ONARCHITECTURE- No-tell motel: Clerk remembers the randy heyday
Ehrhardt suspects the Mercers simply ignored the property after she left in 1986, something the family's wealth allowed them to do.
PHOTO BY DAVE MCNAIR
"Shady things, probably," laughs Shirley Ehrhardt, 68, when asked what so many locals were doing when they visited the Airport Motel on Route 29 North during the 21 years she managed it. "If people really knew who stayed there, they'd be shocked," she says. "We used to call it 'the no-tell motel.'"
Our recent column on the iconic old place ["Terminal vacancy: The Airport Motel finally checks out," November 11], which will soon be demolished to make way for a Walgreens, sent Ehrhardt on a trip down memory lane. She ran the motel for several owners– including Richmond carpet king George Mercer Sr.– from 1965 to 1986. And while names of former guests (they must have liked the remote location just north of town) are safe with Ehrhardt– she still adheres to the hotelier's code of silence– our column did prompt a few stories.
She says Mercer Sr. bought the 2.3-acre property in 1969 for $65,000 and built his carpet store soon after. Today, the property is assessed at over $2.5 million.
"At that time, everything about the motel was beautiful," says Ehrhardt (who opened her own thrift store, Twice Is Nice in the Preston Avenue Shopping Center, 17 years ago). "A lot of tourists came there, airline pilots, people for football games... and, of course, a lot of locals, too."
Ehrhardt says Mercer Sr. made frequent trips to Charlottesville to check on the motel and his carpet store; she remembers that he never spared any expense in keeping the motel running smoothly. "I cared about that motel, " she says, "and I never had any trouble with Mr. Mercer. They had lots of money and would fix anything I asked."
Ehrhardt, who lived in a house on the hotel property and often visited the Mercer mansion in Richmond, also remembers little Tinsley Mercer, now one of NYC's leading socialites, as a "very, very nice little girl."
However, she suspects the motel fell into disrepair after Tinsley's father, George Mercer Jr., took over the family operations. "George Jr. had no interest in the place," she says. "And unless you're there to take care of things...."
Ehrhardt suspects the Mercers simply ignored the property after she left in 1986, something the family's wealth allowed them to do. The Hook attempted contact George Mercer Jr. using his Richmond phone number, but it had been disconnected. According to various news reports, Mercer now lives in Palm Beach, Florida.
"I wanted to buy the motel property before Mercer Sr. did," admits Ehrhardt, "but no one I talked to about investing was interested. Most people at that time thought that part of Route 29 North wouldn't amount to anything.
"But I knew it was a good investment," she says. "I knew all this development was going to happen eventually because it certainly wasn't going to go south. It had to go north. I just didn't have the money."
"At that time, everything about the motel was beautiful," says Shirley Ehrhardt, who ran the Airport Motel (seen here in 1984) from 1965 to 1986.VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF HISTORIC RESOURCES
Ehrhardt says the remote motel used to be popular with locals. "If people really knew who stayed there," she says, "they'd be shocked."
PHOTO BY WILL WALKER