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July 21, 2018

Roadside motels, bygone Americana: Encore presentation

Vintage Holiday Inn postcard shows woman in swimsuit overlooking a swimming pool. “Your host from coast to coast.”  Free pool, free TV, free air conditioning.   (This show was originally broadcast on May 30, 2015)

Remember the motels, cabin courts and other lodging spots that were so familiar on pre-interstate highways?

Many bit the dust long ago, but in this show Hoosier History Live explores their heyday - as well as their decline - just as many folks have been hitting the road for vacations. During our show, we even explore still-familiar chains such as Holiday Inn. But our focus is on the bygone style and architecture familiar to motorists from the 1940s through the '70s, rather than the type operated by the international conglomerate today.

Our studio guests include Jeff Kamm, who shared insights about former roadside Holiday Inns in the Indy metro area in this Historic Indianapolis article.

Jeff, a graduate of Purdue's hospitality and tourism management program, worked for 10 years managing various hotels in the Indy area; today, he works in the financial services industry.

Jeff and Nelson are joined by Joan Hostetler, founding director of the Indiana Album, who also collaborated with Nelson on the visual history book Indianapolis Then and Now and related projects; aspects of our heritage that Joan has extensively researched include roadside architecture.

The Hicks School House Inn in Lebanon, Ind., seen here c. 1935, was operated with the Hicks Bus Body Company. The Art Moderne structure was an exclusive hotel for school officials and others affiliated with the school-bus trade. Image courtesy Indiana Album.Certainly the design of many roadside motels and hotels was distinctive, such as the orange and blue associated with Howard Johnson Motor Lodge chain. According to our guest Jeff Kamm, the first Howard Johnson Motor Lodge opened in 1954 in Savannah, Ga.

About 30 years before that, towns during the 1920s began establishing free "auto camps" as Americans took to the roads with the boom in car ownership, Jeff notes.

Prior to - and sometimes simultaneously with - the evolution of the roadside motel came lodging spots that consisted of cabins for overnight guests clustered around a check-in office. They were known as tourist cabins or cabin courts.
According to Jeff's research, by 1956 about 500 roadside motels were scattered across Indiana. Along U.S. 40 across Indiana that year, there were 120 of the motels.

Jeff's track record in the hospitality industry includes managing properties in the Marriott and Radisson families of hotels.

Deserted tourist cabins line the Flatrock River near Geneva in Shelby County, Ind. Photo by Molly Head, courtesy Hoosier History Live.The first Holiday Inn in the Indy area opened in 1960 "across from the main gate of the area's biggest attraction, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway," Jeff writes in his historicindianapolis.com article. The Holiday Inn in Speedway featured the neon green sign that became such a common sight across Indiana and the rest of the country.

His article notes that the oversized neon signs and some other once-standard features of Holiday Inns have vanished as the chain evolved.

"Drivers may recently have noticed a pile of rubble on U.S. 31 immediately south of the I-465 interchange," Jeff writes. "This is the last reminder of the Holiday Inn in the Circle City in its traditional incarnation."

Joan Hostetler.In recent years, many former roadside motels across Indiana - particularly those that were locally owned - have been converted into apartments or lodging spots with extended-stay occupancies.

Remnants of a few auto camps or tourist cabins remain across Indiana, including in Hendricks County, according to our guest Jeff Kamm, who grew up in Plainfield.

Early auto camps sprang up along the Lincoln Highway in northern Indiana during the 1920s near cities such as Elkhart and Columbia City.

Jeff Kamm.Along the National Road (U.S. 40), the cabins could be found near cities such as Richmond and Cambridge City.

According to Jeff, developers began building connected cabins (thereby saving on materials), which kicked off the era of the motel as the most popular roadside lodging spot. In 1946, Best Western created a "membership association" of motels.

After the opening in Indianapolis of the first Holiday Inn on West 16th Street near the speedway, the chain quickly built several other motels in the Hoosier capital. By 1967, Jeff reports, there were seven Holiday Inns in Indy, including one on Pendleton Pike and another near the site then of the city's airport.

Some of these original Holiday Inn buildings became a Motel 6 or a Classic Motor Inn before being razed. The former Holiday Inn site near the old airport, Jeff reports, "now operates as the more upscale Crowne Plaza."

 

July 28, 2018 - Upcoming

Wawasee and Maxinkuckee: resort lakes in northern Indiana

In this 1920 photograph, swimmers enjoy a diving platform on Lake Maxinkuckee. The lake’s visitors have included such illustrious Hoosiers as Booth Tarkington, Cole Porter and Kurt Vonnegut.

As the two largest natural lakes in Indiana, they have been the scenic locations of summer homes for more than 100 years, with vacation lodging options ranging from waterfront mansions to cottages and bungalows. They've also attracted their share of celebrities and even notorious characters.

