This old hotel in Cuba, Missouri is a tangible link to an era when the railroad, not Route 66, funneled travelers into town. Joe Sonderman collection

The old hotels are just one block off of Route 66 in Cuba, Missouri. Few travelers or enthusiasts give more than a passing glance to the forlorn looking old structures, and fewer still are aware of their rich history or their link to classic Hollywood. If Terry West has his way that will be changing soon and the old hotels will once again be meeting the needs of travelers with their transformation from blighted relics to shining gem.

The Hotel Cuba at 66 E. Main Street is a railroad hotel that was built in 1915. At that time the depot was located across the street. An addition and remodel occurred in 1926 and the property was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 2014. It initially opened as the Palace Hotel. The designation of state highway 14 as US 66 in 1926 and ever increasing flow of traffic led to the properties remodel and upgrade. Surprisingly, even though the hotel was having to compete with more modern motels and auto courts such as the Wagon Wheel Motel, it continued to be a favored stop for travelers. As as the property began to fade and show its age it remained in operation as a hotel into the early 1970’s. Then it was converted into apartments. In late 2009 an apartment fire resulted in extensive smoke damage, condemnation and a question pertaining to the economic feasibility of renovating the property which gave rise to discussion about demolition.

The Southern Hotel is a railroad hotel of similar vintage. It has a Hollywood connection. In 1948 Bette Davis stopped at the restaurant in this hotel. The then 19-year old Wilbur Vaughn had attempted to take the Davis’s photo but was prevented from doing so by here traveling companion. So the enterprising young man simply waited outside the restaurant on that rainy evening, snapped a quick photo as she stepped out and managed to out run her companion by ducking behind a service station and then disappearing into the theater where he worked. That incident was immortalized in mural by Ray Harvey on the Cuba Free Press building.

Terry West at the old Hotel Cuba in Cuba, Missouri

In late 2011 Terry West acquired the Cuba Hotel, and shortly afterwards the Southern Hotel. He gave new life to the Cuba Hotel with an extensive remodel into modern apartments that focused on making this a “green” property. This included the use of solar panels on the roof. The Southern Hotel and restaurant is awaiting renovation. Terry, however, is a dreamer, a visionary with big plans for both properties.

As envisioned the upstairs of the Hotel Cuba will be used for modern apartments. The apartments downstairs will mimic the properties original purpose by providing Airbnb type overnight lodging for travelers. The Southern Hotel is in need of extensive repair and will most likely be phase two of the envisioned project. Plans call for retail space and an event venue for the hosting of events including live music performances. In discussing the future of these old hotels Terry said, “We aim to be a place people can stay, and enjoy all of the amenities, and create a unique experience of staying in a historic hotel, with top quality service.”

The historic Southern Hotel in Cuba, Missouri. Photo the Steve Rider collection

This would include a small cafe with quality farm to table meals, growing some of the food on the property, a farmers market and a health food store. The Southern Hotel would provide local artists and craftsman with a place to display and sell their work as well as offer workshops. The grounds fronting Route 66 would be used for festivals and events.

Completion of these projects would have a dramatic affect on tourism in Cuba. They would also enhance the Route 66 experience and give travelers another reason to see Cuba as a destination and not just a stop.
It is a big dream. But where would Route 66 be without dreams and dreamers? Without dreamers can Route 66 survive into the centennial and beyond.
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