These motels aren’t beauty queens, but they are worth acknowledging. For many built in the 1950s, the architectural purity has been chipped away and the cool mid-century styling is gone. But it’s not only the looks, it’s where this motel row lands in the timeline of San Francisco history that attracts me. I imagine late Depression-era travelers deciding on a short economical car trip to good ol’ San Francisco to gawk at the new Golden Gate Bridge, or a 1950s nuclear family loading up their giant car and landing at the A-1 Motel for a week. It’s nostalgia for a simpler time and a lot of fun to think about.
Lombard Plaza Motel (Now and Then) 2026 Lombard Street
The Googie-lite archway that sets the border to the whole property was what made me notice motel row. Mostly unchanged except for bits and pieces of infill. If they painted the diamond patterns back on the frontage I think it would add a drop of style.
Howard Johnsons (Now) / A-1 Motel (Then) 1940 Lombard Street
Is it the same place? It’s a Howard Johnson property with a color scheme that makes you think they don’t want to be noticed. The old style always said “look at me.”
Sea Side Inn (Now) / San Francisco Motel (Then) 1750-1770 Lombard Street
These two buildings were hiding from me in plain sight. I thought for sure they had been demolished but they they were, nearly unchanged. The 1930s linen style postcards were black and white images painted in whatever colors the publishers wanted, hence the unrealistic car colors.
Town House Motel (Now and Then) 1650 Lombard Street
The motels all had a “rancho” styling popular then. Shingles and bricks were prevalent and open western style railings made the motels look quaint and family friendly. The “new” ’80s color scheme makes you think the Golden Girls cast would love it here.
Note: There is the Redwood Inn, at 1530 Lombard. I have not yet found a good postcard for it.
Travel Lodge (Now) / Cable Motel (Then) 1450 Lombard Street
The Travel Lodge has kept this place looking pretty good but non-distinct. Most of the modern renditions of these motels seem like they don’t want to make a statement, they want to blend in. Is that where we are in history?
Going to the other side of the street in Part 3. Follow me.
Thanks for reading!
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