Lake Wawasee, southeast of the town of Syracuse in Kosciusko County, and Lake Maxinkuckee - with the town of Culver (Marshall County) near its shores - share glacial origins along with most of the lakes of northern Indiana. (Lake Monroe in southern Indiana is larger than either of the two, but it is man-made.)

The Lake Wawasee area has a rich history that dates back to its time as the tribal lands of Miami Indian chiefs Wawasee and Papakeecha. 
Col. Eli Lilly, founder of the pharmaceutical business that eventually became an international giant, and his descendants have had summer homes at Wawasee since the late 19th century. A lavish hotel at the lake, The Spink, hosted visitors including Al Capone and Hollywood notables like Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Originally built in 1926, the Spink was sold to a Catholic order in the 1940s and remodeled to become a seminary; it later served as a boarding school and was eventually remade into condominiums in the 1980s.

At Lake Maxinkuckee, several generations of the Vonnegut family from Indianapolis enjoyed summer homes. Reflecting on boyhood summers there, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. called the lake "my Aegean Sea" and "my Eden lost." Other famous Hoosiers, including composer Cole Porter and novelist Booth Tarkington, also visited friends or spent summers at Lake Maxinkuckee homes. Tarkington even wrote part of his first bestseller, The Gentleman from Indiana (1899), there.

Two Native American tribes lived along the shores of the lakes since at least the early 1800s.

Miami Indians lived on the Lake Wawasee site that later became the location of the Spink Hotel. Potawatomi Indians lived at Lake Maxinkuckee, which occupies about 1,800 acres of spring-fed water and is 88 feet deep at its deepest point.

Two guests with lifelong involvements with the resort lakes will join Nelson in studio:

  • Fort Wayne native Charles Braun, the attorney who hosts Legally Speaking, the WICR-FM call-in legal advice show, will share insights about Lake Wawasee. Over a span of nearly 100 years, five generations of the Braun family have rented or owned property on Lake Wawasee. For many years, Charles' mother owned a condo at the former Spink Hotel.
  • And Culver native Jeff Kenney, the archives manager for the Culver Academies Museum, who regularly provides historical commentary on boat tours of Lake Maxinkuckee.

"Maxinkuckee is one of the most studied lakes in the world, thanks largely to the work of biologists Evermann and Clark, whose massive, two-volume study published in the early 1920s is still taught today in classes related to freshwater biology," Jeff says.

Culver Military Academy, the private, college-prep high school, is located at Lake Maxinkuckee, of course, but we will save the bulk of the school's history for a show down the road. We've got plenty to dive into with the resort lakes, where history continues to unfold. A cover story in this month's issue of Indianapolis Monthly magazine noted that at Lake Wawasee, the historic Oakwood Resort has recently reopened, reporting, "The 125-year-old lodge hosts a salon, spa and the Pier Restaurant , with a great view of Wawasee's many expensive boats."

Referring to Kurt Vonnegut's affection for Lake Maxinkuckee, the magazine notes: "The author couldn't have fabricated a more scenic locale in his novels . . . Indiana's second-largest natural body of water offers shoreline restaurants, well-lit trails and a small town full of boutiques."

 

A note of support

'We hope to see it broadcast far and wide'

A particularly nice letter of support came in some time ago from authors James Alexander Thom and Dark Rain Thom. We like to re-read it from time to time!

To Whom it May Concern:

Last Spring, my wife and I were interviewed by Nelson Price on his Hoosier History radio program, as authors of frontier and Native American history books. Mr. Price's program was so well prepared and conducted that we feel it should be made available to students and general audiences as widely as possible. His program is well-researched, all questions pertinent to the chosen theme, and moves along briskly. Listeners called in with questions and comments that were intelligent and relevant, a sign of an avid audience.

As historical writers, we try to overcome the public's indifference to history, to bring alive in any way we can the important lessons of the past, and are enthusiastic about programs and writings that make those lessons interesting. The Hoosier History Live program does that so well that we hope to see it broadcast far and wide over this historically significant State of Indiana. It is an excellent program, worthy of extensive distribution and strong support.

James Alexander Thom & Dark Rain Thom, authors
Bloomington, Indiana
July 14, 2011

Shows, we got shows

We have more than 470 Hoosier History Live radio shows completed, as a matter of fact. We certainly welcome underwriting support to get more of our show audio online. Let's help support the hardworking Hoosiers who do the writing and editing for Hoosier History Live!

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If you are interested in becoming a sponsor of Hoosier History Live, click here or call Molly Head at (317) 927-9101 for more info.

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Former Lilly research scientist who developed Prozac

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Ken Burns, speaking at a preview of his film "The War" at Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, April 18, 2007

 

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