Thursday, May 31, 2007

Motel modern -- an endangered species of architecture? …

  Should governments act to protect the rapidly disappearing "motel modern" style of architecture?  Some years ago, a few eyebrows were raised when the 1951 Lever House in Manhattan was designated an historic landmark; will postwar motels be next?

   The June edition of the Atlantic (America's most readable magazine, for my money) includes an enjoyable essay by Wayne Curtis on ideas to preserve the '50s motels, with their clean lines and Jetsons-style architecture, designed in the golden age of middle-class auto travel.  Once scorned as cheesy, the motifs are now considered classic Americana.

Motel   Curtis focuses on Florida, a state that hasn't (with the exception of the '30s art deco motels on Miami Beach) been as celebratory of its Americana architecture as has California.  In places such as Treasure Island (near me in Tampa Bay), which Curtis whimsically calls "a sort of Motel National Park," there exists little desire to protect the old beachfront motels from the incessant pressures to replace them with larger and more profitable condo towers.  More hope exists off the beach, in the city of Miami, where there is a private effort to scrub motels and market them for "retro tourism."  Up north in Seaside, the new urbanist gem, a faux old motel offers rooms for more than $200 a night -- a nice summary of the some of the criticisms of Seaside.

  Will we soon see a local government designate a '50s-era historic motel district, and perhaps even redevelop an early-space-age motel as a museum of postwar travel?  Mark me down for early admission ….

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