gmhTODAY 20 gmhToday June July 2018 - Page 110

POSTCARDS FROM OUR PAST

Motel Row !

Written By Michael F . Brookman

Can you imagine a time when South Santa Clara County ’ s economy relied on

ranching , farming and tourism ? It ’ s true , and it wasn ’ t that long ago ! Travel was something new to people of the early 20th Century . Many had not traveled more than a day ’ s journey from their homes . Taking the train was expensive and limited to central transportation sites . You had to have a pretty good reason to leave the homestead . The automobile age changed that . People were able to travel for leisure inexpensively and the destination was limited only by passable roads . Old , direct stage coach routes between cities were among the first to be graded ( although not necessarily paved ) for the new horseless carriages .
The engineering capabilities of the roads and vehicles of the 1920 ’ s meant a bumpy journey of between 60 and 100 miles a day . This required lodging for bone-weary travelers at frequent intervals . Necessity , mother of invention , brought the birth of the “ mo-tel ” about 1925 . The word is a contraction of “ motor hotel ” and was meant to specify motels designed for one-night stays with individual covered parking for guests ’ vehicles . Older hotels , like the Skeels in Morgan Hill , updated their facades and signs to attract the new mobile customers .
Motels began to spring up all along the El Camino Real , or Monterey Highway as it is most commonly known in South County . It ’ s hard to say how many there were at the peak of the era , about 1960 , but there were more than 20 between the Pajaro River at Sargent and Rocky Point in Coyote .
With so much competition , motels did whatever they could to entice guests . Postcards were inexpensive advertising and motels had them printed by the thousands , free to guests . Long-distance phone calls on land lines were costly and cell phones didn ’ t exist , so postcards were a good way to stay in touch with family and friends . Names and themes such as the “ Mission Trail Motor Court ,” “ De Luxe Motor Court ,” and “ Holiday Motel ,” with slogans like “ Where the Summer Spends the Winter ” and “ Morgan Hill ’ s Most Modern Motel ” were used to lure customers . Neon signs promising TV ( color later ), air conditioning and heated pools were also popular . Does anyone remember the “ Vibrating Fingers ” massage bed ? It was a big selling point but I imagine most only tried it once . Inspection and endorsement by either the American or the National Automobile Association guaranteed cleanliness and quality service .
Motels ’ popularity brought them into the limelight of our culture . The movie “ It Happened One Night ” with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert featured a motel in its plot and won five Oscars in 1934 . Even the great local author , John Steinbeck , wrote about motels in his novel , “ Travels with Charlie ,” although not in an entirely favorable light .
The motels brought much-needed revenue from outside the area for our rural community . Guests had lunches and dinners at restaurants , bought incidentals at the local markets and had their cars fueled and serviced in town . Local government not only benefited from sales tax collected by merchants , but charged a transient occupancy tax that was a greater percentage of the hotel bill than sales tax was of merchandise ! As roadway and vehicle efficiency improved and flight travel became more economical , motels went into decline . Covered carports were no longer needed with the weatherproofing of newer model cars . Modern , single-building motels were more efficient architecturally and the single units faded out . Some converted the old carports to additional rooms and became low-income housing , renting by the day , week or month . You can still see many of the old motels on Monterey Highway while their past remains captured forever on postcards .
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GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN JUNE / JULY 2018 gmhtoday . com
POSTCARDS FROM OUR PAST Motel Row! Written By Michael F. Brookman C an you imagine a time when South Santa Clara County’s economy relied on ranching, farming and tourism? It’s true, and it wasn’t that long ago! Travel was something new to people of the early 20th Century. Many had not traveled more than a day’s journey from their homes. Taking the train was expensive and limited to central transportation sites. You had to have a pretty good reason to leave the homestead. The automobile age changed that. People were able to travel for leisure inexpensively and the destination was limited only by passable roads. Old, direct stage coach routes between cities were among the first to be graded (although not necessarily paved) for the new horseless carriages. The engineering capabilities of the roads and vehicles of the 1920’s meant a bumpy journey of between 60 and 100 miles a day. This required lodging for bone-weary travelers at frequent intervals. Necessity, mother of invention, brought the birth of the “mo-tel” about 1925. The word is a contraction of “motor hotel” and was meant to specify motels designed for one-night stays with individual covered parking for guests’ vehicles. Older hotels, like the Skeels in Morgan Hill, updated their facades and signs to attract the new mobile customers. Motels began to spring up all along the El Camino Real, or Monterey Highway as it is most commonly known in South County. It’s hard to say how many there were at the peak of the era, about 1960, but there were more than 20 between the Pajaro River at Sargent and Rocky Point in Coyote. With so much competition, motels did whatever they could to entice guests. Postcards were inexpensive advertising and motels had them printed by the thousands, free to guests. Long-distance phone calls on land lines were costly and cell phones didn’t exist, so postcards were a good way to stay in touch with family and friends. Names and themes such as the “Mission Trail Motor Court,” “De Luxe Motor Court,” and “Holiday Motel,” with slogans like “Where the Summer Spends the Winter” and “Morgan Hill’s Most Modern Motel” were used to lure customers. Neon signs promising TV (color later), air conditioning and heated pools were also popular. Does anyone remember the “Vibrating Fingers” massage bed? It was a big selling point but I imagine most only tried it once. Inspection and endorsement by either the American or the National Automobile Association guaranteed cleanliness and quality service. Motels’ popularity brought them into the limelight of our culture. The movie “It Happened One Night” with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert featured a motel in its plot and won five Oscars in 1934. Even the great local author, John Steinbeck, wrote about motels in his novel, “Travels with Charlie,” although not [[[\[B]ܘXHY H[[Y]X [YYY][YHH]YHH\XH܈\\[[][]KY\Y[\[[\]\]\[Y[Y[[]B[X\][YZ\\Y[Y[\XY[ۋ[ݙ\Y[ۛH[Y]YH[\^XYHY\[]\YH[Y[\[B^]\HܙX]\\[YHوH[[[[\^\وY\[\HB\Y^H[ZXHYXY[H[\ݙY[Y][X[YH[ܙBXۛZX[ [[[[X[Kݙ\Y\ܝ\Hۙ\YYY]HX]\ٚ[و]\[[\ˈ[\[KXZ[[[[\B[ܙHYXY[\]X\[H[H[H[]YY] YH۝\YH\ܝY][ۘ[\[X[YHZ[YH\[[[HH^KYZ܈[۝ [H[[YHX[HوH[[ۈ[۝\^HY^H[BZ\\[XZ[\\Yܙ]\ۈ\˂LLSH8(SԑSS8(SPTSSKҕSH NZ^K