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Welcome to Heather David’s “Motel California”

Motel enthusiast and author Heather David can point out the new neon sign at Santa Clara’s Capri Motel on El Camino Real. During David’s July 27 author talk at Central Park Library, David shared more insights about motels, whether they are old, new, themed or out of business, from her book, “Motel California,” published by CalMod Books.

“The book covers the entire State of California; it is about the Golden Age of the motel,” David said. “Because of the number of people who were relocating here to live, to work for business and for recreation, we had an explosion in motel development following World War II. California is also home to the world’s first motel, the Motel Inn in San Luis Obispo. It was built in 1925.”

David distinguished between motels and hotels.


“Motels were specifically designed for the automobile,” she said. “Motels were designed for a casual experience where you can drive up to your room. Hotels used to pop up along the train station routes and were for the well-to-do.”

According to David, the motel, as a building type, has represented the democratization of luxury and the accessibility of travel to the middle class.

“The motel gave people access to the swimming pool, which was once a leisure activity for the rich,” David said. “When you think about the motel, it introduced everyday people to items such as automatic ice machines and Beauty Rest mattresses. A lot of companies have used motels as a way to advertise their products, such as the complimentary shampoos and soaps.”

Living in San Jose on the Santa Clara border, David had lots to share about Santa Clara motels.

“Here’s the King’s Highway Motel in Santa Clara,” said David, showing a slide of the former motel on El Camino Real. “The sign was there until maybe five years ago. It truly is an old motor court. Can you see the old cabins with the rooms for the cars? I believe there are garages between each room. One day the sign was gone. It had incandescent bulb lights which would have been chasing as you were going down El Camino Real.”

David showed an early sign from Mariani’s Motel (now Mariani’s Inn). She pointed out the diving lady with a pool on the sign. The advertisement of a swimming pool on site was David’s explanation of why diving ladies appeared on motel signs in the 1950s.

According to David, when the Western Motel was built in Santa Clara, the South Bay was a “checkerboard of orchards.”  The Western Motel is still in Santa Clara on 2250 El Camino Real.

Not to be confused with the Western Motel is the Best Western University Inn at 1655 El Camino Real. This motel was formerly the MoteLodge.

“This is where my parents stayed on their honeymoon in 1966 and that’s actually a picture of their room,” said David, showing a slide of MoteLodge. “I must’ve gotten my fascination with motels from my parents.”

Visit to purchase “Motel California.”


1 Comment
  1. Dave Hoover 5 years ago

    A comment for Heather David: I was pleased to buy “Motel California” at the MCM show in Sacramento this year, and I love it. Wanted to share a couple other places we may not have discussed: Roy’s Motel in Amboy, CA (Route 66), and Latif’s Restaurant in Turlock, CA. Please check out images of these 2 places. Latif’s is a continuation of itself after decades, with folded-plate front awning / roof; amazing plus amazing pie. Thanks for the awesome book and conversation, Heather.

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