Americana – Love it, loathe it or laugh at it

I’m actually quite a fan or Americana. You know, that period in US history of shiny chrome, bold design (often ridiculous) and huge optimism. We had a similar (and similarly short lived) version of it in the UK. The so called “white heat” of technological innovation that droved the beat generation, mods and rockers into swinging sixties…. then got broke and buggered off.

In the US it’s characterised as I said before, from the period starting in the mid 1950’s until 1963. When it takes a sudden nose dive following Kennedy’s murder.

Anyway, prior to these events you’ve got space rockets, jet planes, huge winged cars, neon lit motels, drive through theatres and drive through diners. Think American Graffiti (not so much More American Graffiti).

The trouble is, that when you think of such images, the faces you see in them (with few exceptions) are young and nearly always white.

That aside, it was an area of change that affected the whole world. Even in Russian Zil’s started to get big fins. Take for example this 1958 Z-111 model. ZIL-111V

It’s also a period of time synonymous with funky looking roadside art and motels. Of course, the reality is that the majority of those sites were created in the 1930’s, as the interstate highways were being created. Mainly as a result of the general performance of the American car, in terms of top speed and general fuel consumption. The point being you couldn’t cover that large a distance in a single day and you couldn’t cover that much of a distance with a tank of fuel. With the average mpg of US cars being in the single figures for most of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, you have to realise that a 30 gallon tank only has an effective range of  300 miles at best.

Meanwhile, in oil sparse Europe, we pushed the engineering to squeeze every last bit of power and economy out the petrol engine. The result being the while US cars, even until recently, tended to have large cubic capacities and large torque figures, the goal of European engineers has always been to produce a quart from a pint pot. Not sure how we got onto that.. but back to America.

Now about 15-20 years ago, a PC magazine (probably PC Pro) gave away a reference CD-ROM that clearly didn’t sell that well. It was called Route 66 and contained maps, images, music and video associated with Route 66 and Americana in general. Sadly, it’s long gone. No doubt lost in the many tidy-ups. But it did contain details of a Motel that really caught my eye.

Wigwag Hotel
Wigwag Hotel

It’s the Wigwam Model, of San Bernardino, California.

This wonderful piece of kitsch was created in the late 1930’s to capture the imagination and wallets travellers of Route 66.

This is by no means the only Wigwam Motel, in fact there were similar hotels stretching from California to Florida, but this IS the one that was detailed on the CD-ROM.

Wigwam Motel "Rooms"
Wigwam Motel "Rooms"

Basically the “wigwam” was constructed from concrete and features a simple two bed room, complete with simple bathroom. I’m assuming that by today’s standards, these are relatively small rooms (for the US). So if your European, I’m guessing they’ll be similar to the standard roadside hotels we are all used to. Only way much cooler.

They are SO cool that you can almost forgive their most obvious and frankly ridiculous defect.

It’s something I guess that can be put down to ignorance, stupidity or maybe the name just doesn’t flow well enough.

Because what you’re looking at here shouldn’t BE the Wigwam Motel, because they’re NOT WIGWAMS.

Wigwams have a domed roof are are usually total circular, they are created using bent over branches to form the dome. In fact, it’s the shape that gives the structure it’s great strength. Making it suitable for use in high wind areas and heavy snow fall alike.

What you’re look at here are Tipis. So by all rights it should be called the Tipi Motel. Which I guess might not appeal to people thinking about the pee park or maybe it gives the impression of the structures being unstable. I’ve no idea.

But if you should go, don’t feel it necessary to tell the owners of their mistake. Because you’re 80 years too late and they don’t give a crap (I imagine).

According to Trip Advisor, it’s the number 3 hotel in San Bernardino. I guess depending on the other two, this could be a great thing or… and average.

Here’s an aerial map of the place.

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