Monday, September 23, 2019

The Rise of Motels

Wildwood, New Jersey, Motel, Rooms Most people who have driven cross country have stayed at one or more motels on the route.  Some motels were part of nationwide chains while others are small mom and pop facilities in those little places in the middle of nowhere.

Motels have their origin back with the rise of the automobile.  Once Ford began cranking out cars that could be afforded by everyone, people started traveling further and further away from home.  If they got too far from home, they might have to stay in an expensive hotel, rent a room in a house, or camp in a field by the roadside.  For those who didn't want to arrive at a hotel, covered in dirt and looking a bit worse for the wear, camping was a wonderful alternative.  People were more likely to rent rooms to tourists in the east while camping was much more popular in the west.

As the depression hit, and more and more people traveled the roads looking for work or a better life, farmers and municipalities began throwing up small gas stations surrounded by small cabins to attract those in "Tin Lizzies" .  These cabins might be constructed out of prefabricated kits or thrown together from scratch.  Some owners charged different prices based on if there was a mattress in the room or came with sheets and blankets while other let travelers stay for free. Either way these cabin camps offered places for people to spend the night.

During the late 30's and 40's business owners began building sturdier and better cabins situated in round courts.  These facilities were also known as tourist courts, were so much better than the original dry cabins because they might include running water, laundry facilities, flush toilets.  These cabins were much more traveler friendly because they could park they automobiles next to the cabin or under a carport.  Soon, gas stations, and restaurants grew up around these cabin courts offering travelers even more.  By 1935, it is estimated there were over 10,000 cabin courts crossing the nation.

Unfortunately, the shortages during World War II caused people to decrease their travels but the military men who crossed the country for training, etc saw parts they wanted to return to when the war ended.  Any motels built during the war, were built in long buildings with connecting rooms rather than individual cabins. Since the rooms used one foundation, one roof, and shared utilities so the cost of constructing the new motels decreased significantly and parking moved to the front of the building.

 It was during the expansion of the road system commissioned by Eisenhower, that the motel was born.  The name was short for a motel-hotel or a motor hotel for those in cars.  People still traveled what roads they could, stopping a fully integrated facilities near towns or off the roads.  Once the interstate highways were finished, they kept people off the smaller roads causing the small motels to go out of business. At the same time, chains of hotels such as Holiday Inn were actually a cross between motels and hotels started growing during the late 1950's and 60's.  These chains grew from single story to double and triple story facilities, some with swimming pools to make a stay even nicer.    During the same time period, the number of mom and pop motels decreased being replaced by the chains.

Today, there are some mom and pop motels left in smaller out of the way places but most people choose to stay at the more well known motel chains.  Let me know what you think, I'd love to hear.  Have a great day.

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