HOTELS & MOTELS
|WARRIOR RIVER MOTEL
opened about 1955 just west of the Lisa Taylor Wallace iron bridge on US-78.
For many years, there was a Saxon's Candy Kitchen and Restaurant conveniently
next door. And here, in its humble spendor, is the newly-installed
original sign which Dixie Neon designed for her. A newer, backlit
sign replaced it some time in the 1980s.
Despite dark clouds on the horizon in the form of Corridor X, the motel continues to operate ... It's clean and well-kept for an old property ... and it's a sweet bargain for less than $30 a night. I don't think the motel has offered the "circulating ice water" amenity in years, although that third tap in the bathroom is still there.
For a long time there was a little 'curb store' on the left just past the motel. It met its doom when 78 was four-lane'd in the late '70s. Here's a closer view, complete with advert for the recently-opened (1954) Natural Bridge attraction; said to be the longest 'natural bridge' east of the Rockies. Also note the sign for Jazz Feeds ... once a common sight along rural roads in these parts.
|"TRAVEL THE WIGWAM WAY"
WIGWAM VILLAGE was among the first "lodging chains." Property #5 was located on US-11 (Bessemer Super Highway) southeast of the city.
The concept was interesting, to be sure. This may have been an early example of marketing to the kids to snag Mom and Dad.
Wigwam Village #2 is still in operation in Cave City, Kentucky.
In February '09, my wife and I stayed at the Cave City 'wigwams.' Here are photos from our unforgettable night.
|BLESS ITS POINTED LITTLE MENU...
The motif was carried even as far as the table menus at the restaurant. (Click on the right-hand image to get a better view)
Inflation was a reality of the day back then, too. Note how many of the prices were scribbled out in favor of higher ones. Oh, horrors -- a T-bone steak dinner is now a budget-busting 85 cents!!
No doubt the "No. 1" was a luxury item. $1.10, imagine that! Better wait 'till payday.
(menu scans courtesy of Robin Scott, Sr.)
|Hmmm, on what highway was THIS motel located?
Do you even NEED three guesses?
Naming a motel after the highway which feeds it was far from uncommon.
About 2/3 of the way up the big hill on US-78 toward Forestdale,
you found this, the 78 MOTEL. This picture is of '60s vintage (I
like the old Coke machine seen here).
|Okay, this one is NOT in Birmingham ... or even in Alabama! This
is the 78 MOTEL in Tupelo, Miss. It was a small motel on the
eastern outskirts of Tupelo on what used to be -- yup, you guessed it --
Highway 78. (amazing what kind
of education you can pick up through these websites!!)
US 78 was relocated to a four-lane interstate-grade roadway in 1984 (part of Corridor X, which might be open to I-65 just in time for my 17-year-old son's grandchildren to drive it). The motel appears to be closed, but the sign remains.
I have this here for two reasons -- first, because I like the look of their sign; second, because in the '70s, when I lived in Tupelo, it wasn't lost on this grade-school kid that there were TWO "78 MOTELS" ... one close to our home, and another close to our destination!
(photo by Russell Wells, 09/26/2004)
||Heading out 3rd Avenue in the '50s and '60s, you'd find the TOWN
MOTEL, and its signage obviously inspired by Holiday Inn's "Great Sign",
including an attention-getting "star"-like piece of animated neon.
Like many other of the vintage motel properties, the Town Motel lost its mojo when the interstates opened.
I like the map on this postcard.
The Town Motel is still in business today ... with the same signage, too. Only the clientele has changed .... ;-)
|ANCHOR MOTEL ... Crestwood Blvd. (US-78) east. One of
many postwar motels springing up on highways leading out of the city.
This one no doubt had its share of traveling clientele during the days
before I-20 was a twinkle in a road planner's eye.
This motel is still around today, under the name Star Motel.
Aerial shot of Motel Birmingham, March 1965.
A fixture in the Eastwood Mall area since 1954, it's still going strong today, although it's now known as the Delux Inn & Suites. But at least that wonderful marquee remains...
(photo by Russell Wells, 11/07/2006;
not bad considering I took this while heading up the I-20 onramp from Montevallo Road)
|The last great downtown hotel of the golden age was the PARLIAMENT
HOUSE on 20th Street. When this hotel opened in the '60s, 20th
Street was US-31, and carried all north-south travelers, since I-65 was
nowhere near complete through Birmingham.
After going through a fruit basket turnover of names and chains (Ramada, for one), the property finally sat empty before being bought by UAB in the Summer of 2006. And the grand structure met its demise in February 2008.
The architecture was unique ... a taste of '60s coastal Florida in the middle of landlocked Jones Valley. (Tim Hollis)
(photo courtesy of Jerry Smith)
|MOON OVER T-TOWN....
