Many of the names and some of the descriptions in this blog have been changed to protect the guilty.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Roach Motels (and Hotels) and Their Guests

The former River Inn: the motel of dashed dreams. Check out its most visible resident, The Preacher, with the “good book” above in his old room at this roach motel on State Street. Not the book he’s holding—the red one on the bed. Click on the photo to enlarge it. Yes, it’s Green Eggs and Ham, hallelujah.

When we took a look at The Preacher in the last post, we didn’t really delve deeply into his past. But he has quite the track record. We noted his arrest for enticing a person under 16 and accosting a person of the opposite sex, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. A recent posting about him on the “You Know You’re From Springfield, MA If” elicited many responses, including a gentleman who had a confrontation with him at the One Stop package store on Boston Road when he got rude.

“So get your cup and get begging on the corner,” the Facebook poster recalled saying to him. “He walked out. EVERYONE was quiet! Got my 12 pack and walked out!”

Good thing the poster didn’t get punctured by The Preacher: On April Fools day of 2008 the “holy man” put some holes in a man’s forehead, neck, and the back of his scalp outside the same liquor store. The victim was the son of the One Stop’s owner, and The Preacher was charged with the stabbing. There is nothing in the newspaper archives to determine if he was ever convicted.

Members of the Facebook group then came forward with more stories of their own: eyewitness accounts his “nasty” comments to little girls. Some were quick to defend him as harmless or point out that he was once a hard-working respected man who is “messed up” now.

The three preacher photos above are from a YouTube video in which some dude actually lets him in his car.

My advice: don’t open your car door or window when this guy comes a calling on the corner of State and Oak with his cup. He has a record that dates back at least to 1965, when he was arrested for armed assault after a knifepoint robbery netted him a big $30.

In another video by the same guy, The Preacher claims his flock is out of the Third Baptist Church on Walnut Street, But Police Sgt. John M. Delaney says he’s not delivering sermons in any known church—except the church of the streets.

I don’t know where The Preacher went to live after the ill-fated River Inn on State Street, was finally condemned in 2011. Shortly after the city’s order, Greg Saulmon, assistant online editor at The Republican newspaper, took photos of some of the “tenants” of the dump-house for the destitute.

 I’ll hand it to Greg, who is a great reporter and photographer: it took some balls to go in there with a camera and talk to these people. And I hope he checked his balls for bedbugs and fleas when he got home! Bill Peters of masslive.com wrote a great piece on the River Inn entitled “The Making of a Welfare Motel.”

“I try my best just to live in it. Because if not, I’ll be homeless,” said River Inn resident Judy Ramirez (above). “I ain’t got nothing else.”

After a man was attacked with a machete at the River Inn, city officials said enough was enough, and gave residents three days to pack up and get out before it was closed for good in September of 2011.

The following February, Ramirez (above, middle) was found murdered in the rear stairwell of the “Progressive Community Chapel” on State Street—a known “shooting gallery” for drug users. It’s definitely strange to see her alive and not-so-well—but at least living and breathing in an interview, only to see her in the news again as Springfield’s first murder of 2012.

The site of the River Inn was the former home of the once-posh hotel (two buildings joined together at the middle) known as The Oaks, which had a restaurant with a Polynesian room. The Oaks, by 1958, began accepting, ahem, “longterm” guests.

The Oaks was followed in 1962 with the Travelodge motel. How many times did we drive by the pastel-colored balconies and Sleepy the Bear wearing a nightcap and pajamas on the sign?

When the Grateful Dead played two nights at the Civic Center in 1985 I saw some tie-dyed-wearing Deadheads hanging out on the balconies of the Travelodge. I wonder if they knew what they were getting into: a discount motel not that far from the arena, but, you know…they might have been better off in one of those dives on Riverdale Road.

Maybe they thought the sleepwalking bear logo was actually a Grateful Dead dancing bear.

Demolition of the River Inn began a few weeks ago (above). I took the following photo from my car:

The intrepid photographer from the “You Know You Grew Up at The X If…” Facebook page got much better shots, although he nearly tripped over the stampede of rats and roaches in running from the motel, an exodus not unlike the Looney Tunes cartoon animals running from the jungle when the Tasmanian Devil emerged:

Speaking of roach motels and hotels, here’s a straight-on photo of the old Hotel Charles that I had never seen before:

Read more about the Hotel Charles in House of Television and Other Signs of the Times, Part 4.

