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.
Can you recommend a top “end of summer” drive? What is the best guide to use for traveling Route 66? What is the quirkiest roadside attraction that you have visited? Do you have a favorite Route 66 town? What is the oddest restaurant that you have experienced? Do you have a favorite book store? Can I rent a classic car to drive Route 66? Every week I receive dozens of inquiries about Route 66 travel as well as questions about travel guides, tour companies, motels, road trips, museums, restaurants, and, once, even a question about nudist colonies along Route 66. Followers and fans take our slogan “Telling People Where To Go Since 1990” to heart.
I respond to each and every question though on occasion my response is a bit delayed. To expedite things a bit, on occasion I will answer questions with a blog post. This has the added benefit of providing travel planning assistance to a wider audience. Today I decided to address questions on a different platform, the weekly live stream Adventurers Club program on the Jim Hinckley’s America Facebook page that is then added to the YouTube channel. I started by asking fans to submit questions before and during the program. When launching a new endeavor or program I am as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. But as is often the case, my worries were unwarranted. In fact the program was so well received the decision was made to make it a regular part of the Adventurers Club schedule. As promised on today’s program, here are the questions asked (plus a few others) with the answers provided as well as website links or contact information.
Jay Leno and my dearest friend at Auto Books – Aero Books during a book signing.
Frank, Rice Lake, Wisconsin, “Do you have a favorite book store?” Yes, I do. Auto Books-Aero Books on Magnolia Boulevard in Burbank, California. It has moved a couple of times but it has been on this street since 1953. The little store is a true gem; new books, used books, vintage books, magazines new and old, and so much more. Here is a bit of tip, plan your visit for Saturday morning. The store hosts a very informal cruise in that transforms the very limited parking area, and on occasion for a block or two on Magnolia Boulevard, into a veritable automotive museum. As a bonus, there are often celebrity sightings. Please be respectful!
Gregg, Batavia, New York, “What is the oddest restaurant you discovered while on the road?”Many years ago my dearest friend and I were driving north up the west coast. We were near Coos Bay, Oregon and were intrigued by this obviously ancient little diner with a sign that read, “Mr. Critter’s Pizza.” It was quite different. It was a custom pizza joint where you could order your pie with elk or kangaroo or alligator.
Ed, Niles, Michigan, “Is there an app or guide to Route 66 that you can recommend.” Hands down the best guide book to Route 66 is the Ez 66 Guide for Travelers by Jerry McClanahan. I still travel with this guide. Now, if you are looking for an app there are two reputable ones on the market, the Route 66 Ultimate Guide and Route 66 Navigation. They both receive good reviews and both are reputable products. Still, for my money I would go with Route 66 Navigation. The developer personally tests the product several times per year and is quick to make upgrades that enhance the Route 66 experience as well as adjust for road closures and similar problems.
Gretchen, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, “What is your favorite quirky attraction?” The World’s Largest Hand Dug Well in Greensburg, Kansas on U.S. 54. There is a personal reason for this selection that I will share in a future post. Suffice to say it is a surprisingly fascinating stop, and quite odd in that a major shrine has been built around the well.
Rhonda, American Fork, Utah, “Can you recommend a great end of summer drive?”Yes, but hurry. You will want to make this trip during the brief window between mosquito season and snow season. It is the Lake Superior Circle Tour through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, across northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, and through Ontario, Canada. This an overlooked adventure that I highly recommend as it blends everything; a sense of wilderness, natural beauty, charming small towns, National Parks, small city’s with a diverse array of superb restaurants, ghost towns, and a relaxing drive.
The amazing Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico
Gregg, Sand Springs, Oklahoma, “What is your favorite Route 66 Town?”That is a damn tough question. In all honesty I can’t narrow it down to one. The best I can do is narrow it down to three; Pontiac, Illinois, Cuba, Missouri, and with the slightest of detours (less than ten miles) Las Vegas, New Mexico.
Okay, I have to ask, what are your thoughts? Is this a feature you would like included in the schedule? Do you have travel planning questions?
Unraveling the story behind a smoldering body dressed in a
There is a haunting beauty in the mezzanine of the Hotel Beale lit by a morning glow from the skylight. #jimhinckleysamerica
Canadian military uniform discovered along the National Old Trails Road near Seligman, Arizona in 1919 was just one of the projects that has made this week unforgettable. On the weekly live Adventurers Club program I provided a glimpse inside the historic and long shuttered Beale Hotel in Kingman, Arizona. Two radio interviews provided an opportunity to promote a few of my favorite places such as the Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, Missouri, Grand Canyon Caverns, and Clanton’s Cafe in Vinita, Oklahoma. They also allowed for the promotion of the First Friday festivities in Kingman. I also had several opportunities to highlight the power of pooled resource marketing and at the same time help ensure travelers had an unforgettable experience. (more…)