A motel, also known as a motor hotel, motor inn or motor lodge, is a hotel designed for motorists, usually having each room entered directly from the parking area for motor vehicles rather than through a central lobby. List of Best Motels in New York City . Entering dictionaries after World War II, the word motel, coined as a portmanteau of “motor hotel”, originates from the Milestone Mo-Tel of San Luis Obispo, California (now called the Motel Inn of San Luis Obispo), which was built in 1925. The term referred to a type of hotel consisting of a single building of connected rooms whose doors faced a parking lot and in some circumstances, a common area or a series of small cabins with common parking. Motels are often individually owned, though motel chains do exist.
As large highway systems began to be developed in the 1920s, long-distance road journeys became more common, and the need for inexpensive, easily accessible overnight accommodation sites close to the main routes led to the growth of the motel concept. Motels peaked in popularity in the 1960s with rising car travel, only to decline in response to competition from the newer chain hotels that became commonplace at highway interchanges as traffic was bypassed onto newly constructed freeways. Several historic motels are listed on the US National Register of Historic Places.
Motels differ from hotels in their location along highways, as opposed to the urban cores favored by hotels, and their orientation to the outside (in contrast to hotels, whose doors typically face an interior hallway). Motels almost by definition include a parking lot, while older hotels were not usually built with automobile parking in mind.
Because of their low-rise construction, the number of rooms which would fit on any given amount of land was low compared to the high-rise urban hotels which had grown around train stations. This was not an issue in an era where the major highways became the main street in every town along the way and inexpensive land at the edge of town could be developed with motels, car dealerships, fuel stations, lumber yards, amusement parks, roadside diners, drive-in restaurants, theaters, and countless other small roadside businesses. The automobile brought mobility and the motel could appear anywhere on the vast network of two-lane highways.
Motels are typically constructed in an “I”-, “L”-, or “U”-shaped layout that includes guest rooms; an attached manager’s office; a small reception; and in some cases, a small diner and a swimming pool. A motel was typically single-story with rooms opening directly onto a parking lot, making it easy to unload suitcases from a vehicle. A second story, if present, would face onto a balcony served by multiple stairwells.
The post-war motels, especially in the early 1950s to late 1960s, sought more visual distinction, often featuring eye-catching colorful neon signs which employed themes from popular culture, ranging from Western imagery of cowboys and Indians to contemporary images of spaceships and atomic era iconography. U.S. Route 66 is the most popular example of the “neon era”. Many of these signs remain in use to this day.
In some motels, a handful of rooms would be larger and contain kitchenettes or apartment-like amenities; these rooms were marketed at a higher price as “efficiencies” as their occupants could prepare food themselves instead of incurring the cost of eating all meals in restaurants. Rooms with connecting doors (so that two standard rooms could be combined into one larger room) also commonly appeared in both hotels and motels. A few motels (particularly in Niagara Falls, Ontario, where a motel strip extending from Lundy’s Lane to the falls has long been marketed to newlyweds) would offer “honeymoon suites” with extra amenities such as whirlpool baths.