Curtis Perry Outtake: Chevrolet Vega Nomad – Relax (Formerly: Drink) Freely At McFeely

CP Vega Nomad side

How could I resist these shots by Curtis Perry of a Vega “Nomad” wagon in front of McFeely’s Bar in Walla Walla, WA? It’s been a fixture there, in the historic McFeely Hotel building, since 1948. Sadly, it seems to have closed in the last year or so. But this was shot a few years back, and presumably, the Vega’s owner was relaxing freely.

CP Vega Nomad fq

The Nomad appearance package was apparently an aftermarket affair, and is mostly associated with 1976 Vegas. But this a 1974 or 1975, and I suspect some folks added it after the fact. It’s obviously just some filler panels on the door and side window to evoke the classic ’55 – ’57 Nomad. Frankly, I’m somewhat surprised that Chevrolet didn’t offer this themselves.

McFeely Tavern matchbook

A little Googling turned up this matchbook cover from McFeely’s Tavern, and it turns out the original slogan was “Drink Freely At McFeely”.  I guess that became a no-no at some point in more recent history.

McFeely Hotel construction, 1911

I was a bit intrigued by the McFeely Hotel building, and dug up a bit of history on it. Here’s a shot of it under construction, in 1911. It was built for some $13,000 by John McFeely, who had done pretty well shoeing horses since moving to Walla Walla in 1891. He also owned a cafe and 800 acres of wheat land, but it appears he may have lost it all in the Depression, as he had mortgages on all of the properties.

McFeely Hotel, ca1914

The hotel had forty rooms, with running hot and cold water, steam heat and even a phone in every room. Rates were $1.00 and $1.50.

I remember paying $2.60 for a room at the Hotel New Boston in Salt Lake City in 1971, when I was returning from my months-long hitchhike out West. It was a similar vintage hotel, which by 1971 found itself in the middle of SLC’s skid row. The desk clerk sat behind a glassed-in office, and there was a prominent sign that said “Manager Is Expert In Karate”. The sheets were threadbare, but it was a restful night. Come to think of it, it was the only time I ever paid for a room on that whole trip; I either camped or crashed with young folks I met along the way. I was getting precariously low on money, but there was no other option in SLC; it was not hospitable to a long-haired hitchhiker in 1971. I’m sure that hotel has long been torn down and redeveloped.

CP Vega Nomad rr

To use an over-used expression, I digress. The Hotel McFeely has seen better days, as have so many small town downtowns. But I’m sure McFeely’s closing was missed by more than a few old-timers.