The Perfect Coastal Mid-Century Motel Is for Sale in Maine

Ever dreamed of running a mid-century motel in seaside Maine? The perfect 1951 property in York Beach can now be yours.

By Joe Bills

Aug 30 2021

Have you ever dreamed of owning your own little piece of vacationland Americana? Opportunity awaits: The beachfront Nevada Motel is for sale. This mid-century classic, located just across the road from Long Sands Beach in York Beach, Maine, was built by U.S. Navy veteran Henry de la Pena in 1951. Portions of the building were modeled after the flybridge of the U.S.S. Nevada, on which de la Pena served during World War II.
The Nevada Motel has been a York Beach fixture since 1951.
Photo Credit : Courtesy of Williams Realty Partners
I met Paul de la Pena, Henry’s son, on a recent sunny day, as he and daughter Catey soaked up some rays while collecting money from incoming cars for beach parking. Every one of the motel’s 21 rooms was empty.
The Nevada Motel as depicted on a 1950s postcard. The second-floor deck area was later shortened by the addition of two more guest rooms.
Photo Credit : Courtesy of Paul de la Pena
Today the motel is owned by Paul and two siblings. It had been operated by members of the de la Pena family up until 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic forced a shutdown. “I’m 65 and was working my way toward retirement anyway,” Paul says. “But when we were preparing to reopen this year, no one applied to work. That was kind of the final straw, and we decided it was time to move on.” He says he could not ever recall seasonal labor being difficult to come by before. “We usually hire a handful of high school kids each summer, and we’ve always had a list of people who wanted work,” he says. “So this was the last thing we expected.”
The 21 rooms of the Nevada Motel sit empty this summer. Already considering retirement, owner Paul de la Pena saw the writing on the wall when the seasonal help that the motel has always relied on didn’t materialize this past spring.
Photo Credit : Joe Bills
Paul started making beds at his father’s motel when he was only 10 years old, following in the footsteps of his older sisters. By the time he was 15, he’d added laundry to his duties. “We took pride in being clean,” he says. “My mother always said, ‘It doesn’t have to be fancy, so long as it’s clean.’ And that’s us. We’ve never been fancy, but we’ve always kept prices reasonable and tried to be family-friendly.”
The rooms at the Nevada Motel aren’t fancy, but they’ve never needed to be: The starring attraction of a stay here is what’s across the street.
Photo Credit : Joe Bills
As we chat, Paul occasionally waves at familiar faces passing by. “We’ve been doing day beach parking since 1968,” he says. “It was one of my first jobs. I think we may have been the first on the beach to start doing it.” The motel sits on one of the largest lots along the Long Sands Beach strip, with room for about 50 cars in the lot out back.
The view of Long Sands Beach from the upper deck of the Nevada Motel.
Photo Credit : Joe Bills
The story, as Paul understands it, is that when his father got out of the Navy in 1947, he visited his sister-in-law and her husband in Pompano Beach, Florida, where they had opened a motel. And thus the seed was planted. Henry de la Pena’s first thought was that he would find a place for a motel in Wells, Maine, but when he saw an open lot right on the beach in York, he knew he’d found his location. The lot had been vacant since 1936, when the old Hiawatha Hotel had been torn down.
The Nevada Motel under construction in 1951.
Photo Credit : Courtesy of Paul de la Pena
The lot was filled to raise the level of the land, and the rear portion of the motel was built on stilts — innovations that have proven wise again and again over the years.
Photo Credit : Courtesy of Paul de la Pena
The motel takes shape. (Dig that 1940s roller.)
Photo Credit : Courtesy of Paul de la Pena
With the addition of the doors, it is already starting to look like the Nevada.
Photo Credit : Courtesy of Paul de la Pena
When the motel first opened, Henry hedged his bets and kept his day job as a machinist for Remington Arms, so the responsibility for day-to-day operations fell largely on Maria, his wife. The motel industry was booming at the time, and any questions about the Nevada’s viability were soon answered, allowing Henry to commit himself full time. The mortgage on the property was paid off in 1956, and there’s never been one since.
The Nevada Motel’s signature teal trim has welcomed generations of guests. “Styles have changed,” Paul de la Pena notes, “and people love it or hate it. For every person who I hear commenting on that ‘weird’ building, there are two others out there excitedly taking pictures.”
Photo Credit : Joe Bills
Henry and Maria ran the motel together for more than three decades. Paul and his siblings grew up working at the Nevada. When his mother passed away in 1986, Paul moved back to York full-time to help his father run the business. Henry continued to work the front desk until he was 92. He was 96 when he died in 2015.
The front office of the Nevada Motel. Henry de la Pena manned this desk until he was 92 years old.
Photo Credit : Joe Bills
“We’re open from May 15 until October 15, so from 1986 until Covid, I basically never had a day off in the summer,” Paul laughs. “You just get used to it.”
This painting by artist Scot Thomas now hangs by the check-in desk of the Nevada Motel. Do you have a vision for the future of this memorable property?
Photo Credit : Joe Bills
Although Paul was already considering retirement, when it actually came time to cancel reservations, it was even more difficult than he expected. “We have a lot of returning customers, and each year we’d take reservations for the next year. So we were already about three-quarters booked for the summer,” he says. “They become friends. It was hard to turn them away, and honestly, it was surprising how much people cared. So many people have reached out since we announced that we were closing. It makes you feel good, like maybe you did something right. Running a place like this, you touch a lot of lives.”