On the Road, On a Postcard.
February 7, 2009 10:18 PM   Subscribe

The Motel in America. In a different America, where the novelty of driving cross-country and the charm of the highway strip drew droves of tourists--and their automobiles--from coast to coast in the name of exploration and recreation, motels provided a home away from home for weary travelers. While many of the great motels of the mid-twentieth century have disappeared from the national landscape, the linen postcards left behind in the Motel Morgue can give us a glimpse into what this era of American tourism and leisure looked like.
posted by sarabeth (24 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
I can't believe they don't have one for the Coral Court.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:17 PM on February 7, 2009


These are wonderful, wish they were larger. What really strikes you is the virtually identical execution style of all of them, and the fact that that style resembles a storybook illustration, almost as if they were intended from the beginning to represent a brief moment which would shortly become a vanishing, and then vanished, past.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:20 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I drove across the US a few years ago I was hoping to say in Mom and Pop type places. Thing is, they don't exist any more. Motel 6 bought them all.
posted by bardic at 2:35 AM on February 8, 2009


Needs more Lileks. Years of Mystery Science Theater 3000 have made me unable to appreciate mid-twentieth century elements without biting sarcasm.
posted by Servo5678 at 3:49 AM on February 8, 2009


I was hoping a card might exist for the Beverly Laurel, a "motor hotel" that still exists in the middle of LA. I stayed there a few months ago, it's a bit run down, but it still gets points for being able to drive right into the lobby . . .
posted by jeremias at 5:01 AM on February 8, 2009


There are still charming motels in Akansas.
posted by phirleh at 6:29 AM on February 8, 2009


These aren't totally gone, at least in Oregon.

There's the Mar-Clair in Tillamook and a few others strung out along the coast.

I did a cross-country drive in the fall, though, and didn't see any of the like from the Interstates.
posted by codswallop at 6:31 AM on February 8, 2009


If you go through Amarillo, Texas, you can stay at the Big Texan.
posted by chillmost at 6:38 AM on February 8, 2009


When I drove cross country in 1992 after college, I made a pact with myself to stay only in motels and to never pay more than 30 dollars for a night. I stayed in some fantastic dives and met some fantastic people. If they could combine the Motel Morgue with a Diner Morgue, I'd be a happy camper!
posted by spicynuts at 7:41 AM on February 8, 2009


No discussion of american motels is complete without

THe Madonna Inn

"the poor words with which natural human speech is provided, cannot suffice to describe the Madonna Inn...Let's say that Albert Speer, while leafing through a book on Gaudi, swallowed an overgenerous dose of LSD and began to build a nuptial catacomb for Liza Minnelli."
posted by The Whelk at 8:04 AM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


In an obituary essay on Vladimir Nabokov, Updike gave him special praise for the moment in Lolita when Mr. H recites Dolores' alphabetized class list - "A poem, a poem, forsooth!" - thereby ushering this homely phenomenon of the author's adopted country into its canon of literature.

On reflecting just now what a different book it would be were it not for the archipelago of lodgings the protagonists traverse on their journey towards perdition, it seems to me that Updike might well have chosen Nabokov's use of the motor hotel for that particular kind of recognition.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:03 AM on February 8, 2009


Man, that makes me nostalgic—in the '50s and early '60s my family drove across the country a number of times, shuttling between my dad's job in DC and his family in Southern California, and I loved staying in motels just like these. The ice buckets! The soft-drink machines! The odd furniture! What a pleasure those trips were. Thanks for the post!

Years of Mystery Science Theater 3000 have made me unable to appreciate mid-twentieth century elements without biting sarcasm.

This is exactly the problem with Kids Today. I hate you all.
posted by languagehat at 9:59 AM on February 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Um, wow, the Madonna Inn is something else. Thanks for mentioning that! I'll have to file that away. Also, luckily, there's an online resource called Motel Americana for locating the mom-and-pop motels that are still around. I can't vouch for how frequently it might be updated, but it seems to be relatively comprehensive. These postcards made me so wistful! I want to take a roadtrip tomorrow. Today. Yesterday.
posted by sarabeth at 10:33 AM on February 8, 2009


There are still plenty of mid-20th Century motels. It's just that they tend to be the sites of murders, robberies, rapes, drug deals, and vandalism. Having come from a town whose “glory days” are clearly over, I have no nostalgia for the Art Deco era.

If you stay in a motel for $25/night in many small towns in the U.S., you are running a bigger risk than you may realize.
posted by sonic meat machine at 11:38 AM on February 8, 2009


There are still plenty of mid-20th Century motels. It's just that they tend to be the sites of murders, robberies, rapes, drug deals, and vandalism.

