|By Adolfo Pesquera, San Antonio Express-News|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Feb. 11, 2005 - The building that was the nation's first La Quinta motel -- built for HemisFair '68 -- is being demolished this week to make way for a parking lot.
But the original La Quinta at East Commerce and Elm streets was never just another has-been businessman's inn. Its trademark stucco walls started a company that called San Antonio home for 34 years.
The motel opened at a time when travelers were in dire need of accommodations. San Antonio was hosting HemisFair, and the only other hotel under construction was the Hilton Palacio Del Rio, being built in the nick of time by H.B. "Pat" Zachry.
"It was a risk," said Bill Sinkin, an organizer of the fair. "This was San Antonio. There had been no new buildings downtown for years." Brothers Sam and Philip Barshop parlayed the first La Quinta hotel into a successful national chain, La Quinta Motor Inns.
"I think they were glad they did it," Sinkin said. "I hate to see it go. Everything about HemisFair had happy memories. This was a reminder of where we were and where we went." Justin Holley, regional vice president of operations for La Quinta Corp., said the hotel was one of the most profitable in the chain over its 36-year life.
"It had gone through about four renovations," Holley said, adding it first opened with a restaurant. That was closed many years ago.
In place of the old 138-room motel, La Quinta constructed the 14-story, $20 million La Quinta Inn & Suites San Antonio Convention Center. The 350-room hotel opened last month.
The old site will be surface parking for guests and area visitors, Holley said. Meanwhile, the new inn will allow the company to expand its share of the downtown market.
The motel's passing may come with sentimental attachments, but Sinkin, a retired banker, understands the price of progress. The original La Quinta didn't have the allure of a historic hostelry like the Menger Hotel, next door to the Alamo.
But the first La Quinta answered a need. As the chain grew, it became a favorite of business and leisure travelers for its reasonable prices, attentive husband-and-wife managers and convenient locations, usually right off an interstate highway.
"They were built to accommodate medium-priced travelers," Sinkin said. "It wasn't going to be luxurious. It was going to be comfortable, with adequate parking." The company kept its room rates low because the motels didn't have high-overhead meeting or banquet rooms, restaurants, bars or big lobbies.
Sam Barshop sold his interest in the company in the early 1990s. His brother died in 1998, and the company moved to Irving the following year.
Sam Barshop was more sentimental about the corporate headquarters leaving San Antonio than he was about the passing of the first motel.
Barshop once said he would have liked the headquarters "to be here forever." But when news of the motel's demise first surfaced a year ago, he said, "I'm sentimental, but I don't get married to real estate."
La Quinta, which the Barshops started with a $45,000 loan, today is a corporation that employs more than 9,000 people and is one of the largest owner-operators of limited-service hotels.
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