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Linen Motel Postcards — From Tourist Courts to Motor Hotels

My Motel Morgue is a place to view my collection of mostly dead motel postcards. At least a couple of these motels are still alive and even have websites. The images on the postcards themselves, however, are at least fifty years old. The linen postcard was pretty much dead by 1957, although remaining stocks of linen postcards continued to be used in the 1960s.

It is interesting that many of the motels are not actually called "motels." "Motel" is a generic term which includes a variety of highway-oriented accommodations called courts, cottages, cabins, lodges, etc.

In the book The Motel in America, the authors attempt to define the term "motel." but do not arrive at a precise definition. A motel is something between an early auto tourist camp and a traditional downtown hotel, but the differences became less as the motel industry evolved. Today we have large downtown motels as well as airport oriented motels catering to air travelers.

John Margolies, in Home Away From Home, notes that "the evolution of the motel from a series of distinct cabins into continuous lines of rooms cannot be precisely documented, although the theory of evolution is quite clear." Intermediate stages in the evolution included roofed and/or enclosed parking spaces. Individual cabins were popular, but interconnected lines of rooms were much more economical. The newer interconnected motels were mostly generic looking, except for clever names and elaborate signs. By the 1960s, motels were larger, multistoried, more luxurious, and more like hotels than the the original motor courts.

In collecting linen motel postcards I prefer those with good graphic design, multiple views including room interiors, and maps. In reviewing my collection for this website, I found that even the uninspiring designs were interesting for the descriptions of advertised features, slogans, or messages.

A 1945 guide for those in the motel trade considered telephones in each room optional but picture postcards essential. Some of the commonly advertised features such as steam heat, innerspring mattresses, tile baths, and radios would not sound impressive today. Usually these features are listed in the description on the back of the postcard. Occasionally the features are printed on the front as on the Hollywood Motel card. Apparently the motel's swimming pool was added after the cards were printed--these words are stamped, not printed.

Some of the motels also attempted to emphasize and promote their quality with advertising slogans. Many were one of the "finest" or "most modern." Victor's Hollywood Cottages was another place whose name capitalized on the glamour of Hollywood. They proclaimed "Where Service is our Watchword and our Guest is King." That does sound impressive, if not very original. They also advertised "Peasant Type Swiss Furniture" which sounds different, though not exactly glamorous or fit for a king! The Victor's Hollywood Cottages postcard is from 1941 and appears typical of early tourist courts, with separate cottages behind a small gas station.

The Vista Motel is a more modern, but still small, early 1950s motel that is still in business. The Vista Motel even has a website.

A later 1950s linen postcard advertises the much larger (300 rooms) Covey's New America Motel in Salt Lake City, Utah.

I also found some interesting messages among the few postcards I have that were actually used. On the back of the Covey's New America Motel card mailed May 22, 1957 from Salt Lake City is written "We have driven 3000 miles and came thru snow to get here. We are seeing many friends so will be here awhile."

The Boulevard Lodges where some people "staid" in 1945 is another example of writing adding to the interest of the card. The date and price is written on the front. On the back is written: "The nicest place we found just sleeping room. floor all carpeted and a beautiful bath." It appears the writer was using this card as a souvenir rather than something to be mailed.

The back of the Lake Ella Motor Court postcard, similarly, has a message by the same writer describing the accommodations where they "staid."

As John Baeder wrote in his book Gas, Food, and Lodging, "If we examine these simple and yet complex messages, they provide a clue to our heritage, just as the images serve as visual artifact. Not much different from a wall painting in an Egyptian tomb."

References:

John A. Jakle, Keith A. Sculle, Jefferson S. Rogers. The Motel in America, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1996.

John Margolies. Home Away From Home: Motels in America, Bullfinch Press, Boston, 1995.

John Baeder. Gas Food, and Lodging: A Postcard Odyssey, Through the Great American Roadside, Abbeville Press, New York, 1982.

 

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