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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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 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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.”