East St. Louis, Illinois Motels

East St. Louis Holiday Inn

by Michael R. Allen

Scan of postcard of the East St. Louis Holiday Inn at 657 E. Broadway. Source: Collection of the Preservation Research Office.

Following up on my article “Motels in the City of St. Louis”, I briefly wanted to show the largest motel built in our neignbor to the east, East St. Louis. The Holiday Inn at 657 E. Broadway, located just east of the seven-story Broadview Hotel of 1927, was built in the late 1960s. The motel’s amenities included a swimming pool and restaurant with cocktail lounge, in addition to close proximity to the cluster of interstates 55, 64 and 70 around downtown East St. Louis.  This modern motel was built amid Model Cities-funded redevelopment of the central city.  The large-scale building removal that was part of East St. Louis’ redevelopment efforts is evident in the above postcard view’s capture of large swaths of verdant green grass.

The remaining section of the Holiday Inn today.

The Holiday Inn’s two-story, U-shaped mass of hotel rooms stood until a decade ago. By then, the motel’s last owner had closed up shop, and the place was an abandoned curiosity. However, the one-story, brick-faced and largely windowless restaurant building remains standing and in use as a banquet center.  The trademark Holiday Inn sign’s twisted trapezoid replacement is as memorable as its predecessor.

Central West End Downtown Mid-Century Modern Midtown Motels North St. Louis South St. Louis

Motels in the City of St. Louis

by Michael R. Allen

A version of this article first appeared in the Winter 2009 NewsLetter of the St. Louis Chapter of the Society Architectural Historians.

There is ample recognition of the significance of mid-century motels along roadsides across America, where motels used colorful signage and design to beckon to weary Americans enjoying their automotive freedom. Perhaps because of nostalgic idealization of the motor court and the “open road” and perhaps because of the stigma that postwar urban renewal efforts have attained, local history overlooks the significant wave of urban motel construction that took place in St. Louis between 1958 and 1970.

Advertisement for the Bel Air Motel. Note that the front wing does not yet have the third story addition.

The 1958 opening of the Bel Air Motel on Lindell Boulevard renewed the building of lodging in the City of St. Louis while introducing a hotel form new to the city, the motel. St. Louis’ last new hotel before that was the nearby Park Plaza Hotel (1930), a soaring, elegant Art Deco tower built on the cusp of the Great Depression. However, another hotel built before the Depression was more indicative of future trends than the Park Plaza. In 1928, Texas developer and automobile travel enthusiast Percy Tyrell opened the Robert E. Lee Hotel at 205 N. 18th Street in downtown St. Louis (listed in the National Register on February 7, 2007), designed by Kansas City architect Alonzo Gentry. While the 14-story Renaissance Revival hotel was stylistically similar to contemporary hotels, it introduced the chain economy hotel to St. Louis.

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Springfield’s State House Inn: Another Successful Mid-Century Motel Renovation

by Michael R. Allen

Photograph from the Historic Sites Commission of Springfield website.

The first motel in Springfield, Illinois was the State House Inn at 101 E. Adams Street in the heart of downtown. Built in 1961 and designed by Henry Newhouse, the State House Inn is a contemporary of St. Louis’ threatened DeVille Motor Hotel.

However, the State House Inn is celebrated by its city and has received the benefit of a historically-sensitive renovation. In 2003, the motel reopened after a three-year, $8 million renovation. Today, the motel’s guests enjoy lovely modern lodgings just a short walk from Springfield’s major attractions as well as the Amtrak station.

Could the DeVille be the beneficiary of a similar renovation? While not downtown, the DeVille is a short walk from some of the city’s attractions — the Cathedral, Forest Park — and near light rail that connects to our Greyhound/Amtrak station. The Central West End stays open later than downtown Springfield, too, with many restaurants and bars within a short walk of the motel. With the same applied imagination that the State House Inn received, the DeVille could be one of St. Louis’ coolest places to stay.

Central West End DeVille Motor Hotel Historic Preservation Mid-Century Modern Motels

Realizing the Potential of a Mid-Century Motel

by Michael R. Allen

On May 1, the National Park Service listed a mid-century motel on Lindell Boulevard in the National Register of Historic Places. This recognition went not to the much-celebrated, threatened DeVille Motor Hotel, but to its predecessor one block west, the former Bel Air Motel at 4630 Lindell Boulevard.

Along with the National Register listing, the Bel Air has received a $9 million renovation by the Roberts Companies and rebranding as the Hotel Indigo. Although not yet open, the spiffed-up modern motel has attracted a lot of positive attention. Central West End residents can’t believe their eyes when they look at what was recently a run-down Best Western. Others have taken notice, too: last month, Landmarks Association of St. Louis bestowed upon the Roberts brothers one of the Most Enhanced Sites awards, further recognizing the mid-century renovation.

The motel’s streamline frame has been cleaned and repainted a crisp white (the previous colors were black and pink), the obnoxious canopy rebuilt in a manner sympathetic with the motel’s design and the interior updated. All in all, the Hotel Indigo is a shining, clean, cool testament to the power of imagination and rehabilitation. The place hasn’t looked this great since opening day in 1958!

That opening day was a big event itself, since the Bel Air was the city’s first motel. The motel (short for “motor hotel”) style of lodging dated back to California in 1925. Motels before World War II tended to be “motor courts” like the celebrated Coral Court where rooms had separate exterior entrances and often private garages facing out on a court or central driveway. In St. Louis, a few of these courts were built in St. Louis County and in Illinois on Route 66. The city had its large, fine hotels with lodging, dinner and dancing all under one roof.

Developer Norman K. Probstein thought that the modern motel and the city hotel could be melded into a form new to St. Louis, the urban motel or motor lodge. In 1957, Probstein hired Wilburn McCormack to design a two-story motel for a site on Lindell. construction was underway that year. McCormack’s design was spare and used the principles of the International style. Rooms were accessed both by interior hallway. Some rooms have balconies facing a courtyard. Parking was underneath the motel. There was an outside swimming pool and an inside restaurant, expanded later in 1961. After opening, the Bel Air had so much business that Probstein added a third floor (designed by Russell, Schwarz, Mullgardt & Van Hoefen) in 1959 to bring the motel to a grand total of 198 rooms. Later, Probstein opened a downtown Bel Air East at Fourth and Washington (now the Hampton Inn), and dubbed the original Bel Air the “Bel Air West.”

Here is what the Bel Air looked like in 1979, with the Doctors Building visible in the background:

Over the years, the motel’s luster was lost through changes in ownership, interior decoration and exterior painting and signage. The Bel Air lost more of its historic character than the DeVille Motor Hotel has, yet it retained more than enough beauty to attract the interest of a developer and get listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Roberts Companies purchased the motel in 2007 and worked with Killeen Studio Architects to develop a thoughtful, respectful rehabilitation plan. Karen Bode Baxter, Tim Maloney and I wrote the National Register of Historic Places nomination.

The exterior is back to near-original condition, with a few changes like the glass block entrance. Inside, where fewer details remained, the style is more contemporary than retro but a few historic elements can be found. One of the coolest features is the etched brick wall in a third floor suite:

One of the fundamental elements of the design of the Bel Air is the contrast between the white-painted concrete piers and caps and the red brick. The rehabilitation revives this stark and magnetic element on all sides. Here’s a look at the rear courtyard:

The renewed Bel Air Motel shows us that mid-century motels can be rehabilitated beautifully and that developers are interested in tackling these buildings. While many of the city’s modern motels are lost or reclad, those that are left could very well follow the path that the Roberts Companies has wonderfully shown us is possible.

(Contemporary photographs courtesy of the Roberts Companies.)