History of the Rialto, CA Wigwam No. 7
“California Here I Come!” Disney’s Pixar film Cars brings a new storyline for all ages by touching on the past, historic Route 66. The director has done a fantastic job of itegrating Route 66 icons into the animation, ones that you’ll find our your 66 trip! The Wigwam Motels will be one of them, shown as the Cozy Cone Motel in the animation, which is a blend of the Wigwam Motel, Blue Swallow Inn and Roy’s Cafe. The Movie is also a definite eye-opener to the current Route 66 issues that include of preservation, rehabilitation and tourism topics.
The California Wigwam Motel was built within the city limits of San Bernardino in 1949, a period when citrus groves flourished. The motel would later acquire a Rialto postal address, creating confusions as the property actually sits in San Bernardino. This Route 66 Motel is fun for all, located only minutes from Colton, Grand Terrace, Redlands, Big Bear, Highland, Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana, and Bloomington, CA. This location would mark the final of 7 Wigwam Motels that were constructed. The motel’s village-style arrangement of nineteen 30-foot-tall tepees made from wood framing, concrete and stuco draws much admiration from all generations. Each individual wigwam is carefully equipped with all the traveler’s essentials with grounds that includes of grass area, an outdoor barbecue grill and kidney-shaped swimming pool.
The mastermind behind this retro motel was a clever man by the name of Frank Redford, who was heavily influenced by the native Indian culture. He would bring his imagination to a reality in the early 1930s explained in the following section.
A total of only seven Wigwam Motels were built throughout the nation, of which three managed to remain preserved. Two of the last three remaining rest along historic Route 66 in the states of Arizona and California, while the other rests in Redford’s home state of Kentucky. View our favorite links page to learn of the other 2 remaining Wigwam Motels.
The remodeled classic motel continues to live on going on its 59th anniversary through the support of car enthusiasts, families, foreigners, historians, preservationists, roadies, tourists, travelers and many others for generations to come. Share a piece of history with your friends and family by suprising them to a stay in a Wigwam!
The Wigwam: Concept to Reality
The coming of the automobile broadened the concepts of recreation and leisure. Unlike travel by train – for decades the most common means of long-distance transportation used by Americans – motoring could be, itself, part of a vacation, not just the means of reaching a destination. In the early 1920s, “autocamping” became the rage, and campgrounds sprang up all over the country. By the end of the decade, however, the camps’ latrines and common showers, and the increasing patronage by itinerants brought about by the onset of the Depression, made these facilities less desirable for many motorists. The next step was the cabin or cottage camp, or the proto-motel. The tiny individual tourist cabins usually emphasized the attractions of the region; for example, mock colonial houses in New England, adobe huts in the Southwest, and the wigwam in Kentucky.
Frank Redford turned his interest in Native American history into a business in 1933 when he built a teepee-shaped building near Horse City, Kentucky, to display his collection of relics. The following year he added a group of teepee-shaped cabins to entice visitors to stay the night and named it “Wigwam Village.” Redford obtained a patent for his innovative building design in 1937, and that same year he constructed a second village in the northern outskirts of Cave City, Kentucky, near Mammoth Cave National Park. By the early 1950s, seven wigwam villages had been built in the south and southwestern United States.
The typical wigwam village consisted of individual teepee cabins placed around a larger teepee which served as an office and lobby. The 18 steel-and-concrete tepees of Cave City’s Wigwam Village No. 2 vary only in size and number of windows. At 52 feet tall and approximately 35 feet in diameter, the gift shop and office is the largest. Each of the 15 sleeping units is approximately 25 feet in diameter and has two windows. The exterior walls are painted white accented with a bright red jagged lower edge at the top of the cone, a bold zig-zag band encircling the building halfway up the wall, and a narrow zig-zag band with small triangles along the inner edge of the window openings and marks similar to exclamation points at the corners. In the narrow bathrooms created by a partition at the rear of the sleeping units, the floor is covered with red-and-white tiles and the walls and stall shower repeat the zig-zag motif. Four slender metal poles project from the top in imitation of branches of wood.
In its fanciful emulation of an Indian encampment, Wigwam Village No. 2 exemplifies a unique type of architecture created for automobile travelers along the American roadside. It is one of the most historic forerunners of a practice that has been referred to as place-product-packaging – the commercial use of architectural imagery denoting product or regional design characteristics by service-oriented establishments along the American roadside. The motel placed items in the room that patrons could take home as souvenirs. These items, including ashtrays embossed with images of teepees, served as advertisements as well. The gift shop sold t-shirts and miniature plastic teepees. In addition, teepee-shaped signs along Kentucky’s highways advertised Wigwam Village.
The golden age examples of roadside Americana began to disappear in the 1960s and 1970s as a result of the burgeoning Interstate system. Superhighways took most of the tourist traffic away from the smaller U.S. roads like Rt. 66 and Rt. 31, and the motels along these routes began to go out of business. The Wigwam Villages were no exception: Today, only three the of the original motels remain: Cave City, Kentucky; Holbrook, Arizona; and Rialto, California.