Dr. Patrick’s Postcard Roadside

Patmars

Howard Patrick and Norman Marsh combined their names and opened El Segundo, California’s Patmars Drive-in at Imperial Highway & Sepulveda Boulevard in 1939.

Sepulveda Boulevard had been part of the Pacific Coast Highway since 1919, and the classically circular drive-in was such a hit that the duo opened an adjacent motel a year later. The complex was immediately south of Los Angeles Airport, which had opened as Mines Field in 1930. The remote isolation of the intersection depicted in the postcard wouldn’t last. El Segundo filled up with houses and airport-adjacent businesses after World War II, and Patmars was sold in 1960. The site, cleared and rebuilt, is adjacent to the Century Freeway’s Sepulveda interchange. The drive-in building, however, survived…for a time. It was moved and repurposed as the El Segundo Golf Course’s pro shop until 1994 when it was demolished.

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.

Husted Cabins

This circa 1930 postcard of Husted Cabins on US 40 between Marshall and Clark Center, Illinois, captures a time during the early auto age when farmers lucky enough to be on a major trunk route reaped a windfall of auto-oriented commerce.

Prior to the automobile, few long-distance travelers plodded their way down the market road to Marshall and those speeding by on the paralleling Pennsylvania Railroad certainly didn’t stop. Then in 1912 the road was designated part of the National Old Trails route between Baltimore and Los Angeles (later New York and San Francisco), and in 1926 it became part of transcontinental US 40. Motorists needing gas, food and lodging started whizzing by, and all it took to provide that service was carving off a small piece of cornfield fronting the highway. Many farmers supplemented their incomes with roadside businesses this way, many more sold roadside lots for others to provide the service.