Examples include movie theatres, gas stations, diners, municipal buildings, and other public structures that borrowed styles and motifs from the art deco movement and its streamlined modern offshoots (click images at above right for some examples). In his short story, The Gernsback Continuum, William Gibson's fictional Dialta Downes intones: "The designers were populists, you see; they were trying to give the public what it wanted. What the public wanted was the future."
Departing from modern's association with 'contemporary' (and ignoring completely the so-called "Contemporary" movement in architecture and design of the 50s and 60s), I define the modern era of tourist court and motel design as the period in which owners and operators employed the term to advertise their rooms, roughly from the 30s through the 50s. The title of this note, "ultra-modern accommodations," is itself scanned from a postcard whose reverse-side text appealed to travelers seeking that sobriquet. For advertisements of this era, "modern" and its variants promised potential guests a chance to play at living in the future. Props for this performance included block glass that produced diffuse light, fluted surfaces that occasionally evoked speed lines, curved surfaces and "portholes" to produce a feeling of fluidity, and windows located at building corners to demonstrate modern techniques in structural design.
A key to understanding this architecture is to remember its ephemeral nature. Unlike much of the public and quasi-public buildings built before the 20th century, these places were designed to be temporary. Their modern stylings and motifs were frequently edited, altered, and eventually abandoned as owners and the markets they craved affixed to new cultural forms. For that reason, tracking down old roadside sites can be such a pleasure, for the future never passed them by. Not just yet, anyway.
While I do not claim copyright over the postcards themselves, I do claim ownership of the scanned images created specifically for this page. You may use these images if you provide full attribution to Andrew Wood. Want some more Deco? Check out my South Bay Deco and Miami Deco sites.