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We coulda stayed in a wigwam

Ace and I had planned to get across the New Mexico state line Monday, but once we hit Holbrook, Arizona it was close to 6 p.m. So I pulled out my AAA “Traveling with Your Pet” guide to see what lodgings might be friendly, and saw that all four listed accepted pets “with restrictions.”

We hate restrictions.

We’d decided to push on to Gallup when we saw, on the edge of Holbrook, a Motel 6 — the chain that we’ve come to rely on for under $40 a night dog friendliness, with no deposits or restrictions. We checked in there — it’s the nicest Motel 6 we’ve stayed at yet — and I left Ace in the room while I went back into town trolling for somewhere to eat dinner.

It was then I found where I should have stayed. Had I done a little research, or taken 10 minutes to tour the town first, I would have seen it earlier. Now, I’ll have to wait until the next time we pass through to stay at that kitschy monument to thinking outside the box — the Wigwam Motel.

It’s a glorious sight — especially in the modern day world of look-alike, smell-alike, sound-alike motels: 15 individual concrete wigwams perched on a dusty lot.

From the looks of things, it has managed — though it died once — to survive where a lot of other family owned motels, thanks to the Interstate bypassing town, have not.

I stopped in and chatted with Guy Thielman, the great grandson of Chester Lewis, who opened the motel in the 1940s after seeing a similar one in Kentucky.

It was part of a chain, and Lewis — of a mind that if anywhere should have a wigwam motel it was Holbrook — took out a loan and got himself a franchise, or at least something close to that. According to Wikipedia, he purchased the rights to the design, as well as the right to use the name “Wigwam Village” in an unusual agreement: The chain’s owner would receive the proceeds from coin operated radios (30 minutes for a dime) installed in rooms at the Holbrook Wigwam Village.

Lewis closed the motel in 1974 when Interstate 40 bypassed downtown Holbrook. Two years after his death in 1986, his two sons, Clifton and Paul, and his daughter, Elinor, renovated and reopened it and later managed to get it listed on the  National Register of Historic Places.

Seven Wigwam Motels, also known as Wigwam Villages were built between 1936 and the 1950s. Only three are still in operation – in Holbrook, Cave City, Kentucky and near San Bernadino, California.

The other four – now gone — were located in New Orleans, Orlando, Bessemer, Alabama and Horse Cave, Kentucky, where the first one opened.

Holbrook’s Wigwam Motel has a few bonus features as well — a museum of petrified wood and other artifacts accumulated by Chester Lewis, and many vintage automobiles strewn about the parking lot.

The biggest bonus of all, though, is that dogs are allowed, with no deposit required.

I stopped by the wigwams again yesterday to take some photos and ran into a group that was packing up after what they described as an enjoyable and inexpensive evening in their wigwam.

Amber, her friend Shantelle, and Shantelle’s son, Logan, were headed for the Petrified Forest, but they took the time to say hello. Logan immediately bonded with Ace, and invited him into the wigwam.

The three were on vacation, hitting most of the well-known tourist attractions of the southwest — Carlsbad Caverns, Sedona, the Grand Canyon and more. They learned about the Wigwam Motel while Googling things to do along Route 66. Since Shantelle and Amber didn’t have many pictures of the Wigwam Motel, or the two of them together, I put together an album and slapped it on my Facebook page, so they could have access to them.

Logan babysat Ace for me while I wandered around the property taking photos of them, the wigwams and the vintage cars — some of them even older than me.

It’s nice to see an effort to preserve the past, and to see that the old motel — even though bypassed by an Interstate and pounded by the poor economy — is still up and running.

Wigwams forever!

(“Dog’s Country” is the continuing tale of one man and one dog spending six months criss-crossing America. It can be found exclusively on ohmidog! To read all of “Dog’s Country,” from the beginning, click here.)

Comments

Comment from Kelly
Time July 7, 2010 at 7:48 am

That is totally cool!

Comment from DG
Time July 7, 2010 at 10:13 am

primo americana! when will UNESCO be putting this on the world heritage site list?!

Comment from Gabriel Fancher
Time July 7, 2010 at 11:01 am

I’m from Horse Cave, KY and I love the Wigwams, in fact the neighborhood I grew up in was named after the wigwams that are no longer in Horse Cave! What a blast from the past Thanks!

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