Old Route 66 shop receives new life

 Daily, New Mexico  Comments Off on Old Route 66 shop receives new life
May 022011

The status of the Charlie’s Radiator Shop property has done a complete about-face.
An old sign still hangs on one of the outside doors at the old radiator shop.

In 18 months it has gone from scheduled demolition to guaranteed renovation.

The City of Grants notified property owner Joe Diaz in 2009 that the buildings would be leveled. Walter Jaramillo, City of Grants’ councilman, urged the Grants MainStreet Project to explore other options.

The owner grew up on the property, which included the family home, during the 1930s and ‘40s, said Randy Hoffman, MainStreet Project manager.

“It was the only place between Gallup and Albuquerque along Route 66 to get auto repairs,” pointed out Jaramillo. “And the Star Diner next door used to be where the miners would buy their lunches. The bus that took workers to the mines stopped at that diner.”

The Diaz buildings were some of the first pumice-block structures in the state, according to Jaramillo. John Murphy, New Mexico State Cultural Properties’ committee member agreed.

“The three pumice-block buildings, part of the modest commercial complex, represent the ambitions and domestic life of Charlie Diaz, a Grants’ and U.S. Highway 66 entrepreneur,” said Murphy.

The property owner collaborated with the Grants’ MainStreet Project on the state’s historic designation application. And the site was officially recognized as an historic cultural property in February 2010.

That designation allowed Diaz to pursue applying for renovation grants. Last month the owner was awarded a $30,000 National Park Service grant. Along with the owner’s $42,500 donation, the total renovation will equal $72,500, according to Hoffman.

“I am very happy and excited about the rehabilitation project,” Hoffman said. “There was $90,000 available for Route 66 projects and the Diaz property got one-third of this year’s money.”

The site is significant because it is one of only two remaining automotive enterprises still remaining on Route 66, explained Hoffman. The highway was built in the early decades of the twentieth century to connect Chicago, Ill., with Los Angeles, Calif., according to transportation historians.

Both Jaramillo and Hoffman expressed appreciation for Elmo Baca’s assistance with the grant application process. Baca is a New Mexico MainStreet associate with the special projects’ division.

The original garage will become an automotive museum and also offer community groups meeting space. Renovations to the Star Café structure will convert the interior into a Route 66 memorabilia gift shop. “It will have all kinds of things for people to buy such as tee shirts, posters, mugs, shot glasses – pretty much anything that bears a Historic Route 66 design,” explained Hoffman.

Renovations are scheduled to begin once the funds are received, which should be within the next few months.

“I’m glad they are finally making some progress on that property. It’s been a long time coming and I’m glad to hear the good news,” said Mayor Joe Murrietta.

The grant application included, “This project proposes to perform stabilization and preservation work on Charlie’s Automotive Service, a property on the west end of Grants that once served Route 66 traffic,” Hoffman said. “This renovation will not cost the city one dollar but it will generate economic development through tourism,” he concluded.

The property is being considered for National Historic Trust designation, said Jaramillo. “The historic designation will attract more visitors to Grants. The site could be a gathering place for antique car enthusiasts and for vintage car shows,” said the councilman.

By Rosanne Boyett – Beacon Staff Writer