Wigwam Motels — a History

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wigwam hotel
Wigwam hotel

What are the Wigwam Motels?

I had never heard of the Wigwam Motels before the day that I arrived at the San Bernadino location for a photo shoot. Just an address got me to the location, and upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised to see a very unique-looking spot.

The Wigwam Motel is a motel stay through and through, besides the fact that the rooms are built into these—quite tall—wigwams. The story goes that these were actually built in the likeness of teepees, (which is what I thought they were), but that someone referred to them as a wigwam, and then the name stuck.

The history of the Wigwam Motels…

The Wigwam Motels—also called the “Wigwam Villages”—actually date back to the 1930s. They were the brainchild of Frank Redford, who wanted to honor a part of American history. He started with a museum/shop that showcased Native American Artifacts and then continued on to build the wigwams around that.

The San Bernadino/San Rialto location is located right on Route 66, which of course is the iconic Mother Road of the country. However, that location was actually the last of the seven motels to be built during the years of 1933 to 1949.

There were also locations built in Kentucky, Louisiana, Florida, Arizona, and Alabama, but most of them have not stood the test of time. This particular location is one of three that still stands, and it was restored after being purchased in 2013 by the Patel family. After that restoration process, the motel was added to the list of the National Register of Historic Places.

Each wigwam is 32 feet tall and stays strong with a poured concrete foundation and wood framing with a stucco exterior. The rest of the property offers a lobby that’s open 24 hours a day, a pool, a big lawn area, and even some classic cars to look at. The Wigwam Motels are a unique stay as well as an interesting look at the classic type of roadside attraction.

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