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First motel opened 86 years ago today

The Motel Inn, the nation's first motel, opened Dec. 12, 1925.

Millions of motorists take it for granted that there’ll be another one around the bend on the highway, but motels haven’t always been part of the American landscape.  

When early car owners hit the road, they’d often spend the night in auto camps that had few to zero amenities. But that changed on Dec. 12, 1925, when architect Arthur Heineman opened the country’s first roadside motor hotel. The price of a room: $2.50 a night.  

Located along Highway 101 just north of San Luis Obispo, Calif., the Milestone Motel (later the Motel Inn) halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles had individual units and a parking space in front of each door. Those features would soon become standard as more Americans hit the road and the concept of motels, motor courts and motor lodges spread nationwide. 

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While today there are more than 4.7 million guest rooms in the United States, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association, and hundreds of thousands of motel-style properties along the nation’s highways, the Spanish-style Motel Inn is no longer open for business.

“It meant a lot to the community and used to be the first thing that greeted motorists that came into town,” said Pete Kelly, a researcher at the History Center of San Luis Obispo County.

“But now it’s almost torn down. Just a façade remains. The bell tower is still there and the original sign is there, but the rest is gone.”

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