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Rebuilt only to be rebuilt again: Eldon's Historic Randles Court motel continues repairs after a tornado tore through

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The neon motel sign from 1947 sits in pieces around the property

The neon motel sign from 1947 sits in pieces around the property on June 24, 2019, in Eldon. After the tornado, sections of the sign were found all across town. Jennifer Hart said it will cost $75,000 to fix it. "(When we came out after,) it was just shock. There was just debris everywhere and the big thing was that our sign was gone," Hart said. "It was just devastating to see."

Jennifer Hart dreams of fixing up the Historic Randles Court motel in Eldon to be a window into the past. Hart and her family have put two years into remodeling the property.

On May 22, just two days before the motel’s Memorial Day weekend grand opening, a tornado tore through Eldon.

Jeremy and Jennifer Hart clear out waterlogged flooring from one of the rooms

Jeremy and Jennifer Hart clear out waterlogged flooring from one of the rooms in their motel June 7, 2019, in Eldon. The original renovation was estimated at $275,000 and involved clearing damage from a fire, installing all new electrical and refinishing the interiors of the rooms. Jennifer loves the historical part of the renovation and has collected pieces that are historically accurate to put in each room. “The rooms were restored to the 1930s era with vintage chenille bedspreads that had been donated and ... we had found several pieces (from that era,)” Hart said.

The Hart family bought the Historic Randles Court Motel two years ago to renovate and turn it into a tourist destination

The Hart family bought the Historic Randles Court Motel two years ago to renovate and turn it into a tourist destination for visitors on their way to Lake of the Ozarks. “We want to provide the opportunity for people to learn about the city while they’re here,” Owner Jennifer Hart said June 7 in Eldon. “I just fell in love with it.” Two days before the grand opening, a tornado hit Eldon, wrecking all of the progress made, and now the Hart family has to start the project over.

Extensive water, structural and property damage set the Hart family’s progress back almost to where they started.

Hart said she has a love for history and the architecture of her building, which she says people don’t see much anymore.

“I mean, this is a landmark in this town,” Hart said. “When we first decided we were going to pursue things, I immediately went into the historical research of it.”

Jennifer and Jeremy Hart and Jeremy's nephew Jonathan Quezada

Jennifer and Jeremy Hart and Jeremy's nephew Jonathan Quezada pause for lunch between renovations on June 14, 2019. Jonathan has worked as a contractor in the past and is an integral part of the renovations, said Jennifer. The tornado tore up sections of the roof, uprooted trees, busted windows and caused extensive water damage.

Jeremy Hart, left, calls in his nephew Jonathan Quezada and son Ian Hart, 13, for lunch

Jeremy Hart, left, calls in his nephew Jonathan Quezada and son Ian Hart, 13, for lunch after a morning of work on the motel on June 14, 2019, in Eldon. "(We) just want to make a great place again, that was our goal. It's still our goal, this just set us back a little bit," Hart said.

Jonathan, Arika and Zeno Quezada discuss their day's schedule during lunch

Jonathan, Arika and Zeno Quezada discuss their day's schedule during lunch on June 14, 2019, in Eldon. Arika has been a huge help, said Jennifer Hart, and has taken charge of social media as well as other managerial jobs around the motel. "(Quezada) has just been my right hand through all of this," Hart said.

Hart refurbished all the rooms with 1930’s-era furniture and decorations, and she had a plan to set up dioramas explaining the history of Eldon and the motel.

Everything changed when the tornado hit. The storm tore off the roof, flooded many of the rooms, shattered windows and scattered debris everywhere.

Hart doesn’t know how long it will take to get everything back on track, nor does she know how much it will cost. The family is waiting on insurance information while they continue to clean and rebuild.

Hart said she, along with her husband, three children, her niece, her nephew and her brother-in-law, have been there since the beginning and are committed to following through with the reopening of the motel.

Elijah Hart, 9, bikes around his family's motel during some free time

Elijah Hart, 9, bikes around his family’s motel during some free time on June 14, 2019, in Eldon. His mother Jennifer Hart, wanted the motel to be a family business. “We are able to bring (our children) up in a business environment where they’re going to learn so many things from running a business,” Jennifer said. “So we can take care of our family here in and so ... it’s got everything that we want.”

Ian Hart, 13, measures wood for a new window frame

Ian Hart, 13, measures wood for a new window frame June 14, 2019, in Eldon. After the tornado, the Eldon community came out in force to help the Hart family, Jennifer Hart said. “Within a few hours, the parking lot was full of people, family, some family, some friends and a lot of people that we didn’t even know, and they just like started taking care of the debris, just putting in piles,” Hart said. “We had multiple people just stop to say how far they were or, you know, to offer support or to say, we were going to be here on Friday for the open house.”

Natalie Hart, 12, sweeps up debris left from a tornado that hit her family's motel

Natalie Hart, 12, sweeps up debris left from a tornado that hit her family’s motel June 14, 2019, in Eldon. The motel is a family business and this second rebuild has become the family’s new daily routine. “We’re trying to help out as much as we can,” Hart said.

“‘As long as this place is standing,’ that’s what I said after the tornado,” Hart said. “We went through all of the renovations that brought us to where we are and our vision for the property of giving people the experience of the simpler time.”

Jennifer Hart, left, niece Arika Quezada and son Zeno Quezada assess a damaged air conditioning unit

Jennifer Hart, left, niece Arika Quezada and son Zeno Quezada assess a damaged air conditioning unit June 24, 2019, in Eldon. “We’ve done this before,” said Hart. “It’s not going to be this joyous journey (but) I’m not going to be miserable in it and I’m thankful that it is still standing and we do get the opportunity to do it again.”

Jennifer Hart smiles at a joke her husband made

Jennifer Hart smiles at a joke her husband made on June 24, 2019. Hart considers the motel her life's work. "There is no more 'what do I want to do with my life? What's the next thing? What's the next step in this journey?' Like, this is the step," said Hart. "This is going to keep me busy for the remainder of my life. I have 80 years of history to study and build upon."

  • I am a senior studying photojournalism and a summer 2018 staff photographer.

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