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Nevada’s old Siesta Motel comes down after 64 years

Journal photo by Marlys BarkerNevada’s old Siesta Motel, located at 85 Lincoln Highway, was torn down last Wednesday, Nov. 6. The property is now owned by ALMACO.
Journal photo by Marlys BarkerNevada’s old Siesta Motel, located at 85 Lincoln Highway, was torn down last Wednesday, Nov. 6. The property is now owned by ALMACO.
This matchbook cover is part of local historian Hank Zaletel’s collection on Flickr.com. The cover lists the owners of the motel at the time as Marv and Ann Shatto.
This matchbook cover is part of local historian Hank Zaletel’s collection on Flickr.com. The cover lists the owners of the motel at the time as Marv and Ann Shatto.
Photo by Whitney SagerNevada historian Hank Zaletel holds up two images of the Siesta Motel from his own photo collection. The first, a postcard, shows the motel during its peak. The second, shows the motel in later years.
Photo by Whitney SagerNevada historian Hank Zaletel holds up two images of the Siesta Motel from his own photo collection. The first, a postcard, shows the motel during its peak. The second, shows the motel in later years.

It was built in 1949, suffered both a major and minor explosion, was a bustling Lincoln Highway business for many years, provided shelter to the band Black Oak Arkansas in the early 1980s and became apartments during more recent years.

Located at 85 Lincolnway, it was originally the Spen-A-Nite Tourist Court, but by 1952 had taken the name it kept for many years - Siesta Motel. This 64-year piece of Nevada’s history was torn down last Wednesday, Nov. 6.

The motel was recently purchased by ALMACO from Story Farm and Home, the business that had owned the property from 1991 to 2013.

Local historian JoAnn Hunt remembered the time when her father, Mearl, owned the ground that the motel was built on. She remembered when the Story Farm and Home property (just east of the hotel) was a filling station and all the property to the west and north all the way to the railroad tracks was Blackman’s Gardens, which shipped produce by train all the way to Chicago. “N Avenue was just a path through the garden,” at one point in time, Hunt said.

Hunt’s father operated a fruit and vegetable market where the motel would eventually be built. And Hunt said she remembers the man who built the motel, but can’t remember his name. He was a very nice man, she recalled, who also built motels at Marshalltown and further west of Nevada.

Not long after the Nevada motel was built, Hunt said her sister, whose husband was taking some schooling here, needed a place for her family, which included four children, to stay for a short spell. “They stayed there for about two months,” Hunt said.

She said the owner was a bit worried about the safety of children staying in a busy motel for that long, but was happy to try to make it work because it was Mearl’s daughter. “And he liked the kids,” she said, recalling that the kids enjoyed him too.

Hunt remembers the motel being busy for a number of years, and traffic being so heavy at times on the Lincoln Highway that you had to leave the motel and other businesses along that stretch by going out of them the back way.

Edythe Hildreth, she recalls, was probably the longest owner of the motel. Hunt remembers her as a very talkative person with a voice that carried and took command. Sometimes, Hunt said, she didn’t sound happy because of the tone in her voice, but she was friendly. “I kind of enjoyed her,” Hunt said.

Mike Potter, whose family business – Story Farm and Home – eventually purchased the motel from Hildreth’s family, said he remembers Edythe as a real sweet lady, who liked to call him, Honey. “When we first moved to Nevada in 1958, Dad bought the lot here that became Farm and Home, and I remember helping Edythe pick apples on the trees behind the motel.”

Potter recalls that Hildreth sold the motel a couple times through the years, but it kept going back to her when other owners didn’t want it or were unable to keep it going.

Potter also recalls a fun time in the early 1980s, when he and Farm and Home employee Rod Bingham got to meet the band, Black Oak Arkansas, a band that released 10 charting albums in the 1970s. “Edythe was always coming over here to make keys,” he said. On this particular day, she came over to say that a rock and roll band was at the motel and they’d lost all her keys. Potter said she didn’t know the name of the band, just that they were from somewhere in Arkansas.

“Rod and I went over to meet them,” he said. Black Oak Arkansas was named for the town they came from, Black Oak, Ark., and are described on Wikipedia, as being an American Southern rock hillybilly psycho-boogie band. Potter said he wasn’t a big fan or anything, but he did know their songs and thought it was neat to meet them.

Potter and others say the Siesta motel was probably hit its peak during the 1960s. “Those were the kinds of places where people would stay, and Nevada had a lot to offer with Starbuck’s drive-in on one end (of town) and the Siesta motel on the other.”

