toll and forced him to close it.
Hart said most recently he's been traveling Route 66 and surveying the impact of the economic downturn on businesses along the route with the sponsorship of a few companies.
Hart, who also goes by the name Rod Harsh on the radio and the Internet, said he would like to buy the Boots Motel through his Route 66 Chamber of Commerce.
Hart operates the Route 66 Chamber's website, which said the Chamber was formed to "provide continuing international and domestic promotion of America's most famous highway."
"I'd like to get it through the Chamber, where it's owned by a non-profit Route 66 organization that will continue to own it in perpetuity," Hart said. "I think that's the best way to go because if we're going to get grants and get other designations for that property, then being a non-profit Route 66 organization will definitely help."
Hart said his fear is that someone will buy it from Scott and get a permit and tear it down before anyone knows about their plans. He said the way the rules work in Carthage for demolishing a building, it could happen.
Scott said the motel has potential to regain its glory days, but it will take money and time to make it work.
"I probably should have spent the time to restore it," Scott said. "You could turn it into an icon and turn it into a real attraction. I didn't have the time to do that because of the restaurant and everything else I was doing. It's going to take someone who has the time and the interest and who wants to spend his energy restoring it and maintaining it and talking about it. I see great potential."
Murphey, with the Society for Commercial Archeology, also said the Boots Motel has potential.
"Just in my knowledge of Route 66 and being in contact with a lot of roadies and people who appreciate Route 66 from national to international people, it really does have a high iconic value, this motel," Murphey said.