Route 66 landmark makes way for runway

Friday, September 27, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- A motel relic from the 1950s where astronauts once spent the night has turned out its lights for good.

The Stanley Cour-tel in suburban Bridgeton has closed to make way for a big new runway at nearby Lambert Airport.

The humble but faithful period piece of America's love for the road last week ended its 52 years as a way station along a part of old U.S. Highway 66.

With pink doors and original neon signs, the Stanley had changed little since the 1950s, enough to make it earn a place in history, say serious aficionados of Route 66.

"It was a good example of what so many motels looked like back in those days," said C.H. "Skip" Curtis, author of a book on Route 66. "As the highways changed, most of those places deteriorated or went away. The Stanley never changed."

Curtis belongs to the Route 66 Association of Missouri, which wants to obtain some of the Stanley's neon signs for a museum. But the airport hasn't yet awarded a demolition contract, and the contractor will get the salvage.

The family that owned it has sued the airport for a higher condemnation award, but a Lambert spokesman said work will proceed. The area is in the path of a new $1.1 billion runway that the airport is building westward into the St. Louis suburb of Bridgeton and hopes to open in 2006.

The L-shaped, 26-room Stanley had enough regulars to stay in business.

Astronauts dropped in

And, back in 1959, the Stanley had the honor of lodging America's first astronauts when they visited McDonnell Aircraft Corp., which was building the Mercury space capsules.

"It still had a few bits of the security system for the astronauts," said Dennis Wood, whose family ran the Stanley from 1976 until last week. "Simple stuff -- wires on the windows with electric bells that rang back in the office."

The Stanley is on North Lindbergh, which met up with old U.S. 66 until the interstate system took over.

In St. Louis, efforts to preserve Route 66 have focused upon the city route, partly because of landmarks such as Ted Drewes Frozen Custard and the old Coral Court Motel just west of the city limit.

Curtis, of Springfield, Mo., mentioned the Stanley in his book, "The Missouri U.S. 66 Tour Book," and included a postcard from its early days.

Many of the Stanley's rooms still have knotty-pine paneling and metal radiator covers.

But because it had been marked for death for seven years by the airport, upkeep had lagged.

But Wood, 52, said they stayed busy to the end, offering rooms for as little as $30 per night. "We turned business away," he said.

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