Since 1941, just 15 years after US Route 66 was officially opened, the Blue Swallow Motel has been serving travelers passing through Tucumcari, New Mexico. Family owned and operated since it first opened, the little 12-unit motel offers a glimpse of a time gone by and a place to rest for the night under the pleasant buzz of their famous neon sign.
W.A. Huggins purchased the lot where the Blue Swallow sits in March of 1939 and promptly began construction on a ten room motor court and small diner. By July of 1941 he had opened the doors to travelers and diners alike. Ted and Marjorie Jones took over the ownership and operation of the Blue Swallow in 1944 and became the first to consider themselves temporary stewards of the motel. They lived on the site and rented rooms until 1958 when the Blue Swallow changed hands for the second time.
It was the next owners, Floyd and Lilian Redman that helped establish the Blue Swallow as the Route 66 institution it has become. Floyd purchased the motel as an engagement present for his new fiancé and a four decade long love affair with the motel began.
Lilian arrived in New Mexico with her family in a covered wagon in 1915 and took up permanent residence in Tucamcari in 1923. She was responsible for changing the name from Blue Swallow Court to the more modern (at the time) Blue Swallow Motel. Lilian operated the customer facing parts of the motel and Floyd was responsible for maintaining the rooms and grounds. It was during this time that the once individual rooms were connected with garages, providing a little protection to the cars from the hot New Mexico sun.
Floyd passed away in 1973 and Lilian continued to run the motel till finally selling the slowly deteriorating business in 1998. After Lillian sold the motel, new owners Dale and Hilda Bakke undertook extensive restoration efforts to bring back the former glory and charm of the Blue Swallow. Under their stewardship, the 1960s era neon lighting was repaired, hardwood floors were replaced with carpet, the electrical system was modernized, and each room was filled with vintage lighting and furniture.
The Blue Swallow Motel is one of the few motels along the route that has consistently turned a profit throughout the years. Though there were some lean years in the 80s and 90s, the publicity generated by various Route 66 associations and the Pixar movie Cars, the motel routinely operates at full capacity.
Blue Swallow Motel Facts
- The motel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993 as part of the historic U.S. Route 66.
- Pixar’s research for the 2006 film Cars included visits to the Blue Swallow and the neon lighting at the movie’s Cozy Cone Motel displays Blue Swallow’s “100% Refrigerated Air” slogan.
- Ted Jones, the first long-term owner/operator was a prominent New Mexico rancher before taking over the Blue Swallow.
- After selling the Blue Swallow, Lilian moved to a small house nearby and continued visit the property and its new owners until her death, in 1999.
- Though officially opened in 1941, the motel is more often listed as opening in 1939 because that’s when the lots were purchased and construction began.