The Saturday Evening Post History Minute: What Happened to the American Motel?

In the early 1950s, more than 40,000 motels dotted the American landscape. But by the late 20th century, most had closed or fallen into disrepair. Why did so many vanish?


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  1. My wife and I would travel the US on college breaks. In the early 70s prior to marriage we would don our fake plastic wedding bands because the finer motels would check to see if you were married before sharing a room. Can you imagine that today?

  2. Not only did the interstates kill many “Mom & Pop” Motels and other businesses, they also killed many towns entirely. Many of these towns can be found along remnants of what’s left of Route 66 in West Texas. One such town and a perfect example is Glen Rio, TX. There’s an exit off I-40 still. Check it out and you’ll see for yourself. There are many “ghost” towns stretching on what was Route 66 from IL to CA. Being a biker who travels mainly on a motorcycle, I feel the interstates though being a step forward in many minds were really a large step backward. A lot of history was lost due to “progress.” I put little to no miles each year on interstates and I get around just fine.

  3. I enjoyed the video very informative. Sad that the highway system killed so many mom & pop businesses … but progress tends to homogenize and replace unique locations and businesses along the way.
    Kind of sad

  4. Great video Jeff. We certainly learn here how and why the ‘motor hotel’ came into existence, how it adapted to changing needs and circumstances reaching its full potential at mid-century, then becoming victims of ‘progress’ like the interstate highways starting in the mid-’50s.

    Nearly everything in life comes down to money for one reason or another. The upgrading and more amenities expected of a hotel proved to be too much for ‘Mom & Pop’ motels that already were suffering from lack of business due to the new highways, and had to fold.

    I’m glad a fair number have been restored or preserved, because they ARE destinations in themselves. I’ve never stayed or experienced the ones off of the desert highway, but as a kid fell in love with the Ming Tree Motel in Santa Barbara. It had a Chinese-theme flavor and was really an ‘inn’ with easy parking in the back. My mom loved the kitchenette feature to save money on eating out, even between 1968-’74. It was our ‘go to’ place when taking trips there.

    It has changed ownership, and is now The Cabrillo Inn by the Beach. Different, but still the same at heart! That’s what matters the most. Just put the name in, and click ‘view all photos’ at the top. I really only care about the outside, particularly the pool with the beautiful sky and palm trees. Right across from the beautiful beach, it’s a fantasy cliche of California that’s the real thing, and does not disappoint. I’ve gotta escape up there again, soon.


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