Arrowhead Motel, Calvary Cemetery highlight 'most notable' places

Monday, February 6, 2012 | 2:45 p.m. CST; updated 11:31 p.m. CST, Monday, February 6, 2012
The Calvary section of Memorial Park Cemetery is recognized this year by the Historic Preservation Commission as a historic and notable property in Columbia. The cemetery is one of six properties that will be recognized Tuesday at an evening gala hosted by the Historic Preservation Commission.

COLUMBIA — Mohammad Eldeib gets calls almost every week from former customers asking if the Arrowhead Motel is still open for business.

Yes, he responds, it is. 

If you go

WHAT: Historic Preservation Commission's 2012 Most Notable Properties Gala. Images of nominees in the award's 13-year history will be displayed followed by a video presentation of this year's winners. Representatives from each property will attend and have an opportunity to speak, and are encouraged to bring memorabilia to display.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday.

WHERE: City Hall lobby, 701 E. Broadway.

RSVP: Encouraged but not required by going to this link.

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Many of the calls are just to reminisce and share a memory.

“Just the other day,” Eldeib said, “someone called and said, ‘Oh, this place is so old, I stayed here when I was a little kid.’”

Some callers reveal a little more information than others. One said she remembered conceiving her first child at the motel.

The Arrowhead Motel is one of six properties named to the 2012 Most Notable Properties by the city's Historic Preservation Commission. It joins a black cemetery that dates to 1929, a sorority house in Greektown, a house built by a well-known architect, a former dormitory at Columbia College and the Columbia Telephone Building downtown.

Each of the properties will be honored at a reception hosted by the commission at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the lobby of City Hall.

Back in its heyday, the motel was known for its glowing neon sign, cheap rent and overall campy atmosphere.

All three remain — mostly. 

The sign works, but not 100 percent, Eldeib said. The sign flashes when turned on, which would violate a city ordinance. Decades of sitting on a hill has resulted in electrical problems, so it’s turned off for the time being.

Eldeib, owner and manager of the motel since 1999, said the price of renting a room for the night was $19 when he bought the property. It now ranges from $25 to $30, depending on whether a person wants a single- or double-bed room.

As for the atmosphere, there’s a swimming pool, and the rooms look straight out of a 1970s postcard, with metal screen doors, turquoise-colored doors, wall-mounted air conditioners and televisions with dials.

Increasing competition has decreased the motel’s clientele, so Eldeib supplements his business by operating a Budget rental truck office. Driving on Business Loop 70 east of College Avenue, it’s hard to miss the Budget trucks available for rent in front of the city power plant. But they actually sit on the grounds of the Arrowhead.

Built in 1938, the motel opened under the name Arrowhead Camp because the term “motel” had not yet been popularized, according to information provided by Historic Preservation consultant Deb Sheals. With the growth of automobiles and roads, roadside accommodations expanded outside urban center cores.

These businesses also offered services such as gas and oil changes, acting as one-stop shops for tourists traveling through the countryside. Arrowhead Motel was built along the old Highway 40.

When Interstate 70 was built, it became difficult for previous owners to attract new customers.

Despite the challenge, the motel’s history was a selling point for Eldeib. He knows all the quirks that came with the property, such as the circular imprints in the concrete outside a few of the rooms to signify where a tree once stood.

“I hope to get some funding to restore and get it even better than it was in the past,” Eldeib said. "I look at it as a legacy to contribute to what pre-existed and learn from the folks who established such a landmark. Nobody owns anything in this world. We just manage it."

Calvary Cemetery

Across Schwabe Lane from the Purple Field in Cosmopolitan Park, a thin plot of land offers a portal to Columbia’s black population before desegregation.

Alex Hicks plotted Calvary Cemetery in February 1929, five months after Memorial Park Cemetery was incorporated immediately to the south. Hicks likely wanted to provide blacks with a site that emphasized open views rather than upright memorials, which had already been offered at Columbia Cemetery for decades, Sheals said.

Justin O’Neal, general manager of Memorial Park, said the cemetery was at one time a part of the Union Cemeteries Association of Missouri. Any deed given to the property owners from the association stated only whites could be buried in the cemetery.

He's been told that sometime in the 1940s, Memorial Park's owners purchased Calvary Cemetery, although he said the exact reason for the purchase wasn't known. 

Before their purchase, all the records for Calvary burned, and many unmarked graves remain.

Numerous veterans are buried in Calvary, as well as Columbia businesswoman Annie Fisher. Fisher, who was buried in 1938, won first place for beaten biscuits and country ham at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, Sheals said.

The Negro Leagues Grave Marker Project provided a headstone for William Gatewood in Calvary Cemetery. A previously unmarked grave, project volunteers tracked down Gatewood’s site, raised money for a headstone and installed it. 

Most of Memorial Park and Calvary remain classified as “lawn park” cemeteries, according to information provided by the Historic Preservation Commission, accentuating the open views Hicks wanted when he plotted the land.

“People do like the park-like look of it,” Memorial Park Director of Family Services Donni Mize said. “There is a lot of history with Calvary, and we are happy that it is being recognized.”

The cemetery added a section for upright monuments three to four years ago, O’Neal said. For most people, though, preferences are based on family.

“A lot of it comes down to heritage,” he said. “Grandma and grandpa are buried here; mom and dad are buried here; we’re going to be buried here.” 

O’Neal said the Historic Preservation Commission researched the cemetery on its own and reached out; Memorial Park didn’t apply. Still, he wasn’t surprised, given Calvary’s history.

“I’m glad it’s on the list,” O’Neal said. “Because there’s a lot of history in it. Even though they’re recognizing that portion only, I still want to just remember — we’re not segregated — but we’re still all one here, regardless of Calvary or Memorial Park.”

Memorial Park plans on placing a plaque next to the cemetery recognizing its distinction.

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