The historic Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona is a charming reminder of the busy days when Route 66, the Mother Road, was America’s main travel route to the west coast. Many of today’s road warriors can remember sleeping in one of Holbrook’s concrete tents, or at one of the six other Wigwam Villages built from Florida to California from the 1930s to the 1950s.
The first opened in Horse Cave, Kentucky in 1935, the brainchild of Frank A. Redford. Soon after, he built a second one in Cave City, Kentucky. An entrepreneur named Chester Lewis had several other motels along Old Route 66 in the 1930s in Arizona. He saw his first Wigwam Village in Cave City, Kentucky in 1938 and decided he wanted to build his own in Holbrook.
Franchises and chain motels were unknown in those days, and Frank Redford was more interested in sharing his novel idea than making money. So when Lewis contacted Redford about copying his design, they arrived at a simple plan. Each wigwam unit would contain a radio that would play for a half hour for a dime. In payment for the use of his plans, Redford would receive the dimes from the radios for a period of several years. Holbrook’s Wigwam Motel opened in 1950 and was designated Wigwam Village #6. The unique motel with its fifteen concrete wigwams was an immediate hit with weary travelers looking for a clean, comfortable place to spend the night.
For years the motel did a thriving business, and I can remember staying there on more than one occasion as a youngster when my own family traveled Route 66. Toy tomahawks and postcards of the business were big sellers to the patrons who succumbed to Lewis’ sign asking “Have You Slept in a Wigwam Lately?”
When Interstate 40 bypassed downtown Holbrook in 1974, Lewis closed the Wigwam Village. Two years after his death in 1986, his wife and sons John and Paul renovated the motel, reopening it in 1988. The Wigwam Motel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 2, 2002.
The Wigwam Motel is a roadside icon that continues to attract travelers who get off the busy interstate for a taste of Old Route 66. The fifteen are numbered from 1 to 16 (there is no teepee 13). Rooms contain the original restored hickory furniture, two double beds, cable TV and a window mounted air conditioner. There are no telephones or Internet access. Restored vintage automobiles are scattered throughout the parking lot, adding to the old time feel of the place.
The Lewis family continues to operate the Wigwam Motel, and they always enjoy the frequent letters and visits they get from people who stayed here during the motel’s heyday. One caller remembered a 1952 visit, when she was only four years old. She was asleep in the back seat of the car upon their arrival, and the rest of the family left the car to look around. She woke up and saw all of those tepees, and thought that her family had been captured by the Indians!
Over the years, many well known people have visited the Wigwam Motel. Oprah Winfrey came, but only stayed a few minutes because the wigwams, fourteen feet in diameter at the base and 32 feet tall, with one small window, made her feel claustrophobic. With the resurgence of interest in Route 66, the Wigwam Motel continues to get a lot of business from travelers who prefer its distinctive architecture over the chain motels scattered a couple of blocks away near Holbrook’s interstate highway exits. After all, you can spend a night in a Motel 6 or Days Inn anywhere. How often do you have the opportunity to sleep in a wigwam?
The Wigwam Motel is located at 811 W. Hopi Drive (Old Route 66) in Holbrook. For more information, call (928) 524-3048.
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