The Hotel Worthy, on the corner of Main and Worthington, was a raunchy rooming house when I was a kid. 

Once upon a time, about a million years B.C., it was worthy of a stay: check out the posh dining room:

Now it houses a few businesses and Section 8 housing.

Trase’s Motel on Boston Road was replaced by the hooker-haven Ranch House. (Read about the Ranch House in Spitting to All Fields, Part 2.) But check out the postcards below: I never knew the units across the street were also part of Trase’s.

I used to look at the apartments that used to be Trase’s Motel when I was picking up pizza at the back window of Napoli’s and wondered: who the hell would live THERE? Isn't it obvious? Guess: 

I guess it would be unfair to call the Federal Plaza (above) at the corner of Federal and Pearl a roach motel, but there were some prostitution arrests there when it was known as the Carlton Motel in the 1970s. Billy Fiore, the brother of mobster Mario Fiore, owned Billy Fiore’s Restaurant there.

I always liked the white lattice design on the building. Springfield Technical Community College bought the building in 1987 and razed it. Below is the same corner today: it’s a parking lot.

Remember the Seven Gables on Boston Road? It gained some notoriety when a crack-addicted woman was accused of stabbing a 67-year-old retired Air Force sergeant to death in a room there when it was known as The Rodeway Inn in 1996. He had been living at the motel for several months. However, DNA testing cleared her of the murder and she was released in 1999. Now it’s a Holiday Inn Express.

We call Riverdale Street Riverdale ROAD, but it got another nickname over the years: Champagne Ave. because many of the motels got a little sleazy. Every once in a while Cathedral High kids would get busted for throwing parties in these dens of iniquity. In the late 1980s, the fleabags started getting a little dangerous, with drug dealing, robberies, and violence.

The Corral Motel

The Corral Motel on Riverdale became as lawless as the OK Corral with drug arrests in the late 1980s, including the seizure of $10,000 worth of crack in 1988. Then, in 1991, a former member of the Treetops gang in Sixteen Acres pistol-whipped and stomped a drug dealer to death in a room. After a 2002 rape, a 2003 robbery of a guest and the robber of the owners the same year (they were tied up), the Corral still tried to make a go of it, with bullet-proof windows for the desk clerk, but it went out of business in 2004 and is now BMW of West Springfield.

In 2003 the owner of the Rodeway Inn on Riverdale was shot and killed in a robbery there. The motel is known by another name now. Oh look, I found one more photo of the Rodeway:

The Arrowhead Motel

Among the Roachy Riverdale Rumpus Roadhouses that offered, ahem, “day rates” (usually three or four hours) in the mid-1990s were the Capri Motel, and Cyril’s Motel. “In general, business is very slow,” explained an employee of the Capri of its day rates policy in a 1994 article in the Springfield Union News. “There’s only so many dollars to go around.” The Capri and Cyrill’s were torn town and an Outback Steakhouse was built there. The Arrowhead Motel (above), now known by another name, also offered day rates and charged the state to house homeless families, as did Riverdale’s Wagon Wheel Motel (below). The site of the Wagon Wheel is now Mingles Lounge.

Another place on Riverdale that charged day rates was—well, it’s still in business, so to avoid litigation, let’s call it the Night Inn and change the sign with Photoshop—but it looks like it now accepts weekly rates.

Let’s also change the sign and the name on another place that charged $25 for three hours in 1994: “Elise’s” Motel. I have no idea how much it’s asking for a Riverdale romp these days.

In 1994 the Huntsman Motel (below) offered the same day rates as “Elise’s” because “the competition down the road does,” explained the owner. I don’t know which was the first rat trap on Riverdale to go downhill, but the rest toppled in quick succession, falling faster than a line of dominoes. The site of the Huntsman is now another motel.

Huntsman Motel

Let's just call this place on Riverdale the “Air” Inn because it’s still around. The owner, the father of a girl I went to elementary school with, received nine stitches when he tried to quiet some rowdy guests in 1980. A guest was robbed at gunpoint in 2010.

Holiday Motel

Riverdale’s Holiday motel suffered a fire in 1979 and never seemed to recover fully: the site became a mobile home park in 1982, and now another hotel has built there.

In 1985, the clerk at the Lantern Lodge on Riverdale had to face what many roach motel employees dread: a junkie with a knife. He was robbed of $102. Another hotel is there now.