A true classic: Tuscaloosa's MOON WINX LODGE. It's been a fixture since the '40s. When it opened along a vibrant US Highway 11, it was a member of Quality Courts -- a group of motel owners who tried to change negative opinions the public had about motels in the late '30s (FBI director J. Edgar Hoover had warned that motels were used as bases of operations by gangsters).
The sign to the left dates to 1957 ... read more about it here.
But after a new roadway was built for US-11 in 1958, all the travelers were siphoned away. Today, the Moon Winx is just another seedy "old motel" on what is now Alabama 215. The only things missing are a large, ominous mansion atop a hill out back ... and ... mother.
In 2000, the motel was immortalized in a book by Geoff Schmidt, Write Your Heart Out: Advice From the Moon Winx Motel (Smallmouth Press, New York).
(courtesy of Tim Hollis)
|This was an East Lake restaurant called LOU-JAC DRIVE-IN.
It featured "Glorifried Shrimp" and a franchised fried chicken called "Chicken
in the Rough." Originating in 1930s Oklahoma, it predated
Colonel Sanders by some two decades! Of course, we all know who won
|Remember the restaurant in the A-frame? Then you remember SHERER'S. It was a chain based out of nearby Jasper.|
|The CONSTANTINE DRIVE-IN was a popular 'hangout' for students
at nearby Birmingham-Southern College. I wonder how many times my
Mom and Dad, as BSC students in the early '60s, must've eaten here.
This is an advertisement in the 1963 BSC Southern Accent yearbook.
...A slightly better image of the sign
|Most people are familiar with the DALE'S
brand of steak sauce. To say it's wonderful doesn't even begin to
do it justice. Dale's can be found in grocery stores all over the
Southeast, if not elsewhere.
But many older Birminghamians remember that it used to be the house marinade for two local steak houses bearing the Dale's name. Dale's Cellar was on 7th Avenue downtown, and the Dale's Hideaway was on 28th in Homewood.
The restaurants are long gone, but the taste lives on.
Remember SPINNING WHEEL and their "Frosty Spin" milkshakes?
Here's one of the original locations, on 1st Avenue N., in Woodlawn.
(courtesy of Roy Daniel)
|Castles in the sky...
What was the real star of the show ... the food at Eli's "Sky Castle" Drive-In (shown in this 1956 photo), or the booth behind the building ... the actual "sky castle" used for remote broadcasting by WSGN?
|THE SOMBRERO RESTAURANT was a fixture in the Five Points area
on Bessemer Road for many years.
THE VULCAN RESTAURANT ... The photo is from the '50s, but this restaurant dates back to at least 1938. By the '60s it became known as The Gold Nuggett. I believe The Vulcan, like the Lou-Jac pictured above, also served "Chicken In The Rough."
Close-up of the sign. They served REAL "7-UP" here. None of that imitation garbage, like other restaurants sold.
(both pictures from Alvin Hudson)
"YUMMY FOR YOUR TUMMY" ...... Above and right are two locations of the venerable King's CATFISH KING restaurant. These photos, from the Alvin Hudson archive, are probably of early '60s vintage. $1.25 was all it took to fill your gut with some great catfish or chicken.
||I look in my Magic Mirror ... and I see Mike ... and
Sue ... and Jimmy .... and Sally .... and Do-Bee, too! They're
too busy chowing down on Jack's Hamburgers, and not paying attention to
Here is Miss Jane, WAPI-TV Romper Room schoolmarm extrordinaire, doing a pitch for Jack's. A larger image of this picture is displayed in the dining room of the Jack's near Eastwood Mall.
|Another Birmingham "hamburger joint" was BURGER IN A HURRY.
The mascot seen on top of the sign was MR. REALEE GOOD.
Pictured here, courtesy of the Alvin Hudson collection, is the Burger In A Hurry in Roebuck, ca. 1962.
|KELLY'S was another local fast-food entity "back in the day."
I remember there being one years ago in Hoover, at the intersection of
31 and Columbiana Road. They would buy the location of the old Wagon
Ho behind Eastwood Mall, later to become Dilly's.
Kelly's appears to be the only one in this group who actually had postcards printed. A specimen is displayed on the website of postcard collector Warren Reed. In the middle of the card is a picture of the Eastwood location, the one in the Conestoga wagon.
|It's not indigenous to Birmingham (the company is based in Chattanooga),
but here is a beautiful example of an early KRYSTAL on 20th Street
downtown, dated July 5, 1953.
Notice the Golden Flake and Budweiser billboards above?
(collection of Alvin Hudson)
ROAD SCENES, ETC.
