Last year, my company relocated to the former home of Hill’s Sporting Goods on Raleigh’s Capital Boulevard. From my new office window, I look across the northbound lanes into a parking lot of the old Capital Inn, recently purchased by the city with imminent plans for demolition. Soon, a grassy field and trees running along the meandering Crabtree Creek will replace it; in a matter of years, maybe decades, the strip between the northern and southern lanes will become a greenway and a park, this stretch of Capital once again serving as a lovely gateway to downtown Raleigh.
In its heyday, Capital was U.S. Highway 1. The parcel outside my window was home to Johnny’s Motor Lodge, Johnny’s Supper Club, and Johnny’s Drive-in Grill. Neighbors still stop by our building to regale us with stories about how they bought their first bicycle in our building; about the celebrity guests who stayed at Johnny’s, including The Rolling Stones, The Who, and Ike and Tina Turner; about parents brown-bagging liquor to the Supper Club for nights of steak and fried chicken.
At some point during the last century, Johnny’s became the Capital Inn, and the glamour vanished. The motel I’ve seen serves as a hive of criminal activity, with regular police visits. Yes, it could be a nuisance to surrounding neighborhoods, but it also offered a heartbreaking tableau of poverty. If you could afford to stay somewhere without one-star reviews that mention bedbugs, you probably would. I have gazed out the window and seen young children learning to ride a bicycle or flying kites in the parking lot, a sight somehow sad and endearing.
Nearly two years ago, the city announced its intention to purchase the motel, but it wasn’t clear the owner would even sell. Months ago, a man whose lover was locked in a room with her heroin dealer broke a window to get in. The pane was replaced with plywood; I decided that, should the plywood eventually get new glass, the owner wouldn’t sell. Two more windows were soon smashed and covered with plywood, and they remained for months. Finally, the city announced it had made its move.
The Capital is vacant as it awaits demolition, but there’s occasional activity. People recently walked from room to room, collecting Gideon Bibles. And the police have used the motel as practice for SWAT raids. They came back for more preparation following the mass shooting in Orlando, but they didn’t replace the plywood windows they ruined. Now the curtains flap in the breeze.
The neighbors are planning a celebration for the start of demolition. Dump trucks will haul away the motel’s remains, the landmark giving way to scraped red clay and, someday, a verdant scene of planted trees and grass. It’s remarkable to me that the boom-to-bust-to-boom cycle for this stretch only took around sixty years. In the next century, it could go full circle yet again.