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When I did the photo set, I never thought I was going to be documenting the last days of the complex…

June 19, 2005, 4:27 AM

When I shot the photos that comprised the two-part photo set Afton Mountain: Victim of Progress, I never really thought that what I was documenting would disappear so quickly. The focus of the photo set was threefold, if you recall:

Howard Johnson's Restaurant
Howard Johnson’s Restaurant

Skyline Parkway Motel
Skyline Parkway Motel

Skyline Parkway Motor Court
Skyline Parkway Motor Court

Since September 10, 2003 when I took the pictures, things have changed. The Skyline Parkway Motel was torched in July 2004, leaving it a charred ruin, completely destroying the roof, the portico, and heavily damaging the central portion of the building:

Skyline Parkway Motel after an arson fire

Now, according to a June 18 article in The News-Virginian, the Skyline Parkway Motel is going to be demolished, with a crew out there on Friday prepping it for demolition. Additionally, according to the article, Phil Dulaney, the Charlottesville businessman who owns this cluster of businesses on Afton Mountain, has plans to also demolish the Skyline Parkway Motor Court and also the Howard Johnson’s.

Now here is where the article presents a touch of ambiguity. In past articles about the mountain, The News-Virginian seems to have been unable to understand that the Howard Johnson’s on Afton Mountain was a stand-alone restaurant, and that there was no Howard Johnson’s motor lodge up there. They have in the past referred to the Skyline Parkway Motor Court as the “Howard Johnson’s Motel”, which we find a bit odd. The ambiguity comes in because the article says, “Besides the Skyline Parkway Motel, Dulaney said he planned to raze the adjoining lodging properties, including the Howard Johnson’s, to make room for a multimillion-dollar renovation.” So the question is will they demolish the Howard Johnson’s restaurant, which is not a lodging property, and what about the still-operating motel known as The Inn At Afton, which is located above the Skyline Parkway Motel?

My gut feeling is that with this redevelopment, the days of the Howard Johnson’s restaurant on Afton Mountain, closed since 1998, are officially numbered. As for The Inn At Afton, I really can’t say, but considering how dumpy the place is (I’ve been inside before), I kind of hope it goes away, too.

The article leaves out details about what the big renovation will entail. New restaurants? A shining new motel property? The only thing it says is that there will be a new tourist information center up there, presumably replacing the one that currently operates beneath a row of abandoned motel rooms.

I’m kind of excited to see what goes on up there. I’ll be interested to see old things as they come down, and new things as they go up. But it will be sad to see the vintage properties go, and a shame that it seems that the Howard Johnson’s won’t be renovated and incorporated into these plans.

It reminds me of the time I went up there in October 2003, a month and some change after I did the photo set. Someone had taped a newspaper article on the door that had a photo of the restaurant as it appeared when it first opened in it, talking about vintage architecture, and also a handwritten note that said, “Please buy me and open me up”. A shame that it is not to be, as I would love to have seen it reopened. Especially since, while I was up there that day, an older couple stopped at the Howard Johnson’s to use the restroom, only to discover that it was closed. I, being the nice person that I am, directed them up to The Inn At Afton for a restroom.

So there you go. I had no idea that I would be documenting history with my photo sets, in what I would honestly consider a rare local photo set, as most of my Photography sets are done in the Washington DC area.

Web site: Autoage.org article about the Howard Johnson's on the mountain

Song: None

Quote: Also, it's worth noting, speaking of disappearing HoJo's locations, that the former motor lodge in Harrisonburg, which also served as JMU's "Rockingham Hall" for three years, was also being prepped for demolition when I drove by a few weeks ago. My guess is that when I next drive by this Wednesday, the old motor lodge in Harrisonburg will be gone...