Interesting Ideas

Roadside Art Online: Old Motels

Like the crossroads at Pruner's Cottages, multiple points of appeal intersect in these postcards. The quaintness is about equal in the cards themselves and the motels they picture -- both associated with memories of road trips long past, where the first thing you did after checking in was rush to the room to grab the stationery. Even the most humble places gave you at least a postcard.

The styles on view, whether the Blue Top sign's exuberant Deco motif or the prosaic spareness of the Colonial Motel (next page), are disappearing from the landscape as old motels are abandoned, turned into apartments, or torn down. The postcard styles are already several generations removed, especially a hand-painted beauty like the Blue Top. Photographic clarity has replaced hand-colored enhancements, and many motels don't even bother with a card.

vintage motel postcard
Blue Top Courts & Lodges, Dallas, Texas
The combination of the Blue Top's jazzy sign and the fairy-tale architecture of the cottages is especially striking. Unlike most similar cards, the painterly care lavished on this scene does not appear to be covering a photo.
vintage motel postcard
Pruner's Cottages, near Wytheville, Va.
If a photograph underlies this image, it has nearly disappeared under a bucolic artfulness. These are "truly modern, individual cottages," the text on back says -- "off the highway to insure you a quiet, restful sleep."
The roadtrip associations so powerful in these postcards aren't just ex post facto. As in the examples above and below, ample space is typically given to the highway in front of the motel, to the extent that it gets as much screen time as the motel itself. Context was as important as subject -- in fact, given the bare-bones nature of most motels, context was probably more important.
vintage motel postcard
La Carlos Motel, Huntsville, Al.
The retouching of this image seems geared toward making the La Carlos look as barren as possible, though the other point might be highlighting the building's "new brick," a feature noted on the back of the card.
vintage motel postcard
Canyon Courts, Snyder, Texas
The artist who worked on the Canyon Courts did a nice job bringing out architectural detail, including plantings, ironwork and the diamond shapes on the building. Lots of sky, lots of street, and period cars provide a rich context.
vintage motel postcard
White's 17-13 Motor Court, near Norfolk, Va.
vintage motel postcard
Shamrock Court, Shamrock, Texas
These two motor courts are half a continent apart, but sky, street and yard provide some dramatic context for both. (And naming a motel after a pair of highways always makes it more desirable.)
vintage motel postcard
Mark Twain Motel, near Waynesville, Mo.
Each bit of lawn at the Mark Twain is lovingly highlighted.
vintage motel postcard
Wade-Reid Motel, Videlia, Ga.
The sign gets pride of place, but even heavy-handed tinting makes can't obscure the inviting chairs in front of each room.

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