Now there's a story in there somewhere.
posted by jeremias at 1:09 PM on February 8, 2009


When I drove across the US a few years ago I was hoping to stay in Mom and Pop type places. Thing is, they don't exist any more. Motel 6 bought them all.

i second the notion that they don't exist off interstates anymore, but they can be found if you are the type (like me) to drive secondary roads only, and are willing to drive around a little to find what you're looking for. near to rural downtowns across America, they still exist, and they aren't all extended stays for migrant workers. they're not always in the best of shape, and the accomodations are nothing like chains, but i like the individuality and the weirdness that comes in exchange.

i have found that many, many "mom and pop" type places have been bought by South Asians, and having driven to Missisippi and across the country to LA within the last five years, i've developed an intuition about the places. i confess that my cheapskate parents have instilled in me a sort of fearlessness about dive motels, and if you're willing to pay about $40, you can do pretty well. if you see an Indian restaurant anywhere near a motel, that's always a good bet. i find a Ganesha statue and the relaxing scent of incense the most welcoming thing possible at a front desk. and i've found that the family often takes special care to put me in a good room, close to the family apartment, as a woman traveler alone. that feels pretty good.

i think the worst one i stayed in was one near an army base in Kansas, where a drug dealer was parked directly outside my window with his headlights on for hours. that wasn't so great. *that* was a Motel 6.
posted by RedEmma at 2:55 PM on February 8, 2009


Heh - all of youse mooks didn't GROW UP WITH THE MADONNA INN, as I did.

Yes, dear readers, Lipstick Thespian grew up in lovely Los Osos, CA - just a scant 12 miles or so south of The Madonna Inn.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 4:15 PM on February 8, 2009


I love (most of the time, anyway) staying in Mom-and-Pop motels...

When I drove across the US a few years ago I was hoping to say in Mom and Pop type places. Thing is, they don't exist any more. Motel 6 bought them all.

Nope! I've ridden my bicycle across the USA a few times (across the middle of the country from Virginia to Oregon, up the Atlantic coast, from Maine to Washington state) and I stayed in many Mom-and-Pop motels, mostly in small towns.

Just because you don't see them alongside the interstate doesn't mean they don't exist.

There are still plenty of mid-20th Century motels. It's just that they tend to be the sites of murders, robberies, rapes, drug deals, and vandalism. Having come from a town whose “glory days” are clearly over, I have no nostalgia for the Art Deco era.

If you stay in a motel for $25/night in many small towns in the U.S., you are running a bigger risk than you may realize.


Sheesh, that sounds like my over-anxious Mom, or something. There are many perfectly safe cheap motels in small-town USA. What you're describing sounds like big-city flophouses or something.

i have found that many, many "mom and pop" type places have been bought by South Asians, and having driven to Missisippi and across the country to LA within the last five years, i've developed an intuition about the places. i confess that my cheapskate parents have instilled in me a sort of fearlessness about dive motels, and if you're willing to pay about $40, you can do pretty well.

Yep, and sometimes you can score some tasty Indian food at these places, although it didn't work out for me at this place in South Carolina, where the motel owner was using his parking lot as a food preparation area...
posted by JeffL at 5:17 PM on February 8, 2009


This is exactly the problem with Kids Today. I hate you all.

"Go to bed, old man!"

Sorry. Reflex.
posted by Servo5678 at 5:21 PM on February 8, 2009


I do a good bit of road-tripping, and I'll agree with what others have said here about many of these places still being around, just not on the interstates. I've stayed in a number of mom-and-pop type places which I really loved, and a few which were pretty crappy. I particularly enjoyed one I stayed at in Copper Harbor, Michigan, on the shore of Lake Superior. I found it an amusing sign of the times that there was no phone in the room (with a note that a phone was available in the office in case of an emergency), and cell phone reception was spotty at best—but the motel's wireless internet worked just fine.

That said, I generally try to stay in the big-chain hotels whenever I can. Not because I prefer them over the little motels, but because I tend to be very flexible when traveling, usually alone, without any definite plans (besides the specific place I'm staying), which means occasionally I don't arrive until pretty late at night. And I've had one or two times where I've arrived at a motel around midnight and got the impression that I had woken up the person in the office. Not that they showed any sign of irritation at this, but I hate doing this all the same. At a chain hotel I can be fairly confident that the desk is staffed by someone around the clock and I'm not waking anyone up when I arrive. Now, if I'm staying at a motel I make a point of trying to arrive by 9 p.m. or so, but that restricts my travels a bit more than I'd like.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:18 PM on February 8, 2009


JeffL, in my area at least there are no safe motels except for the better chains. There have been murders at all of the motels in my town in the last five years or so, I believe.

Granted, I live in a fairly depressed region.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:50 PM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Granted, I live in a fairly depressed region.

Not to be too snarky, but how many murders were committed at places OTHER THAN motels in the last five years?

I guess I just grew weary/amused during my travels at all the people who would warn me about how "dangerous" it was in the next town over, and that I should be careful. Yet, (almost) universally I encountered friendly, helpful people wherever I went.
posted by JeffL at 8:52 PM on February 8, 2009


Lipstick Thespian grew up in lovely Los Osos, CA - just a scant 12 miles or so south of The Madonna Inn.

I trust you visited the jaw-dropping men's room, with its waterfall that's activated when you break a beam of light. My brothers and I dragged our mother in there to see it (making sure it was unoccupied, of course), much to the distress of our straitlaced father.

"Go to bed, old man!"

*snores loudly, drools, mutters*
posted by languagehat at 8:40 AM on February 9, 2009


We run about seven murders a year, so I guess roughly 25 or so, JeffL.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:48 AM on February 9, 2009


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