The Beauty of Noticing – Lombard Street Motels Part 1

In the northern part of San Francisco, there is a vintage enthusiast’s treasure – Lombard Street’s Motel Row. Not far from the much photographed “crookedest street in the world” is a stretch of utilitarian looking blocks that house about two dozen motels. These motels, made for travelers and their cars, started springing up in the late 1930s when the Golden Gate Bridge was built.

I’ve driven the street thousands of times and it never made an impression on me. A place for tourist. A place to go through, not stop. Then I started collecting vintage postcards and came upon prim images of the motels in their prime. I wrongly thought, all of them must be demolished by now. I was very wrong. Little bits of architecture and signage presented themselves to me when I drove down the street with fresh eyes. Finding a bit of history about a place I thought I knew is beautiful in a small way.

Marina Motel (Now and Then) 2576 Lombard Street

The Marina Motel, at the western end of the row, with its boast of “Steam Heated” is one of the oldest and most intact properties. It opened around 1937, when the Golden Gate Bridge opened. Savvy “moteliers” were ready to cash in on the new trend of “motoring”. The basic structures remains pretty much unchanged. The 1930s Depression-era design had no frills, just enough to do the job.

Note: There is one more westerly motel that I haven’t found a postcard for yet. It is the Economy Inn, which was the Knight’s Inn until late 2021.

Super 8 (Now) / Sands Motel (Then) 2440 Lombard Street

Oh my. She was lovely in her youth. From a classic low-slung mid-century building to a faux Victorian a la late 1970s? The ground floor is recognizable if you look hard enough. Love the old neon blade sign. I can see that a current nearby restaurant used this image as an inspiration for their frontage. 

Days Inn (Now)/ Manor Motel (Then) 2358 Lombard Street

The skeleton of the old building is there behind the sunny 1990s? adobe style Days Inn re-do. The blade sign is still in use and the Victorian house next door is still there. Most of the motels on the row are now owned by larger hotel chains. 

Infinity (Now)/ Sea Captain’s Motel (Then) 2322 Lombard Street

What would Captain Jokstad think of the new battleship that has sprung up in place of his streamliner? This is the most changed property. The recently completed Infinity Hotel has made an effort to honor the past of the street by retaining the open central atrium area. It’s nice to see some new developments on the street.

Travel Inn (Now) / Travel Lodge (Then) 2230 Lombard Street

The basic outline remains the same. Just a little fill-in where they could add a room or two. The old postcard designers must have airbrushed out the buildings behind the motel because they are older than the 1950s. The car craze of the 50s was also a boom for the motel business. 

We’re going down the row in the next post. Follow me!

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