Friday, June 1, 2007

Tourist City Motel - Before and After

One of the great things about collecting postcards is the opportunity to study the changing face of roadside America. Buildings viewed as “contemporary” one year become old fashioned and cheesy soon thereafter. Stewart Brand expertly explores this phenomenon in his book How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built, in which he astutely describes the complex interplay of the terms we use to describe the built environment:
“The word ‘building’ contains the double reality. It means both ‘the action of the verb BUILD’ and ‘that which is built’ – both verb and noun, both the action and the result. Whereas ‘architecture’ may strive to be permanent, a ‘building’ is always building and rebuilding. The idea is crystalline, the fact fluid” (p. 2).

By way of illustration, consider the Tourist City Motel in Winchester, Virginia. The first card, postmarked 1958, reveals a typical “tourist court” design: detached duplex cottages with plain “moderne” facades. The second card offers no postmark to aid in dating, though I would guess that this photo was taken no more than five years later. In that time, owners refashioned the property substantially, adding flagcrete on the surfaces and colonial-style “chimneys” atop a new roof, transforming the discrete cottages into a coherent motor court typical of the era.

Today I am told the motel still stands, its sign little changed. Check out a photograph of the motel sign from Debra Jane.

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