The explosion

Another longtime businessman along the Lincoln Highway, Ken Huffaker of Nevada, who owned Nevada Monument Company from 1979 up to about 10 years ago, said he remembered the story of when they first built the motel that not long after there was an explosion.

Other locals that the Journal checked with also remembered that explosion, and Nevada’s Montgomery brothers, Bernie and Chub, found an article from the Oct. 3, 1952 Carroll Daily Times titled, “Motel blast kills mother and child; 3 others are injured.”

According to the article, a mother and her 5-year-old daughter were killed and three people were injured when an explosion and fire leveld half of the Siesta Motel in Nevada. Evelyn Karolewicz, 42, and her daughter, Mary Ellen, were burned beyond recognition. Evelyn’s husband, Edward, survived the blast and had been hospitalized in fair condition at the Story County Hospital. The family was from Lesterville, S.D.

Also hospitalized in fair condition, according to the article, was Mrs. Cecil Flack, 35, wife of the motel owner, who was pulled from under a collapsed wall by her husband. Her son by a previous marriage, Ted McMurray, 11, was treated for shock and released. Story County Sheriff John Stark, Coroner R.H. Mordaunt and a deputy from the state fire marshal’s office investigated the tragedy. Stark theorized that a gas heater in one of the units blew up.

The explosion destroyed half of the motel’s 20 units, which were either flattened by the force or burned to the ground in the subsequent fire.

Hunt said she could remember the explosion destroying the west side of the motel, where the office was located.

The Montgomery brothers also found an interesting writing about the explosion from Bob Allen, a Nevada High School graduate from the Class of 1955. While communicating with his classmates around reunion time, Allen wrote of his memories about the explosion. “As I recall the motel explosion … was around supper time. I recall hearing a loud boom clear at the north end of Sixth Street and of course had to go over there to see what happened. I recall that the whole north part of the U-shaped building was blown out and that a lady and her baby were killed in the explosion and fire. In fact, I was hanging around there way to close, when the firemen discovered their bodies.”

The damaged part of the motel was eventually rebuilt, giving it back its U-shaped design.

Nevada residents also remembered another explosion at the motel in later years. Potter confirms that in the 1980s, the boiler in the motel blew up, doing some structural damage around the mechanical room. No one was injured in that more minor explosion.

Huffaker said he knew one of the local employees of the motel, Roger Pevestorf, a young man, probably in his 20s at the time. “I bought a car from Roger and remember that car sitting in front of the motel for sale. We went in there to talk with him (Pevestorf ran the front desk in the evenings) about the car.”

The motel, Huffaker said, was a nice one. “It wasn’t a high dollar motel… but, I know a lot of people stayed there, and it was a nice, active business along the Lincoln Highway.”

In later years, and most recently, the motel was rented out as apartments. And then, this past year, Potter said he and ALMACO worked together, as good business neighbors in small towns often do, on the sale of the property, something that was mutually beneficial to both parties and to the community.

Now, as a property of ALMACO, Christian Clem, president of operations at the Nevada company, said ALMACO’s plan is to “engage a commercial engineering firm to review our current facility layout and provide recommendations to improve our existing campus design and traffic flow. We want to find the best way to utilize the real estate that we have control over.”

As for the Siesta, it will now, like the many other properties torn down through the years, be a memory and a part of Nevada’s history; or as Potter likes to think of it – a piece of America’s history. The Spen-A-Night or Siesta, however you want to remember it, was just one of many motor lodges that dotted the path of one of America’s most historic highways and gave thousands of visitors a chance to say they were Nevadans - at least for a night.

Swimming pool or no swimming pool?

Many Nevada residents question whether or not the Siesta Motel had an outdoor swimming pool at one time in the middle of its U-shaped design. Local historian Hank Zaletel said none of the pictures in his collection of historic Nevada photos, through the 50s and 60s, shows the motel with a swimming pool. The answer to the question appears to be “No.”

Some of the past owners

Local Historian Hank Zaletel found information in two Nevada City Directories that shed light on the name of the motel and some of its previous owners.

The 1949 City Directory lists the owners of the Spen-A-Nite Tourist Center as Ozro C. Melohn and R. Fred Nelson.

The 1952-53 City Directory lists the owner of the Siesta Motel as Cecil Flack.

A matchbook cover from Hank Zaletel’s photo collection on Flickr.com, lists the owners of the Siesta Motel at the time as Marv and Ann Shatto.

Many Nevadans remember longtime owner Edythe Hildreth, whose family eventually sold the motel to Story Farm and Home.

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