Roadside Mississippi: El Patio Motor Court, Laurel

EL PATIO MOTOR COURT. Highway 11, Laurel, Mississippi. Thirty rooms, all heated and cooled by year-round Air-Conditioning. Circulating ice water. A modern highway inn, combining hotel service with motor court conveniences.

According to the MDAH Historic Resources Inventory, the El Patio Motor Court was built in 1946. Located on the southern outskirts of Laurel on the west side of the nice new Highway 11, which connected New Orleans and Meridian and pre-dated the route of Interstate 59, the motor court was primed to take advantage of the booming automobile tourist culture after World War II.

Its Mission style was probably meant to evoke the famous Alamo Plazas, America’s first motel chain, founded by Edgar Lee Torrance in Waco, Texas in 1929. According to wikipedia:

By 1955, there were more than twenty Alamo Plazas across the southeastern U.S., most controlled by a loosely knit group of a half-dozen investors and operating using common branding or architecture.

Marketed as “Alamo Plaza Tourist Apartments” using distinctive Mission Revival Style architecture, each formed a U-shaped court with multiple buildings fronted by a distinctive façade which mimics the face of the Alamo Mission in San Antonio. . . .

The roadside tactic of using distinctive, non-standard architecture to catch the attention of passing motorists would later be used by other chains, such as the Wigwam Motels which served U.S. Route 66 travellers or the easily recognised orange rooftops of the original Howard Johnson chain.

Mississippi had two Alamo Plaza Hotel Courts: Gulfport’s, built in 1950 and located on Beach Boulevard near Edgewater Park; and Jackson’s, built sometime before 1946 and located at the intersection of Highway 80 and Terry Road. Both are gone, but it appears the Gulfport Alamo survived at least into the 21st century, according to the MDAH database record, which gives a demolition date of c.2002.

ALAMO PLAZA HOTEL COURTS. New–Modern–Distinctive–Hospitable. Overlooking the beautiful Gulf of Mexico, Alamo Plaza Hotel Courts offers the best in accommodations for the vacation of a lifetime. Facing directly on the beach and U.S. Highway 90, Alamo Plaza has swimming, sun bathing, shuffleboard, playground, lawn furniture and adjoining restaurant. P.O. Box 443, Phone 3970, Gulfport, Miss.

As you can see in this 1946 Sanborn map image, the Jackson Alamo wasn’t quite the organized “U-shaped court” described in the wikipedia article or as seen in the Gulfport hotel court.

Alamo Plaza Hotel Court, Jackson, 1946 Sanborn map.

On the other hand, El Patio takes the U-shaped court to heart and even though it is now a Budget Inn, its distinctive style and shape are still intact and still a part of Roadside Mississippi, as seen in these photos from 2014.

The MDAH database has some great black-and-white images from 2004 that show the courts perhaps just after the El Patio closed. I’m glad that at least another operator has fixed up the place and reopened it: http://www.apps.mdah.ms.gov/Public/prop.aspx?id=2145882091&x=1366&y=728&bg=white&view=photos&DateTaken=10-26-2004



Categories: Gulfport, Hotels, Jackson, Laurel

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7 replies

  1. Very cool — and surprising — that the El Patio complex survives. Not surprising that the Alamo Plaza in Jackson was demolished, given its location, but the one in Gulfport was in good shape, in a great location, when it was torn down. It could have been a hip place to stay now, though Katrina might have gotten it anyway.

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  2. The Gulfport Alamo Plaza was demolished in 2003. I stayed there in 2002 and it seemed to be running along fine so it was a surprise.
    Jackson’s was made up of little duplexes, and I do mean little. After demolition began I went there with my father to scavenge roof tiles.
    Hoorah for the Budget Inn; they should paint a different color, though.

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  3. Although your postcard states that the hotel had air conditioning, the modern photograph makes me doubt that was originally the case. The photograph shows fans in the gables. Though the gables are large and certainly need proper ventilation, I wonder if those are attic fans, which have been discussed before, Your Southern Grandparents Loved Their Ranch Homes! Although some early post-World War II buildings had air conditioning, I wonder if it was originally cooled by attic fans, with air conditioning added in the early 1950s during a booming economy with no lingering wartime restrictions.

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  4. Good catch on the attic fans. I bet you’re right about air conditioning being installed later than 1946. The postcard wasn’t used, so no date. Could very well be 1950s.

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  5. Does “circulating ice water” refer to the cooling system, perhaps an evaporative cooler? Or is it referring to drinking water? At any rate this evokes a by-gone era that won’t be back.

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  6. I wonder when the fourth building that isn’t in the postcard view was added? Those 2004 pictures are great but now they’ve got me bummed out about the little period revival house next door that has been demolished.

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