LUMBERTON — After more than half a century of doing business in Lumberton, the Redwood Motor Lodge is slowly being demolished and its remnants removed.
Barfield Backhoe services began clearing out furniture and debris and tearing down the motel the week of March 17 and will likely keep working through April, according to the company’s owner, Brent Barfield.
While some residents — and certainly law enforcement officers — may say “good riddance,” the deteriorating, crime-ridden motel hasn’t always had its shady reputation.
A Jan. 11, 1957, article in The Robesonian hailed the completion of the “lavish 30-unit court” and advertised a formal open house for visitors to tour the lodge, described as “one of the most modern in this section of the country” and “one of the most elaborate tourists stops along highway 301.”
The lobby was done in turquoise and gold and featured a large open fireplace and redwood panelling, giving the U-shaped motel its name.
Postcards that were made to advertise the motel depicted its pool surrounded by young women in one-piece bathing suits. Next door was Blanchard’s restaurant, which became a gentleman’s club, then John’s and eventually Nelson’s Barbecue.
Ruth Ann Baker McLellan, who grew up in Lumberton, was married to John himself. But her memories of the spot began before that.
Before McLellan and her husband opened their restaurant in 1978, she and her family ate lunch at Blanchard’s every Sunday.
“Blanchard’s made rum buns and we had never had those before so we liked those,” she said. “Everything was special. You always sat with the same waitress. She always had your table ready for you. It was family.”
Then the motel was busy with families piling into rooms McLellan said you could practically park a car in. Others were playing shuffleboard or sitting by the pool watching the traffic on Interstate 95, which was constructed just yards from the motel in the 1960s.
“It was lovely. It was as nice as anything, maybe not in Miami, but in Myrtle Beach … people didn’t push the trip as hard. You had no air conditioning in the car. Momma and Daddy and the help are probably all smoking. Traveling with children you get tired. So they’d just leisurely pull off the road and stay a couple days.”
But eventually, the family road trip — and the motor lodge — fell out of fashion.
“It had its time, it had its season,” McLellan said, summing it up.
By the time John’s closed in 2007, McLellan said the motel was an entirely different — and bad — scene.
“It really became an eyesore for our customers,” she said. “Sometimes they’d come in and say, ‘is it safe to park out there?’”
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, it became home to drug activity, prostitution and pay-by-the-day guests, according to McLellan and Burnis Wilkins, who worked in law enforcement for 32 years.
“There’s been a host of criminal activity. I remember locating missing people there, runaway kids like 16-year-old girls, felony offenses, prostitution offenses. To be honest with you, it’s too many to count,” said Wilkins, who recently began his first term as a Lumberton city councilman.
By the late 1980s, Wilkins said 911 would receive calls from guests unaware of the motel’s history. Often, officers and deputies would park their patrol cars behind the nearby Highway Patrol station waiting to catch a drug deal in progress.
“It was the thing to do then,” Wilkins said. “… They’d sell a couple of crack rocks and that would pay for the night. Some of the prostitutes actually felt more comfortable having a room there instead of being on the street.”
Wilkins said stolen property was frequently found behind the motel.
“It seemed to be a popular location for shoplifters on foot running from Walmart,” he said.
By 2010, the Lumberton Police Department began looking into shutting the establishment down by having it declared a nuisance to the community. The department let the owner know, and he began shutting down the back side of the motel, where many of the issues occurred, Wilkins said.
The motel closed in July 2013.
“When I saw they had come to the city to get the permit to demolish it, I was what you would call elated,” Wilkins said. “I hope that there’s future plans for something productive to the city.”
Ketan Patel, who owns the property, said there are no definite plans for it yet, but that he hopes to develop it so it can be leased.
“We’d like to see some more big-box clients,” he said.
Patel is hopeful about the spot, which his parents owned previously.
“Lumberton is the newest growing town outside of Florence and Fayetteville, we think,” he said.