Dorri Partain 
Assistant Editor

As the final section of the reconfigured intersection at Independence Avenue and The Paseo nears completion, The Northeast News journeys back in time to when the intersection was a mecca for travelers exiting the interstate.

The completion of the Paseo Bridge in 1954 brought southbound traffic from the newly-constructed Interstate 35 across the Missouri River to the edge of downtown and US 24. Travelers exiting onto 24 (Independence Avenue) were funneled directly onto The Paseo, passing a few older apartment buildings and service stations, with the closest lodging further west in downtown.

Appealing to the modern traveler, within the next ten years three motels would overtake the intersection with their offerings of restaurants, lounges, and swimming pools, beckoning weary travelers with their neon signage.

Opening in the summer of 1958, the Admiral-Paseo Motel at 1409 Admiral Boulevard was designed as a one-story 20-unit motor inn with parking in front of each room. Architect Manuel Morris, now joined by partner Robert Sixta, was back to the drawing board a year later to design an addition, making the Admiral a two-story 40-unit complex, completed in February 1960. 

the Admiral-Paseo Motel at 1409 Admiral Boulevard

Meanwhile, at the opposite corner, another new motel was taking shape, Motel Capri at 1437 Independence Avenue. Designed by architect Morris Schecter, the Capri was built of beige brick and highlighted by turquoise doors. Owner/ builders Jack DiBenedetto, Sal Arello, and Phil Forte started with 15 units. Five more units were added on the south end the following year. The complex more than doubled in 1963, adding 36 more units for a total of 56 rooms and a new restaurant and lounge.

Motel Capri at 1437 Independence Avenue

Construction of the Northway Inn at 600 The Paseo began in 1964. Architects Morris and Sixta were back to design a two-story 60-unit motel, restaurant, and lounge complex for owners Harris Miller of Miller Pontiac and Charles and Barnett Helzberg Jr. of Helzberg Diamonds. Touted as “Downtown’s newest motor inn”, the complex opened its doors to travelers in February 1965.

Northway Inn at 600 Paseo BLVD

Motorists exiting the highway were greeted with a barrage of signage designed to catch their attention. The Admiral-Paseo had a parking lot sign facing Admiral Blvd. that was mostly obscured by a service station along The Paseo and later, the larger sign from the Northway, but motorists were sure to notice an additional neon sign that announced Admiral Motel in glowing red neon atop the motel’s roof.

Motel Capri attracted guests with a sign facing The Paseo, with the script “Capri” outlined in white neon tubing.  Attached to two yellow slanted posts, additional signs indicated the motel offered a restaurant and lounge.

As the largest motel, the Northway Inn sported the largest sign, with a giant lighted “N” positioned between two of its three spires and a gold “sputnik” balancing between the other two.

But the real attraction, especially for traveling families, was that each motel offered a sparkling swimming pool, complete with lounge chairs and colorful umbrellas, just steps from their motel room.

No matter that cars were whizzing along The Paseo while travelers splashed and relaxed, their only real view of the motel parking lot, motel sign, and two other nearby motels, each motel advertised their pools on postcards and matchbooks along with other amenities including phones, AM-FM radios, and televisions.

The Northway’s pool was bean-shaped, the Capri’s was pear-shaped, and the Admiral’s was square.  In the summer of 1966, youngsters from the Don Bosco Center took swimming lessons in the Admiral’s “attractive, small-size pool”, which also offered them the chance to meet and swim with youngsters visiting from other cities and states. Later that fall, the center held its Fall Festival in the motel’s parking lot.

Motel Capri operated independently, while the Northway Inn was affiliated with Best Western and the Admiral with Friendship Inns of America. Owner Frank Stasi named the Admiral’s restaurant after himself and Stasi’s attracted not just travelers staying at the motel but customers from the neighborhood, and even offered a Thanksgiving special, turkey, and all the trimmings for $2.00.  Motel Capri was well-known to Northeast residents for their fried chicken and spaghetti dinners, especially on Sundays after church. The Northway operated the Lantern Lounge, a coffee shop, snack bar and restaurant with a “Nantucket decor”.

In 1968, ownership of the Northway shifted and became operated by the owners of the PROM Sheraton at 6th and Main. Land along Independence Avenue was purchased to double the size of the inn but never progressed. In 1971, Ramada Inn took over operations and the sign was modified with the chain’s motif but spared the gold sputnik.

Easy access to the freeway not only attracted travelers. All the motels had their share of robberies and robbery attempts. A shootout in the Ramada parking lot between the police and a thief that ended tragically for the thief seemed to spark the decision to sell the location and new owners renamed the motel the Royale Inn in 1979, removing the original triple spire sign.

Lodging downtown and “near downtown” took a dive as decades followed. While all the motels kept their doors open, the clientele changed. The pools were filled in or paved over, and restaurants and lounges closed. 

Citing Motel Capri’s proximity to its expanding campus, Kansas City University purchased the complex in 2015 and demolished the buildings, which created additional green space along The Paseo. Days prior to demolition, the neon sign was saved and donated to the Kansas City Museum. Across the street, the languishing Royale was purchased by the city in August 2016 to begin construction of the Paseo Gateway Project, a $30 million federal Housing and Urban Development-funded project that included a complete realignment of the Independence and Paseo intersection.

The remaining Admiral Motel had its red neon rooftop signage removed in July 2017 when the owners franchised with Rodeway Inn. The pool area is still visible inside the motel’s entrance.

Motel postcards from the collection of Michael Bushnell. Motel Capri match cover from collection; others from the collection of Dorri Partain.

Signage from the Motel Capri and Admiral Motel have been acquired by the Lumi Neon Museum and will be on display later this year.