Decades before tweens began twisting and twerking on TikTok, America had another addiction: the open road.
The Rise of the Motor Hotel
After World War II, the country rode a wave of optimism as families piled into wood-paneled Chryslers, white-wheeled Lincolns and fancy-fender fastbacks to explore the United States by way of historic routes and highways. They hummed along to a soundtrack of Chubby, Frank, Elvis and Nat, and when they grew weary of repeating yellow lines and scenic pitstops, the families pulled into a motel to rest for the night.
As Americans took to the highways, Addison Avenue West blossomed with motels, gas stations and diners. Then known as Highway 30, tourists used this route to travel west to Oregon or Washington, or south towards Nevada or California. Twin Falls was a popular stop along the “Yellowstone-to-Yosemite” auto route, and with that popularity came a boom in motels.
The post-war motels were easy to spot. Their colorful neon signs boasted images of cowboys, spaceships and blinking arrows, towering above single-story buildings. They were often situated in a U- or L-shaped layout with room doors opening onto a central parking lot, allowing attendees to easily unpack trunks and keep an eye on their car.
The Ultimate Fixer-Upper
“I’ve heard that Bing Crosby built The Colonial,” said Eric Watte as he sorted through old postcards and advertisements from Addison Avenue’s heydays. “Rumor has it he and his friends would come up here to do a lot of hunting.”
Now known as the Park Motel, the old Colonial is one of 20 sites owned by Eric and his partner, Glen Leavitt, under New Leaf Properties, LLC. The idea to curate motels was born over a campfire in 2005 and their partnership has continued ever since. The New Leaf portfolio also includes the Monterey Motor Inn, The Imperial 400, Straughn’s Motel and El Rancho, to name a few. Although many of their signs remain charmingly vintage, Eric ultimately scooped up the properties when they were in disrepair.
“Once the interstate came through, it passed up this area and a lot of these motels fell down and out,” he said. “I saw that as an opportunity to fix things up and provide a basic service to people.”
Unafraid of a 24-hour workday and armed with a staff of cleaners, maintenance workers, front desk associates, and security guards, Eric set out to breathe new life into the dilapidated motels along Addison Avenue and beyond. His fleet of trucks filled with tools, keys and to-do lists zipped from property to property, updating appliances, building out laundry rooms, fixing roofs and painting walls.
“The buildings themselves are great,” Eric said. “They’re in great locations and they’ve got good bones to them. They were originally built with sturdy materials and I don’t see any reason why they won’t carry on for another 100 years.”
Steak, Chicken and Baloney
Rather than a cookie-cutter, big box hotel model, Eric said he caters to the Fords and Chevys of the world by providing a time-tested experience to his customers: clean rooms with basic amenities and friendly service in a safe place. Stays are billed weekly and many guests call a New Leaf Property home for weeks, months or even longer.
“We get a lot of locals, traveling nurses and contractors,” he said. “A lot of these folks will have a per diem and by staying with us, they can save some of that per diem. If the company’s paying, they want the Hilton with the hot tub. If it’s self-pay, they’re staying here with me.”
While the bulk of the motels’ clientele has shifted over the years, the nostalgia of a stop during a family road trip isn’t completely lost. Eric’s motels are still frequented by tourists passing through, or curious moms, dads and entrepreneurs who want to get a feel for the town before relocating here.
“When it comes to choosing a place to stay for the night, it’s all about affordable economy,” Eric said. “The way I see it is the whole world breaks down into steak, chicken or baloney. They all serve the same purpose, but what’s your budget? I’ve had some really good baloney sandwiches and I’ve had some really good steak sandwiches, but it’s all about the experience.”
The customer experience is consistently on Eric’s mind as he makes his rounds to the properties scattered along Addison Avenue and even as far as Burley, Rupert and the Wood River Valley.
“The best part about it is the people,” he said. “The worst part about it is the people.”
Make no mistake, Eric knows a thing or two about people. He’s a dad to a set of twins and triplets. He works right alongside his sons and employees to keep the business humming along. He drives around Twin Falls with his windows down, greeting people by name on nearly every street and regaling his passengers with tales of each building he slowly drives by. He treats his life like he treats his motels.
“You only check in for a while, so you’ve got to make the best of it.”