The Golden Age of Motels
19 artifacts in this set
Begun in 1929, Alamo Plaza Hotel Courts was an early referral chain of several individually owned motels that, in architectural style and name, proudly recalled Texas heritage. Each of these Courts was operated by a family member or friend of entrepreneur and founder Lee Torrance.
Motorists weary of roughing it in tents found that homey little cabins offered a convenient, economical alternative. By the 1930s, tourist cabins were popping up everywhere. Kirk's Tourist Camp offered convenient lodging next to an automotive service station in Hodgenville, Kentucky -- near Abraham Lincoln's birthplace and boyhood home.
Motorists weary of roughing it in tents found that homey little cabins offered a convenient, economical alternative. By the 1930s, tourist cabins were popping up everywhere. Bell's Tourist Camp in Texarkana, Arkansas offered a selection of "modern cottages," along with a restaurant and market.
The Texaco gas station was the focus of this postcard for Olney's Camp in Lordsburg, New Mexico. C.C. Olney, the proprietor, promised "reasonable prices" for a stay in his "strictly modern cabins." The cabins were connected to each other by garages for car parking. The architecture of Olney's Camp was Pueblo Revival, a popular style in the Southwest.
Photographic cards like this one, with their glued-on labels, were a preliminary step taken by Dexter Press before producing postcards for small business owners to mail or hand out to customers. The owner of this tourist stop, located in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, tried to cover all bases -- offering lunch, beer and wine, gasoline and oil, and overnight lodging.
Photographic cards like this one, with their glued-on labels, were a preliminary step taken by Dexter Press before producing postcards for small business owners to mail or hand out. When Mom-and-Pop owners of tourist cabins realized the efficiencies they could achieve by stringing rooms together in a long row, thousands of new "motels" beckoned motorists with their unique homey comforts.
Motorists traveling on U.S. Highway 66 around 1940 could stop at the Koronado Kourts in Joplin, Missouri. This foldout postcard depicts the clean and well laid out buildings of this tourist court. Owners confidently claimed that their establishment was "The Finest and Most Up-to-Date Tourist Kourts in the Entire Southwest on U.S. 66 Highway."
The Marco Tourist Court delivered on the expectation that a Florida vacation should involve lots of sunshine and time spent outdoors. The lawn chairs, swiveling patio umbrellas, colorful gardens, and picturesque footbridge in this postcard enticed potential guests. Mr. and Mrs. Jimmie Guidry, the owners and managers, also advertised that each of their homey-looking cottages had heat and private baths.
Federal Highway 66 (more commonly known as Route 66) was established in 1926, and spanned 2,448 miles from Chicago, Illinois, to Los Angeles, California. The Cactus Motor Lodge, built in Tucumcari, New Mexico in 1941, was a welcome sight to weary travelers driving west from Texas. Rooms boasted "New Mexico's finest steam heat," box springs, and carpeting.
Motel design often reflected regional architectural style. This 1950 postcard shows La Siesta Court in Winter Park, Florida. The Spanish Revival architecture evokes the early history of central Florida.
Photographic cards like this one, with their glued-on labels, were a preliminary step taken by Dexter Press before producing postcards for small business owners to mail or hand out to customers. Roadside tourist cabins and cottages like these -- though primitive -- promised motorists more comfort than outdoor camping and less expense than a hotel stay.
This motor court was laid out like a veritable neighborhood of cottages, akin to the suburban streets of many of its customers. According to the postcard, the proprietor promised that each room was "100% modern" and had vented "Panel-Ray" heat. Cooking facilities were also available while a swing set out in the central courtyard provided a diversion for the kids.
The owners of the Royal Motor Lodge in Santee, South Carolina, met certain service standards and could sport the Best Western logo. Some travelers looking for reliable facilities and quality visitor experience relied on these association logos to help make decisions on where to stay.
A. G. Gaston founded this motel in 1954 to provide African-American travelers a place to stay while in Birmingham, Alabama. Modeled after the groundbreaking Holiday Inns that had recently opened in Memphis, Tennessee, this motel included 32 rooms, each with their own air-conditioning and telephone. In 1963, the motel became the epicenter of Birmingham's Civil Rights protests and demonstrations.
Motel design often reflected regional architectural style. The Springs Motel in Lexington, Kentucky, as seen in this ca. 1955 postcard, reminds one of the numerous horse farms visible throughout the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky.
By the 1950s, motels faced increasing competition from a plethora of other motels, more modern motor inns in urban areas, and the hugely popular Holiday Inn chain (started 1952). Newer motel designs like this one had multiple stories, swimming pools, and larger rooms with an array of features that included wall-to-wall carpeting, air-conditioning, free ice, in-room telephones, and TVs.
A motel postcard was usually a free souvenir for guests, but it also served as advertisement for the owner. This postcard shows the Dreamland Motel and its amenities -- a pool and restaurant. A patron sent this postcard to friends in Dearborn, Michigan. Perhaps these friends -- the motel owner hoped -- would stop and stay when they passed through on their way to Florida.