Dr. Patrick’s Postcard Roadside

The Georgian Revival hotel block

The Georgian Revival hotel block was a symbol that a small, mid-American city growing since becoming a railroad junction in the 1880s or 1890s had by the 1920s achieved the status of someplace among the galaxy of other towns on the prairie.

This was the largest, tallest and/or best-serviced hotel between “Dubuque and Denver,” or “Omaha and Dallas,” or “Minneapolis and Seattle,” and they could be found in places like Amarillo, Texas; Wichita, Kansas; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Springfield, Illinois; Bismarck, North Dakota, and Grand Island, Nebraska. Their Classical tripartite form of base-shaft-capital was invariably Renaissance Revival styled, heavy on the Georgian with an array of urns, garlands, swags and Palladian windows topped by a massive, neon-lit roof sign visible for miles across the plains.

HERRING HOTEL, AMARILLO, TEXAS, 1928 (above). Queen city of the Texas Panhandle and the Llano Estacado, Amarillo added a 1920s oil boom to its thriving ranches and prosperous banks stimulating H. T. Herring -local mogul in all three industries- to build the Herring Hotel. Just as famous as the hotel itself was its cowboy-themes Old Tascosa Room, named after the original queen city of the Texas Panhandle. The Herring still stands abandoned for decades and always surrounded by a swirl of restoration plans that if fulfilled will prove to Amarillo the glory days have returned.

ROOSEVELT HOTEL, CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA, 1927. The Roosevelt went up on the transcontinental Lincoln Highway at the prestigious corner of 1st Avenue & 2nd Street in downtown Cedar Rapids. It was the tallest commercial building in the city; nearly as tall as the Quaker Oats plant and certainly within the smell of its cereal. The Roosevelt attracted the spotlight of infamy with its own film noir-like love triangle murder in 1948. Like all the other flagship hotels, hard times came with Interstate, but the hotel was saved by an apartment conversion in 2010.

YANCEY HOTEL, GRAND ISLAND, NEBRASKA, 1923. Farther west on the Lincoln Highway, the Yancey Hotel became Grand Island, Nebraska’s tallest building in 1923, opening a few blocks away from the Union Pacific depot. The Yancey’s Big City service was announced right on the street by a doorman who managed a small army of bellhops. You could order truffles, caviar and calf brains in the Scenic Room. The auto age put the hotel on the ropes just the same, closing its doors in 1982. The building was nonetheless saved by a condo renovation.

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.