DR. PATRICK’S POSTCARD ROADSIDE: Downtowners

DR. PATRICK’S POSTCARD ROADSIDE: Downtowners

Downtowners

Downtowners, Rowntowners and five stories of breeze block in Danville, Virginia! Started in Memphis in 1958, the Downtowner Motor Inn chain built Modernist motor hotels in downtown locations particularly in the South, Midwest and West.

With the chain peaking in the 1960s (suburban motels under the Rowntowner name were added in 1967), Downtowners like the one in Danville were a symphony of midcentury design tropes like Cubist Mondrian murals, mosaic tile walls, butterfly canopies and of course breeze block. Fascinated with the structural transition between inside and outside, Modernists loved breeze block, especially in sunny, warm weather climates, even better if there were coastal breezes. Made of coal ash and Portland cement, breeze block came in an endless variety of styles. With the mallification of America, downtown retail districts suffered and so did the Downtowners. Danville’s Downtowner closed in 1986 and then sat derelict and abandoned for 26 years, about the same length of time it was operating. It was finally demolished in 2012.