The Motel and America

John Biro, “The Motel and America”
Mentor: Arijit Sen, Architecture

The current redesign of Interstate 41/94 has eliminated a historic connection to entering the county of Milwaukee from the south. Prior to the 1960’s and the introduction of the expressway, the fastest route to Milwaukee was Highway 41. As you entered Milwaukee County, Highway 41 became 27th Street and seven historic motels were built along a four mile stretch of Highway 41 from 1946 to 1955. Then in the 1960’s the expressway was built and the direct route to the motels was eliminated. Fortunately, the 27th street exit was included. The word motel was a contraction of motor and hotel and became a generic label for highway accommodations. This was a dynamic period in America and people were on the move. The motel became an element of the modern American landscape. There was a restless sense of freedom after WWII. The automobile and the motel reflected and contributed to a changing America. Now that the latest expressway expansion into Milwaukee County has eliminated the 27th Street exit we see For Sale signs at many of the 12 current motels. This visual representation of the four mile stretch shows North at the left side where Drexel Avenue crosses 27th Street. The motels are shown on a 2018 map. The other major intersections are Puetz Road, Ryan Road and Oakwood Road. The motels are enlarged to see their location and design along with signage and color. Multiple interviews with owners were conducted. When asked how they plan to survive in light of the freeway changes, many owners have decided to put their place up for sale and move on.

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  1. It’s unfortunate for the motel owners that this change was out of their hands. The history of motels is interesting, I always wondered the difference between hotel and motel. Thank you for sharing your research!

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