Here are some recent online reviews of some Riverdale Road dumps. Have you ever stayed in cesspools like these? Possibly on spring break in Florida? Come on. Let’s be honest:

“Far by the worst motel we ever stayed at. The bathroom was filthy with mold on the tile and looked as if it had never been washed. There was dust an inch thick on the window and we were afraid to use the toilet. The wallpaper was stained, the blankets had cigarette holes and it smelled. I would have complained but the gentleman working there didn't seem to know english.” 

“Our rooms were something one might see at an hourly rated establishment: one room had wires hanging from the ceiling where a smoke detector should have been. The same room had a hole in the outside door that looked like someone tried to kick their way in. The other room had a smoke detector but without batteries, a large window in the bathroom with no blinds or curtains. The bathroom floor was sticky all over. We decided not to shower in the morning. Did I mention there was a creepy bar in the parking lot? About 2:00 in the morning we got to hear all of the people leaving the bar. It was especially nice to hear two men get into a brawl just outside our room. If you are driving and you are tired and you pass this motel... DON'T STOP!” 

“When we arrived, the pool had been closed down by the city, there was a hooker making a deal in the parking lot and while the room looked decent, after seeing the people staying there, we cancelled and drove to another place.”

“This place is one of the most disgusting places I have ever stayed in. We booked to stay here three nights but I am not sure I can even make it one! The room smells the doors are filthy and I won't even mention the toilet!!!! ewwww I am seriously thinking of staying in the car tonight.”

Ah, the neon lights of yesteryear’s Riverdale Road bedbug nurseries, where a guy working downtown could bop over to the West Side, bang his secretary (while never taking off his tie), and then have a cigarette and a three-martini lunch. These scummy shacks were a lot like…well:

So much a part of Americana, these places, whether they were on Riverdale or in the City of Homes. They were joints where you could enjoy a good party or a seedy rendezvous. You met the most exciting characters there:

Oh, the fun to be had at roach motels. They were a fucking scream.

What was YOUR favorite no-tell motel? Leave a comment! Is it still around with a changed name to save its reputation, or is it long gone—a part of that great roach ranch roundup in the sky?


barrooman said...

thanks again for all the great laughs. went to see both those shows in 85 didnt stay over was living in beantown and drove back. but the heads dancing on the balcony at the sleepy bear must have been hilariuos. i'm sure many succombed to the lifestyle of the other residents later on.

Hell's Acres said...

Thanks for the comment, barrooman. I went to both shows as well. Lots of Deadheads got in free in the first night when someone kicked a plexiglass window out at the Civic Center and they came streaming in like floodwaters.

Anonymous said...

great blog. the black horse in west springfield was kind of an interesting place. i remember going to a
a keg party at elsie's after a junior prom in like 1987. looks like elsie's is still kicking.

Hell's Acres said...

I have pix of the Black Horse in the previous entry. These places seemed to go from decent to divey overnight. Then again, I was gone for 20 years lol.

Gregory Mattesen said...

How about the old Pine Tree Motel on Boston Road in Wilbraham? I remember the neon sign with a blinking star on top. It was across the street from the Pizza Pub.

Hell's Acres said...

Oh my God, Gregory, I drive by those cabins with the peeling white paint all the time! As far as I know the Pine Tree was still in business in the early 1990s, and for all I know it's still accepting "tenants" today, because every once in a while a car is parked there.

It gained some notoriety in 1992 when a schizophrenic guest hung herself about 100 yards behind the place and the police claimed they searched the area and couldn't find her. Her former boyfriend came up from Tampa and found her right away!

Anonymous said...

Western New Englad University used The Federal Hotel as a dorm for a few years in the mid 80's and I lived there for two semesters in the fall of '84 and spring of '85. They called it Federal Hall. The restaurant area was a dining hall where they brought in food from the main campus for students on the meal plan. I'm glad we were young and didn't fully understand where we were living lol. I live in Austin now and just recently found your blog. It's a great read and fun to think about my years in Springfield ('83-'91). Plus the pictures you find are amazing. Thanks!

Hell's Acres said...

The Federal wasn't too bad back then. I forgot about the college students who took the shuttle van. Did you see any interesting "guests" there ?

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the Rainville on Byers Street....super shady, mostly ended its existence as a last stop before homeless shelters.

Mark Limero said...

Don't forget the Rainville Hotel on Byers...served as a last stop before homeless shelters before its demise.