Monday, August 13, 2007
This was written from a room in the Motel 6 in Auburn, CA. Well, something occurred to me recently. Many of the old 19th c. houses from Mexican California have a common structure. They are two-tiered, but in lieu of interior hallways, they have a covered walkway and a line of railing running along the upper level with doors opening out onto it (see this picture from historic Monterey, on the top). They are made of stucco and tile, and usually adobe. Rancho Los Cerritos, in my hometown, is a beautiful example of this architectural style, and is one of the few remaining structures of its type in the state. Developed by Thomas Larkin in the first half of the 19th c., the style known as “Monterey Colonial” blended Mexican and American architecture to create a style that was uniquely Californian.
Now, as a part-time resident of New England, where wood and red brick prevail, I’ve noticed that Californians almost instinctively turn to stucco and tile when building anything from garages to strip malls. There is a deep-rooted affinity for these two quintessential materials of California’s Mexican past. In the same way, Californians seem to turn to the two-tiered, porched style of rancho architecture, the Monterey Colonial style. I see it being used for private residences, shopping centers, and office buildings. And, interestingly, almost every Motel 6 in the west, or perhaps the country. See the image on the bottom, from Tucson, AZ.
Motel 6 was founded in 1962 by William Becker and Paul Greene in Santa Barbara. Since the 1920s, Santa Barbara has made a very conscious effort to preserve the architectural flavor of its hispanic heritage. The first Motel 6 that was built, which is actually still running, followed a Monterey Colonial structural template. Subsequent Motel 6 buildings throughout California and the rest of the country, until very recently, continued to follow this style. I find it fascinating that this indigenous Californian architectural style may have so worked its way into the psyches of Becker and Greene that the birth of America’s first chain of budget motels was infused with such wonderful regionality.
As more and more Motel 6 buildings take inspiration from the architecture of the luxury hotel instead of the rancho, the older buildings with their regional specificity may eventually go the way of the original 19th c. Monterey Colonial ranchos. Whether or not we designate these motels historic landmarks like Rancho Los Cerritos is, perhaps, a matter of debate.