a slice of history

Remembering the New Hampshire Highway Hotel

The deep dish on the current Uno's spot
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he New Hampshire Highway Hotel as it once was. The hotel was a haven for politicians and travelers alike.
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The main entrance.

From political pop-ins to pepperoni pizza. The most efficient and effective use of the letter P that you've ever read? Precisely. But it also happens to be a very concise description of a major transition on Fort Eddy Road almost two decades ago.

Allow us to elaborate.

The New Hampshire Highway Hotel dominated Fort Eddy Road for almost 40 years before its sale and demolition in 1988, a demolition that opened the door to different commerce, including Pizzeria Uno, which is celebrating its 18th year in business by tapping into some of the hotel's history.

Uno is hosting a remodel open house June 20 and 21 (from 6 to 8 p.m. both nights) to showcase a revamped exterior, and is including several nostalgic photos of the hotel in the process. Nancy Polep, marketing coordinator of the Concord Uno restaurant, spent hours researching the former political epicenter of the state capital that was often referred to as "the crossroads of New Hampshire."

"I remember back then, a lot of people were upset the hotel was going away, but when we came, we were welcomed and embraced," Polep said. "That's one of the reasons we try to give back."

That they do. Uno frequently hosts "dough raisers," events where a portion of all proceeds go to particular causes, and has been near the front of the line in several community causes, including the ongoing Friendly Kitchen restoration. The store has given more than $500,000 back to the community since 2006.

So it makes sense that a remodel celebration would include a look at its predecessor on the site, a mammoth hotel that hosted most of the important political figures in the country at some point or another during its life span from 1951 to 1988.

It's location just off Interstate 93 made it a natural meeting place for those traveling both north and south, and it became an iconic figure in the state., the only destination on Fort Eddy Road at the time.

It hosted political gatherings of all sorts - including a gun owner's association meeting that included both Bushes, Ronald Reagan, Walter Mondale and Hubert Humphrey, among others - but also welcomed Concord High School proms and dances, weddings and other community events.

It's a storied history with an intriguing ending. The hotel closed in September 1988 after Milwaukee developer Frank Crivello purchased it for $4.4 million at auction with the intent to demolish it and build a shopping center.

But less than two months later, a fire deemed "extremely suspicious" by the fire chief torched a good portion of the abandoned building. The fire required the work of more than 100 firefighters from 20 trucks and 10 towns before it was under control.

People were seen fleeing the scene, and a blue Toyota 4x4 was also seen speeding away, and it was later revealed that the fire had been set by the 19-year old son of a Concord firefighter.

The transition from hotel to shopping center wasn't a speedy one, either. After asbestos briefly halted further demolition, the rubble left behind from the project remained for some time, earning the distinction as Concord's No. 1 eyesore during a Concord Monitor reader survey, capturing nearly one-third of all votes.

All manner of projects were rumored to be replacing the hotel until Stop & Shop opened in June of 1993 in the building that is now Hannaford. A photo in the Oct. 12, 1993, Concord Monitor shows a bulldozer leveling the rest of the area for a strip mall, which would include Uno.

Uno opened its doors June 13, 1994.

The recent remodeling work happened to coincide with the anniversary of that opening, prompting Polep to plan the celebration, and including the Highway Hotel only added to the community charm Uno tries to embody.

"I said, 'With the Highway Hotel, this is not just a blank piece of land, there's a lot of history here,' " Polep said. "And we're making history. It's 18 years and going strong."

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