Spring has officially sprung here, and I’ve been itching to get out and about. Usually by this time of year I’ve already posted about an annual auction we attend. This year, however, (as you can surely guess) it was held online. I didn’t even bother with it. More than half of the fun was people-watching and stopping off at our favorite watering hole on the way home. That just doesn’t translate very well electronically.

But none of this is going to stop me from time traveling. You’re invited to come along! Since time isn’t really a big issue, we can take lots of it. Since gas is cheap, we’ll dart all around the country in the least efficient manner possible. Rather than making a journey based on logical and geographic constraints, our journey today will be a journey through time. We’re not going to any museums, national parks or historic sites. Nope; we’re just going to go to one motel after another… picking up a souvenir postcard at each stop to remember our journey by! We’ll begin in the 1920’s and stop in the 1970’s, just about the time that everything started to get boring and ugly and needlessly bureaucratic.

This isn’t meant to be a scholarly treatise on roadside architecture or the evolution of lodging, but will serve as a brief introduction to a subject which is fascinating and has been looked at more exhaustively by others. Pack your bags and let’s get going!

When the automobile first gained popularity, tourism became accessible to a greater number of people than before. In the 1910’s it was common for travelers to pack a tent and camping equipment for their time-consuming journeys. Tourist camps, as they were called, sprang up along popularly traveled roads.

Entrepreneurs located along these roads were happy to meet the demand for overnight lodging and soon built more permanent “camps” for the motorists’ convenience, often alongside their own homes. Early camps, such as this c. 1920 example outside of Abilene, Kansas, would even rent you a mattress with your cottage — for an extra fifty cents. If you were on a budget, a quarter would get you a space on which to pitch your tent. Note the small gas station with single fuel pump! Four of these “cottages” have an attached carport. Many early camps lacked these features. I’m guessing that the kitchen, laundry and showers were likely located in another, shared, structure.

By the 1930’s tourist camps were being marketed as tourist courts. Many were indeed arranged around a small courtyard (rather than the giant parking lot which was to follow in later years). In this example from Greencastle, Pennsylvania, the individual cottages have been replaced with more substantial duplex units — each with its own color scheme.

Here, lawn chairs pepper the court at Dickens’ Deluxe Motor Court in Lake City, Florida. These cottages are also of the duplex type and appear to date to the late 1930’s.

The 1930’s Coronado Court in Longmont, Colorado, illustrates a growing trend… duplex units joined by a common roof with the spaces in-between serving as a garage. This development helped to shape the this type of lodging into the more recognizable form soon to be called a “motel” (motor hotel).

Also from the 30’s, the more refined Sage and Sand in Tucson, Arizona was geared for the more well-heeled tourist. The comfy furnishings assure us that this is a nice place!

This Art Moderne tourist motel court is arranged around a central office with parking replacing much of the “court”. Bismarck, North Dakota, c. 1940.

The Faralu Motel in Santa Monica, California, still maintains a courtyard arrangement but looks decidedly motel-like in the 1940’s.

Great! This room has a phone. I need to make a few phone calls because I think we’re going to be on the road a bit longer than I had told everyone when we left! This place is the first two-story joint we’ve run across, too… It really is modern! El Rancho Motel, Williston, North Dakota, c. 1950.

While seemingly everyone is going modern, a few places are retaining a sense of dignity and history (even if a tad contrived)! Williamsburg Motor Court, Williamsburg, Virginia, c. 1950.

Many mid-century motels featured a large office, sign, or other structure to anchor the motel itself and give some architectural character to the premises. Here, a jaunty service station anchors the Ideal Motel in Rawlins, Wyoming, c. 1955.

The three-story construction seen here reflects the cost of land and development in Las Vegas, Nevada, c. 1960. Who wouldn’t want to stay at a place called the Orbit Inn? The space age is upon us!

It would be hard to miss this sign and office combination! The pool is a bit close to the highway, but I could sure use a dip about now. Del-Mar Motel, Valdosta, Georgia, c. 1960.

The roof of the A-Frame office/lobby serves as type of billboard in addition to the swell sign! Bryant’s Motel, Statesboro, Georgia, c. 1965.

While the sign here is graphically assertive, the motel lobby itself suggests a more traditional and residential look. Thunderbird Motel, Lake Tahoe, California, c. 1960’s.

Look! A television! I haven’t bashed HGTV for a while; let’s turn it on! Motel 70, Crystal Springs, Pennsylvania, c. 1960’s.

Oh, thank heavens… this place has got a Denny’s attached to it. After all this driving around I’m absolutely famished! When did we last eat, was it in Valdosta? Foothill Motel, Auburn, California c. 1965.

This place looks swanky! I love the arcaded roof. Holiday Inn, Savannah, Georgia, c. 1960’s.

Year-round fun in the Holidome! Holiday Inn, Grand Forks, North Dakota, c. 1970.

Finally! A lounge with a decent piano player. I think it’s Miller time! Town House Motor Inn, Fargo, North Dakota, c. 1975. You don’t mind if we stay here for a while, do you? I just don’t think I’m ready for the 80’s (or the twenty-first century which awaits).

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