Sunday, October 9, 2011

LA Sidetrip: Have You Slept in a Teepee Lately?

In August, we spent a week in Los Angeles.  Among other things, we toured the Getty Villa in Malibu, took the LA Conservancy's walking tour of Broadway in downtown's historic core (more on that in future posts), and visited my brother in Newport Beach.  It was imperative, however, that we put first things first, so, naturally, we drove sixty miles into the desert to spend the night in a concrete teepee.

Wigwam Village #7, 2728 West Foothill Boulevard (Historic Route 66), Rialto, CA, built 1947-49.  This Wigwam Village (now motel) is actually in San Bernardino, but sits on the city line and has a Rialto mailing address.  This was the last of seven Wigwam Villages that were constructed around the country beginning in 1933, and one of two that survive on historic Route 66, the other being Village #6 in Holbrook, Arizona.  The third extant village is #2 in Cave City, Kentucky.
The Wigwam sign greets travelers on historic Route 66 with a crucial question: have you slept in a teepee lately?  Thankfully, my wife and I can now answer, "Certainly."  We thoroughly enjoyed our overnight stay at Wigwam Village #7, which has been lovingly restored by the Patel family and offers an excellent opportunity to experience a bit of roadside America from another era.  They don't build 'em like this anymore!

Wigwam Village #1 was built in 1933 in Horse Cave, Kentucky.  Others followed in Cave City, Kentucky, New Orleans, Orlando, Bessemer, Alabama, Holbrook, Arizona, and here, in San Bernardino.  I must admit my distress in learning of Wigwam Village #4 in Orlando, which was razed in 1974.  We frequently visited relatives in Orlando when I was growing up.  What do you mean there was a Wigwam Village and we didn't go?

Wigwam Village #4 is beautiful, but this was not always the case.  Like many roadside motels bypassed by the interstate, the village had fallen on hard times in recent years.  Teepees in a state of disrepair rented by the hour, and the overall atmosphere of the place was not helped by the sign that advised, "do it in a teepee."  All of that has changed with the Patel's award-winning restoration of the property.

The village's nineteen teepees are thirty feet high and built of wood framing, concrete, and stucco.  We stayed in teepee 117.  Welcome to our wigwam.  Won't you come in?

As you can see, the windows (one on each side of the room) are small and a bit low to the ground, but what do you expect in a teepee?  The little air conditioner did a fine job of keeping our wigwam cool in the 98 degree heat, and the place was spotlessly clean.  The queen-sized bed was new and very comfortable.  Wigwam Village #7 also has a small, but very nice swimming pool.

The pool, like the property in general, was ultra-clean.  We spent a couple of hours cooling off here at the end of our day.  I had an interesting conversation with a souvenir salesman who provides some of the Route 66 items in the motel's gift-shop.  He stays at Wigwam Village #7 regularly (as well he should since the village is a client!) and said he was surprised there were so few of us around the pool.  "But you'll see," he said, "the place will fill up by tonight."  And indeed it did.

Our visit to Wigwam Village #7 was part of our quest to drive all of historic Route 66.  We have done the stretch from Oklahoma City to Tucumcari, New Mexico, and from Albuquerque to Chambers, Arizona. Sadly, during our time in Chambers, I was ignorant of how close we were to Holbrook and Wigwam Village #6!  I'm a more knowledgeable traveller today thanks to my stay at Village #7.  In California, we've done the obvious parts of Route 66 in Santa Monica, LA, and Pasadena, but this was our first venture eastward into the desert, and we only had time to go as far as Barstow.  So, for us, much of the "mother road" remains to be explored.

Wigwam Village #7 is the kind of place you want to find as you drive the country's by-ways.  If all of this sounds like a commercial for the place, I suppose it is.  We need to support people like the Patels who are protecting our roadside heritage and ensuring that we too can experience the fun of staying in our very own wigwam.  Quick!  Stop what you're doing and figure out when you can go!  Have you slept in a teepee lately? 

I've included a link to Wigwam Village #7's website in the links section.

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