STOP AT THE SIGN OF THE ORANGE DISC ...
GULF stations were very common in the South before the company was swallowed by BP in 1990. Here's a spectacular night shot of the Center Street Gulf back in 1965. Check out that huge rooftop neon sign, too. I love the whole mood of this picture .... the quintessential "all-night fillin' station"
||A tiger by any other name still runs
Dixie Neon was busy changing the signage of this gas station from ESSO to ENCO. A little background: Parent company Humble Oil was forced out of the name ESSO in Alabama and several other states by Chevron, who hold the rights to the name "Standard Oil" here. Humble -- who have Standard brand rights in a number of other states -- used ESSO as a phonetic spelling of Standard's abbreviation, S.O.
In 1967, Humble created the name ENCO (ENergy COmpany) for those stations outside their "Standard" territory. The blue oval/red letters scheme remained for both brands. But this resulted in a confusing mish-mash of different brands ... and having to record two separate jingles for their advertising! (Plus, it confused the hades out of this pre-school kid, who was fasinated by all these oil brands ... why was it ENCO at home, but ESSO up in Tennessee??)
By late 1972, Humble settled on a common name for all their stations: EXXON. They could've gone with ENCO, were it not for a disturbing fact: in Japanese, the name translates loosely to "stalled car." (Exxon still markets outside the U.S. under the ESSO brand -- same oval logo and all)
This gas station was located in Alabaster on US-31. Just south of here, I-65 would branch off to the right toward Montgomery (remember when you had to meander your way through Hoover, Pelham and the speed trap called Alabaster before you could again pick up I-65 south?)
The billboard seen here appears to be a desperate 'Hail Mary' by struggling businesses along "Old 31" to entice the motorist to stay the course, and not take that primrose freeway.......
can't see the Forestdale for the signs!
A sight that makes my heart wistful: Forestdale Shopping Center's tall neon sign, a landmark along Highway 78 for many, many years.
Here's how this intesection looked in the Summer of 1972. Some real classics to be seen here ... the Winn-Dixie sign here uses the old 'flowerpot' frame originally designed for Winn-Dixie's predecessor, Hill's Food Store. (you can see how those signs used to look right here)
A couple of old S&H Green
Stamp logos are visible here, as is a Shell station (today, a Walgreen's
sits on that corner), and right behind it is an Enco (see above).
Amazingly, nearly 35 years later, the same company (now Exxon) still operates
on that site!
|THE MAKING OF MALFUNCTION JUNCTION...
A 1969 photo of The Most Deranged Confluence Of Interstates In The History Of Transportation. City Federal is still the tallest building here (two other, taller skyscrapers would start construction in '69 and open in 1971). I-65 runs left-right here, and I-20/59 is but a stub! This close-up shows nothing but bridge pilings:
|Well, after all, this road WAS
called "FLORIDA SHORT ROUTE"...
This billboard, long a fixture on US 280, not too many miles outside of Birmingham, advertised a motel in Tallahassee, Florida ... nearly 300 miles away!
In the days before the interstates were completed, 280 was one of the quickest ways for travelers to go from B'ham to their Florida destinations. And what better way to get the morning traveler's attention -- why not plant a bug in their brain about where to sleep tonight?
One doesn't see too many of these far-reaching billboards in this part of the country; perhaps the Tallahassee Motor Hotel once employed someone who used to work at Wall Drug in South Dakota?? (Tim Hollis)
LOST THEME PARK!
Remember the Grub Stake Restaurant north of Gardendale on US-31? Behind it used to be "Dry Gulch Ghost Town" ... it was a fixture on 31 for several years in the '60s, but was victim to a fire around 1970. An antique mall now occupies this site. (picture above right courtesy of Tim Hollis)
Below right is a shot of the restaurant's interior. Goodness, those LIGHTS! No WONDER the place burned down.
Special thanks to J. D. Weeks of Gardendale for contributing the above interior picture. Check out his website.
MIRACLE MILE LIVES!
Even more so, remember when much of US-31 and I-65 between Birmingham and Decatur was awash in loud red billboards for Rickwood Caverns? It was a tourist attraction north of Birmingham near I-65 in Blount County. The park even featured an Olympic-sized swimming pool, extensive picnic and camping facilities, and of course the "miracle mile" through the caverns.
The park became a ward of the State in the mid '70s, and the property was folded into the state park system. Today, Rickwood Caverns State Park continues to prosper, although without the billboards. One remnant of those days existed for a long time, on US-31 north of Gardendale. (Tim Hollis, 1996)
Highway 280 was relocated to a new four-lane routing about 25 years ago, but parts of the original winding two-lane route are intact, including the very beautiful stretch where the roadway and a stream both wind between two mountainsides. It's called "The Narrows" and it's marked on some road maps, as shown below:
(photo by Russell Wells, 10/06/2007)
||What has to be the coolest looking overpass in Birmingham ... or maybe
the world. It might even be the oldest cloverleaf intersection in
Alabama, now that I think about it.
