Here now, Past Lives, in which Curbed explores what some of the country's most interesting residential buildings used to be before they became livable homes. Care to suggest a building? Do drop us a line.
In 1975, Bill Gates and Paul Allen checked in to Albuquerque's Sundowner Motor Hotel, a midcentury sprawl in New Mexico across the street from the personal computer company where the young programmers just began working. At the Sundowner, they created what would become a little-known megacorporation called Microsoft. In the decades that followed, the Sundowner, which once housed two of the country's richest men, gained a seedy reputation and fell into disrepair—until recently, when developers converted it to affordable housing.
The Sundowner opened in 1960 along Route 66, the revered Mother Road that linked Chicago to the Pacific Ocean. The plain, double-stacked motel was dressed up with neon signs and eye-grabbing textile blocks. Back then, locals flocked to its in-house casino, nightclub, and restaurant, downing martinis next to the curvilinear pool and gazing at the Sandia Mountains. But the party didn't last.
The completion of Interstate 40 in 1970 devastated the businesses along Route 66. The Sundowner's sheen had worn off by the time Gates and Allen lived there in the mid-'70s. In the ensuing years, the motel gained a reputation as a den for prostitution and drug use. The complex served a stint as transitional housing for veterans before it shut five years ago. Then John Bloomfield came along.
Bloomfield, executive director of Albuquerque-based NewLife Homes, described his 2009 visit to the Sundowner as "an emotional encounter." Squatters had made themselves at home, and the eyesore was riddled with asbestos. A date with a bulldozer seemed imminent. Bloomfield had another idea. NewLife Homes develops affordable residences for low-income people who may otherwise struggle to find adequate homes.
The Sundowner's simple layout was ideal for conversion. Bloomfield contacted the owner and cobbled together funding sources to buy the property and have it rehabilitated it into housing. In April 2013, the motel was rechristened Sundowner Uhuru Apartment Complex, and entertainers danced around in haz-mat suits at its groundbreaking.
Garrett Smith Ltd. redesigned the Sundowner to maximize livability for the community's range of residents—everyone from the mentally ill to students, veterans to working families. During the $9M renovation motel rooms were gutted and configured into 71 units, which range from studios to three-bedrooms.
The former nightclub got replaced by a community center and commercial space. There's now a sand volleyball court, a garden, and a gazebo. A display case commemorates the site's Microsoft connection. The first residents arrived in October, and now each unit is occupied.
The Sundowner project has done more than just save a place important in computing history: it has provided people an affordable place to live and has encouraged businesses to move to an uninviting stretch of road plagued by strip malls and empty parking lots.
· Sundowner by Garrett Smith Ltd. [official site]
· New Life Homes [official site]
· Sunup at the Sundowner [Architect's Newspaper]
· New day dawns for Sundowner Motel [Biz Journals]
· All Past Lives columns [Curbed National]