Ohio Motels

Along with these sites, you're invited to visit our new section on the Lincoln Highway and Route 20 and a small section dedicated to our drive to Cincinnati.

We begin in Athens, OH - our home for four years until we moved to California. Just north of town, on Columbus road, is the Sunset Motel. Surrounded by forest covered hills, we are standing on the roadside. The name of the motel is formed by rocks bounded with redwood. As twilight falls, crickets chirp and cars rumble by. The occupied rooms glow green through drawn blinds. In front of the office is an empty birdbath topped with two concrete girls sharing an umbrella. We introduce ourselves to Brenda, the manager. She welcomes the opportunity to talk with us about her motel and its history. The Sunset has existed in many incarnations, dating back to the late 19th century when it was a five bedroom lodging house. Brenda points out a framed collection of photographs, each depicting a different state licence plate. "We get 'em from all around," she says. Our daughter, Vienna, peers beyond the office to the darkened living room, thinking she's seen a cat. "That's ceramic honey," the manager explains, "the real one's floating around here somewhere." The smell of vegetable soup wafts through the air. We tell Brenda about our planned travels. "My heart's desire is to go to Colorado," she says. "I've been saving up and next year, I'm gonna take a week off."

[camera icon]Capital Motel

Route 40 cuts through the middle of Columbus - slipping into disguises like West Broad and East Main before resuming its original name on the other end of town. Interstate 70 might have bypassed some of its utility, but nothing could diminish the charm of this roadway. Jenny and I have heard that this region offers happy hunting grounds for aging motels. On the hourlong trip north to Columbus, we hope the stories are true. Our first find is the Capital Motel at the corner of Main and Brookside. It is dark and rainy as we step out of the car - our van from previous trips has recently died. It is four in the afternoon and few cars are in the lot. The Capital crawls around a tired courtyard defined by small bushes on a raised plot. While a couple of people ask Jenny for some change, I explore the architecture: blue doors and wood paneling, tan and cream colored curtains which form heaps in the windows. There is no thirteenth room here. The Crystal Tips ice machine comes with the word "ice" scrawled on its surface, just in case. Inside the office, a sign reads like some dismal poetry: "Welcome to Capital Motel/Positive ID required/Local calls 25 cents each/Waterbed is available/No refund, no visitors/Checkout time 11 a.m./No incoming phone/calls after 11 p.m. until 8 a.m./management.

Further down the road, we spot a glowing neon palmtree. But it's no motel. Appropriately, perhaps, it's a stripclub called the Mirage. Before long, though, we spot the Bambi Motel. Concrete deer and surveillance cameras line the entrance to this fifty year old site. The Bambi is located on the corner of Beechwood, across from one of those suburban waystations of teenage existence: a 7-11. The manager steps out of the office and agrees to turn on the lights. Under the glow of green and pink, the deer assume a surreal quality - cavorting to a silent melody. "There was a lot more lighting than there is now, "the manager explains, "along the roof and such." Most of the visitors here are looking for housing in Columbus. Few appear to be touring highlights of Disney films long past.

We pass the Silent Woman Bar before turning toward the other end of town. Columbus is like most large cities: a strange mix of modern glass buildings and revered statues. We zig and zag down vast avenues, straining to get out from under the weight of looming towers. Before long, the highway reveals the purplish horizon - and the 40 Motel. A white, ornate railing lines the second floor of this building. The pavement of the parking lot is damp enough to catch a reflection of the pink neon sign. Instead of "no vacancy," the sign offers a "sorry" if there are no rooms. But, there are plenty tonight. Birds swoop in waves of black, streaking on either side of the sign as Jenny waits patiently for the shot to emerge. I step into the manager's office where an old man in a watchcap stands, picking through some crumbled bills. "Hi, how are you," the manager asks him sweetly, "you got some money today?" Her assistant turns to me and asks my business. Before long, he provides the most essential advice of the night: "Watch your speed down this road - the cops, you know." Back outside, our daughter Vienna stands in her red Santa hat, waiting for something interesting to happen.

[camera icon]New Rome Motel

Further down 40, we stop at the New Rome Motel. White, almost polished rocks border the brick facade. Yellow doorsteps outside of each room mimic the color of the diagonal lines in the lot. A constant wind rattles against incomplete sections of a roof next store. A sign on the glass inside the manager's office says, "Guests not allowed more than 30 days." Somebody sits in a car, waiting by the Ameritech phonebooth. Before long, she slips back onto the road and into the darkness.

On the way back from New Rome, we pass a Columbus fire station, complete with a shiny, plastic dalmatian in front. On South High, we visit the E-Z Sleep motel where the streetlights glow yellow. The building sits next to the Ra-Lite neon sign company which has been in business since 1925. In the motel lobby, we are warned about the closed-circuit TV which will take our picture in case we decide to hold the place up. As cars race by and a train sounds its horn, the buzzing sign says it all.

[camera icon]Buckeye Motel

We cruise the 270 bypass to reach Harrisburg Pike and the Buckeye Motel with its brown and white striped awnings. A tired looking manager observes our activities through a closed window. It's at this point that I notice that every motel office we've visited in Columbus has been locked, requiring guests to be "buzzed in." After another hour of searching, it's time to go home.

We find our way back to route 33 - the road which leads to Athens. At a McDonalds along the way, someone tells Jenny about a motel in Lancaster which we might like - so we take a brief detour. The Lancaster Motel on South Columbus glows in strips of pink and green. A windsock hanging from the office rustles in the breeze as points of rain slap my skin. For some reason, pieces of bread are strewn along the grass where Jenny sets up her shot. The sign rocks back and forth as we wait for a car to streak past. It isn't long before the manager comes out. We might be causing trouble. She states with some pride, "We get all kind here, some good and some bad - anyone tries to give us trouble though and we kick 'em out." I tell her about our travels and she listens with bemused interest. "Well, if taking pictures of other peoples' motels makes you happy . . . of course, where you want to go is Las Vegas. The Flamingo, the Thunderbird, the Four Queens - I took a picture of the Thunderbird once at one in the morning without a flash. It was so bright - and so purple." Some guy steps out of Room 14 and asks Jenny what we're doing. She talks about the motels we've visited in Columbus and he attempts to remember where he'd seen them. Jenny says, "you know, by the Silent Woman?"

"Oh yeah, I know the Silent Woman," he replies. Inside the car, Vienna is fast asleep. We'll be home before midnight.

Return to the lobby.

Last update: April 6, 1999. All photographs copyright © Jenny Wood. Text copyright © Andy Wood.