This is the US 31 bridge passing over Lakeshore Drive. It's officially known as The R. H. Wharton Bridge (named after a county commissioner who had died), and was completed in 1938.
(Photo by Russell Wells, 09/24/2004)
|J. D. Weeks passed along this scan from his postcard collection, a
linen image of this intersection. The caption reads "Cloverleaf intersection
on New 4-Lane Highway between Birmingham and Montgomery, Ala."
Today, much of the hill toward the right is occupied by Brookwood Medical Center.
Here's a close-up of the sign ... Edgewood Lake appears to be the (now long-gone) body of water from which Lakeshore Drive got its name.
In the '40s, Henry and Cora Saxon opened a candy store in their hometown of Wellington, Ala., between Gadsden and Anniston. From that humble beginning grew a regional reputation for Miz Cora's confectionery, begatting a small chain of roadside candy shop/gift store/restaurants, including this one on highway 280 in Harpersville.
The chain declined after Henry Saxon's untimely death in 1968, and his widow put Saxon's to rest a decade later.
Salute to Mrs. Cora Saxon!
|YOU KNOW BY THE GLOW.....
Krispy Kreme is a true Southern delicacy, and I can't help but feel amused by those who have only recently discovered what us Southerners have known for all our lives.
The newer logos with the "Hot Doughnuts Now" neon light are okay, but my heart skips several beats when I see these ORIGINAL Krispy Kreme signs. This one was on 1st Avenue North. Plott & Campbell Drugs, another great neon classic, is in the background. The P&C sign is still standing (although without the mortar & pestle), but unfortunately, the Krispy Kreme sign was recently dismantled in favor of one of their newer ones.
Fortunately, Krispy Kreme hasn't messed with what truly counts: the doughnuts!.
|Here's a spectacular night shot of the Krispy Kreme in front of Eastwood
Mall back in 1987, complete with original neon 'crown' and backlit "KK"
atop the roof.
I want some doughnuts.
(photo by Warren Reed, October 1987)
|OVER 22,000 ITEMS!
Here's a 1976 advertisement for a business nobody traveling US-78 between Birmingham and Jasper could ever miss!
What set Dora's store apart was the way Mr. John Batson got the word out ..... advertisements for "DORA WESTERN AUTO" were e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e!! Many a barn roof in Jefferson and Walker counties served as sentinels for DORA WESTERN AUTO. In the '70s, even a rock embankment on US-78 carried a painted advertisement. And billboards. Dozens on 78 between Birmingham and Jasper, alone.
|OUT OF DOZENS, ONE
.........Tim Hollis found a surviving example of the old Dora Western Auto advertisements along a county road near the Walker-Cullman County line.
(picture courtesy of Gene Chism)
|ca. 1950 photo of a PAN-AM gas station located in Five Points
South at the intersection of Highland and Arlington. Pan-Am was an
oil company in the Southeast. There was no connection to the former
air carrier. It was a division of Standard Oil of Indiana, which
owned the Torch And Oval logo. Eventually both merged with American
Oil, after which Pan-Am was phased out in favor of the name American, then
Now you may be thinking, "Standard Oil was connected with CHEVRON, not Amoco." It was in Alabama, and other southeast states. But not everywhere else. The Standard Oil story makes for a fascinating read ... check out this website if you're curious and/or confused about all this!
Here's the first of a couple of great pictures sent to me by Pinson resident Ron Kidd. Many older buildings have traces of old advertisements painted on their sides. The paint gradually deteriorates in the face of Mother Nature, but the whole masterpiece often remains visible decades after the paint dries. Mr. Kidd has a name for 'em: "ghost signs."
To wit, here is the remains of an old painted Buffalo Rock sign on a building in downtown Oneonta, Ala.
(photo by Ron Kidd)
|PAINTED PEPSI HITS THE SPOT
According to Ron Kidd, this building in North Birmingham had a billboard
attached to it for decades. And when it was recently removed, it
exposed an old Pepsi sign whose near-mint condition appears to have been
preserved in a form of architectural cryogenics.
(photo by Ron Kidd)
WARREN REED has a great website full of B'ham "postcard past"
Do you have any old pictures or postcards featuring Birmingham
area motels, restaurants, classic signs or "road scenes"? PLEASE
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This page last updated 03/31/2009 -- 1120 PM EDT