Saturday, February 7, 2009

Wigwams Galore... Cave City KY, Holbrook AZ, Rialto CA

There happen to be plenty Wigwam villages around the US. I happened to stay in the one in Holbrook (#6) back in 2003. It was a great treat on the trip. Since then I've found that it was connected to a lot of other wigwam style Motels around the country...
The original is in gone now but #2 is in Cave City, KY. I passed through there back in the 90's and stopped in to see the cave. Come to think of it I remember seeing it on the side of the road.... Opportunity lost.

Wigwam village #2: Cave City, Kentucky
"Sleep in a Wigwam," the sign promises.

And you won't be disappointed. This Wigwam Village Motel is one of a very few surviving "teepee-style" motels from Tourism's Golden Era (today, we thankfully live in the Cubic Zirconium Era). It was the first, built in 1937 by Frank A. Redford, who found his inspiration in authentic Sioux Reservation teepees and ice cream cone-shaped buildings popping up along highways.
This place is full most nights. We highly recommend a stay here -- the rates are reasonable, and it's in the belly of the Mammoth Cave mecca, with easy access to local cave attractions, Floyd Collins memorabilia, and more.
Fourteen wigwam uwnits are arrayed in a semicircle, facing the a larger gift shop and guest registration teepee. Steam Heat, tile baths, cable TV, large playground, picnic tables and grills, no pets allowed.
Ivan F. John is the current owner, an enthusiastic booster of the wigwam experience. He told us the property sits over a potential sinkhole, so a cave (or cave-in) attraction may be somewhere in the Wigwam's future.

Tour of the Basement
The big Wigwam has a full basement, including heating apparatus and refrigerators from the old restaurant. In the early days, the upstairs was a cafe, and the gift shop was in the cellar. Ivan says that the owner before him gutted everything, sold all the furniture and historic memorabilia at auction by Sotheby's, so there's not much here. A couple of half filled boxes of rocks, some pot holders in wooden souvenir bins. There's a safe in the back of the cellar, but it's locked.

601 North Dixie Hwy, Cave City, Kentucky.

Wigwam village #6: Holbrook, Arizona

Frank Redford was the first to put into practice the odd (but correct) notion that Americans would want to sleep in concrete replicas of Indian teepees. He opened his Wigwam Village in Cave City, Kentucky, in 1936 [Why he called them wigwams instead of teepees is a mystery].
Chester Lewis, an Arizona motel owner, visited Redford's village not long after it opened, liked the idea, bought the rights to the design, and erected six more Wigwam Villages over the next two decades. The motel in Holbrook was built in 1950, and is among three that survived and still operate today (The others are the one in Cave City, one in Rialto, California -- and a copycat, but correctly named, Tee Pee Motel in Wharton, Texas.)
The Wigwam Motel in Holbrook closed in 1982, and Chester Lewis died in 1986. His widow and children, however, still believed in Chester's dream, restored and reopened the 15 rooms in 1988, and continue to operate it. His son, John, was there when we spent the night.
Since The Wigwam Motel stands adjacent to what was once Route 66, it draws a lot of business from nostalgia buffs. The Lewis family caters to this crowd by recreating a 1950s-era motel, from seeding the parking lot with vintage cars to not showing up in the office until four o'clock in the afternoon.
Holbrook's teepees are most postcard-esque when only the ringer cars are home. The retro atmosphere evaporates when a couple of SUVs and a boxy car (Ken notes it's the very practical Scion xB) pull in for the night. We suspect these vehicles are part of a growing Route 66 Spoiler movement.
The teepees are snug by today's sprawling standards of interior space, but they are clean and well-maintained. Each is furnished with its original hickory log pole furniture. Keeping with the vintage theme, the motel has no ice machine and the teepees have no telephones (cell phones work fine), and your reservation is scrawled by hand into a battered-looking logbook (Ours was lost for a bit because John couldn't make out the handwriting.). There is no shower gel or three-pronged electrical outlets in the teepees, but the Lewis family has wisely not pursued its retro theme too far, and have outfitted each teepee with cable TV and an air conditioner.
Those who enjoy staying in the Luxor Pyramid in Las Vegas, with its sloping exterior room walls, may also enjoy navigating the challenging convergence of angles in the Wigwam Motel's teepee bathrooms. Hint: in certain spots, it helps to be short.
Overall, spending the night in a concrete teepee is more restful than you might imagine. Our units, back by the railroad tracks, had freight trains rumbling past all night, mere feet from our sleeping heads -- but the whoosh of the air conditioner and the solid stucco walls muffled every sound. Frank Redford had a good idea after all.

811 West Hopi Drive, Holbrook, Arizona.

Wigwam village #7: Rialto/San Bernardino, California

Frank Redford built this one for himself in 1947/49 and not as a franchise. There is a central building that is currently used as an office but it is very spacious inside. There is not one arch of wigwams as with the other surviving villages, but a double row of wigwam guest rooms totaling at 19. There is also a pool, and a base for what seems to be another never completed wigwam in the back of the property.
The motel was for a while very run down and rooms were rented by the hour, aggravated by the sign "do it in a teepee" that is still on site in the back.
Renovated in the last few years intensely by the Patel Family whom were awarded the National Historic Route 66 Federation's 2005 Cyrus Avery Award for their efforts in restoration.[4][5] Attention to detail was the main focus during renovation, as the Wigwams lost their zigzag pattern. Restoration restored the reputation and confidence back to the travelers.
The location of the this village gives cause to discussion and confusion. The address of the motel is in Rialto, but the motel is itself completely located inside San Bernardino. It is located right on the border between the two places so to avoid confusion and discussion both are named here.

It is located on Historic Route 66, 2728 West Foothill Blvd., Rialto, California.