Of Motor Hotels & Neon

Before luxury resorts, the Strip was home to the humble motel

Brian Jones/Las Vegas News Bureau

The Glass Pool Inn.

Like much of the Southwest, Las Vegas truly came into its own during the post-World War II era, an optimistic moment when the automobile was king and road trips were the thing. Images of the midcentury Strip depict long driveways leading to low-slung casino resorts sprawling with deep setbacks, elegant porte-cochères and acres of free parking. Ah, classic Vegas!

But Las Vegas also sported its share of midcentury motor hotels (hence, “motel”) and motor courts. Common across the American Southwest and throughout California, these quaint, inexpensive bed-downs allowed road-trippers to roll up, check in and park directly in front of their room. What these properties lacked in posh amenities they often tried to make up with stylish, quirky neon signage beckoning weary travelers with promises of air conditioning, color TV and, for the lucky ones, a pool surrounded by parking-lot asphalt.

Bringing together the aesthetic of old Las Vegas with that of modern Palm Springs, the Strip was peppered with such motels, including the Algiers at the north end, the Mirage (later called the Glass Pool Inn for obvious reasons) at the south, and the Desert Rose near the middle. The portion of the Boulevard between Sahara Avenue and Fremont Street held a heavy concentration of these motels: Many of them remain in various stages of remodel or decay, but most of the neon is sadly gone. Some of the better preserved ones are Fun City Motel and Holiday Motel, which still have their neon intact, and the Alaska, which continues on as the Sin City Hostel (sans neon), but looks much as it did in 1949.

One of my favorites was the Yucca Motel, whose intricate sign was topped with a neon recreation of a blooming yucca plant. The flower was a hand-bent nest of glass neon tubing that was truly amazing when lit. When the motel was demolished in 2011, its sign was still operational, so it was sad to see it sitting dim and forlorn in the Neon Museum tour. Thankfully, the Yucca is slated as the next sign to be restored and relit (along with the Steiner Cleaners sign), just in time for summer visits to the museum.

It’s wonderful that such a gorgeous neon sign is headed for restoration, but it does beg the question: With all of these intact midcentury motels, where is the commercial effort at restoration? With the boutique hotel craze showing no signs of slowing, returning these motels to their Googie glory for the hipster crowd would seem a natural move, particularly with the demographic the nearby Downtown area is attracting.

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