Route 66 in the News

Wigwams Go Retro

2011-08-10 20:20:43

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. - Have you slept in a teepee lately? Kumar Patel thinks more people should experience Americana from one of the last remaining Wigwam motels in the country.

The historic motel has a team of painters working to restore San Bernardino's Wigwam Motel, 2728 Foothill Blvd., along the old Route 66, to its original external color scheme as part of its application to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Patel said.

"We hope to have this completed by the start of the (Stater Bros. 22nd annual) Route 66 celebration (on Sept. 15)," Patel said.

The 20-unit Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino was built in 1949 and was the last of seven built by Frank A. Redford, said Patel, the motel's manager.

The concept was inspired by a popular ice cream shop shaped like an upside down cone and teepees he had seen while visiting a Sioux reservation in South Dakota.

His first motel was in Horse Cave, Ken., in 1935. And the second followed in 1937 in Cave City, Ken. Over time others were built in Alabama, Florida, New Orleans and Arizona.

The only other remaining Wigwam motels are in Holbrook, Ariz., and Cave City.

Patel said that the Holbrook location was the only franchised property and the franchise fee was the coins from the guests who put coins into the "magic fingers" slot beneath their bed.

Many guests at the San Bernardino site, Patel said, are from other countries, particularly Australia, Holland and England.

"They believe staying in a teepee should be part of their American experience," he said.

Guests are often enthusiastic about Route 66 and everything connected with it, Patel said.

"Many foreigners are astounded that you can drive 2,000 miles and still be in the same country," said Patel, who has immersed himself in Route 66 lore since his family bought the Wigwam Motel in 2003.

Coming from the east, the Wigwam Motel is near the end of the historic route, Santa Monica. Driving time for the 78 miles from the motel to Santa Monica, is about five hours -- longer than most people think, Patel said.

On Wednesday, workers were scraping off the brown paint on the motel's 20 teepees. Eventually all will be a white/cream color.

The original red zig-zag lines around the cones and red trim on the windows will also be restored, as will the yellow paint on the three poles protruding from each building.

The poles are actually heat vents that extend deep within the structure.

For a time, Redford lived in San Bernardino's unit No.1, where he built an firepit, which is still there.

Later he moved into another unit and built an office area in the front. And that's the office today.

The rooms have modern touches, flatscreen televisions and large refrigerators.

Patel said Wigwam Motel guests are often walk-ins, people stopping in on their cruise of the historic Mother Road.

And the walk-in room rate is $66 -- a natural fit.

~Jim Steinberg, Contra Costa Times


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