motor lodge

Road trip? 1st motel opened 86 years ago

Sometimes flying from one place to another just doesn’t make sense.
So instead you choose to drive.

And while today we take it for granted that there will be a budget hotel – or three – around the next bend on the highway, back in the mid 1920s motels weren’t even part of the American landscape.

When early car owners hit the road, they’d often spend the night in auto camps that had few to zero amenities. But that changed on Dec. 12, 1925, when architect Arthur Heineman opened the country’s first roadside motor hotel. The price of a room: $2.50 a night.

Motel Inn courtesy: History Center of San Luis Obispo County

Located along Highway 101 just north of San Luis Obispo, Calif., the Milestone Motel (later the Motel Inn) halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles had individual units and a parking space in front of each door. Those features would soon become standard as more Americans hit the road and the concept of motels, motor courts and motor lodges spread nationwide.

While today there are more than 4.7 million guest rooms in the United States, according to the American Hotel &Lodging Association, and hundreds of thousands of motel-style properties along the nation’s highways, the Spanish-style Motel Inn is no longer open for business.

“It meant a lot to the community and used to be the first thing that greeted motorists that came into town,” said Pete Kelly, a researcher at the History Center of San Luis Obispo County.

“But now it’s almost torn down. Just a façade remains. The bell tower is still there and the original sign is there, but the rest is gone.”

(A slightly different version of this story first appeared on’s Overhead Bin)