Posted by: Brad Nixon | December 16, 2009

PCH Travel Palaces

The Pacific Coast Highway, U.S. Route 1, runs through the South Bay of Los Angeles not far from my house. 

Palm Motel sign

The Palm Motel

Although its day as the glory road for western travel has faded in this suburban wasteland, PCH is still lined by numerous examples of motor courts and roadside motels, which you might not even notice among the other retail locations that line the highway.
These places were already well-established when my parents started taking us across the country, and I always felt a certain fascination for the style and excitement of travel that they represented. Everything about them epitomized the allure of The Road: sleek, angular mid-century lines, glowing neon, coffee shops, swimming pools, in-room phones, air conditioning, TV (and, a little later, COLOR TV, advertised at the top of the Palm, to the left).
These are not mass-produced Holiday Inns or Best Westerns. These are individuals. They are roadside architecture that seems perfectly suited to the progressive mid-century environment of Southern California: suggestions of the hip, the cool, and, probably, meant to be eminently replaceable. Except, these fossils of a bygone era have evolved rather than disappearing. While everything about the communities around them has grown and morphed in fifty or sixty years, they persist, right there amidst the strip malls and pharmacies and used-car dealers.
They house some tourists, certainly, but also highway crews, seekers, cable linemen and transients coming in or going out. A bit down-at-heel, they speak to us. Time to fire up the station wagon and hit the road.
Artists who work in the Southwest love these places. One of my favorites is Dave Newman, who’s made a career of incorporating this sort of vernacular art into his compositions. HERE is his Web site.
If you have any kind of main travel route that’s not an interstate highway in your town, there’s probably at least one place like this left, although you haven’t thought to take a minute to consider what they tell us about the world of that time. Get out the camera.
Look in the right-hand column of this page for a photo feature on these local gems. I’ll continue to add entries from time to time. Click on the photos to view the entire set on Flickr.

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