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Cortez grew up during the classic American road trip

Historical service stations like this on North Broadway in Cortez sprang up during the auto-tourism era in the 1950s and 1960s. (Courtesy Cortez Historic Preservation Board)
Presentation highlights Baby Boom era that saw hotels, gas stations and restaurants flourish

Cortez was in the heart of the auto tourism trend during the post World War II America.

Motels, gas stations and restaurants sprang up to accommodate families taking road trips to visit Mesa Verde National Park and the Four Corners National Monument, where it was obligatory to pose for a photo while placing arms and legs in all four states.

Many of those buildings still stand today, and the Cortez Historic Preservation Board has been working to identify them and learn about their history.

In 2021, the city hired Woods Canyon Archaeology Consultant and architectural historian Jen Wahlers to survey properties from that era and conduct an inventory. Funding was provided by a $17,000 grant from History Colorado.

Hotels from the 1950s and 1960s like this one in Cortez still evoke memories of summertime family road trips. (Courtesy Cortez Historic Preservation Board)
Classic drive-ins like Burger Boy sprang up during the heyday of the classic American road trip. (Courtesy Cortez Historic Preservation Board.)

The study identified 17 motels, restaurants and gas stations tied to the auto-tourism period in American history more than 50 years ago that jump-started the classic family road trip.

The Cortez Historic Preservation Board and Wahlers will hold a public meeting Sept. 20 at 6 p.m. at Cortez City Hall to present findings and explain how the next inventory process will be conducted.

Letters have been sent out to owners of the historic properties, and the general public is invited.

An important part of the inventory process is finding old photos and personal stories about the properties, said Linda Towle of the preservation board.

The properties include Burger Boy, the Ute Café and eight motels on Main Street and South Broadway. Some of the classic motels built during the Baby-Boom time period are the Tomahawk Motel, Turquoise Inn, Retro Inn, Cozy Inn, Days Inn and Budget Inn.

The goal of the project is to learn more of the history of the buildings and to inform owners about process and benefits of having them registered as a historic property with the city, Towle said.

Owners of properties recognized on historic registers are eligible for state grants to restore exteriors to their original styles. Grants typically pay for 50% of the projects. Registered historic properties are also eligible for state tax credits.

“We hope people will share memories about these places. It would be great if former owners attend as well,” Towle said. “The more stories and photos, the more fun it is.”

The results of the historic building project from the auto-tourism era will be posted on the Cortez city website. Eventually the historic preservation group would like to host driving and walking tours to point out the properties from those days.

The Cortez Historic Preservation Board has received 11 grants in 11 years from History Colorado to inventory historic properties within the Original Townsite of Cortez. These inventories have identified 119 historic properties of which 47 have been listed on the City of Cortez Register of Historic Sites, Structures and Districts by their owners.

For more information on historic properties in Cortez, visit the historic preservation page at www.cityofcortez.