The recent post by Thomas Rosell on photographer John Margolies “roadside Americana” images had some wonderfully intriguing photographs. I thought it might be fun to trace a few of them. The Alamo Plaza Hotel Courts has been featured before on Preservation in Mississippi, as recently as this past April. The Margolies photographs made me want to dig into the newspaper archives and see what I could turn up.
The Alamo Plaza Tourist Apartments were established in Waco, Texas in 1929 by Edgar Lee Torrance, and became the largest early motel chain (Jakle, J. A., Sculle, K. A., & Rogers, J. S., 1996, The Motel in America, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press). The business expanded first to Beaumont, Texas when Torrance’s manager at the Waco unit resigned to begin his own hotel operation. Torrance quickly offered a franchise option to brand Farner’s new hotel an Alamo Plaza. After 1940, each new Alamo Plaza was identified as a “hotel court” (Jakle, et al., p. 106).
The Jackson Alamo Plaza was completed in March 1940 at a cost of $100,000, and boasted 45 units of brick and tile construction. Formal opening was April 7, 1940. The Plaza Grill, owned and operated by Ollie Kelly, was opened next door in August 1940, but changed operators a few years later.
One of Torrance’s key marketing strategies was respectability and catering to the traveling businessman and tourists, and the use of married-couple managers on site.
The image of respectability was basic from the start. It was essential for his first partner’s own lodging in the first motel, and Torrance demanded it for all his chain additions, and he eventually sought formal endorsements of his motels’ respectability from civic leaders in each city added. Exemplary was a Jackson, Mississippi, commissioner’s to-whom-it-may-concern letter about the Alamo Plaza there: “It gives me pleasure to recommend this establishment for its honorable type of operation, and especially for the management in selecting with careful screening, not only the personnel of its management, but the type of people they permit to stay in their courts.” (Jakle, et al., 1996)
The signs featured in Margolie’s work are visible in this 1954 image of the Jackson Alamo Plaza, at the far left and far right sides of the picture.
The Alamo Plaza Hotel Court in Gulfport was added to the list of Southern sites in 1950.
In 1957, the Jackson location updated with a “brilliant New Look” of a new facade with lighted canopy and swimming pool.
The Alamo Plaza Hotel Courts briefly attempted to create a national association in 1959, and advertised as operating 22 courts in 12 southern states, including the two in Mississippi, although the association lasted only a few months. Although they retained the name Alamo Plaza, other designs diverged from the Alamo facade, such as the Nashville, Tennessee hotel that was Colonial Revival style. Although starting out with the Alamo mission facade, the Chattanooga, Tennessee hotel renovated in 1961 to a facade of porcelain steel and aluminum to counter the effects of the smoke and soot from the nearby Wheland Foundry.
Mr. and Mrs. Jimmy Carter (the married-couple managers, not the President and First Lady) held an open house of the Jackson location’s Alamo Plaza Gardens in 1968, to showcase the differently landscaped units (Clarion-Ledger, Aug. 25, 1968). Cannas, Jerusalem Plumbs, azaleas, amaryllis, iris, Touch-me-nots, rose bushes, chrysanthemums, hydrangeas, tree ivy, and tiger lilies adorned the grounds. Behind the units were gardens of peppers, cabbage, tomatoes, squash, onions, garlic, carrots, radishes, butterbeans, and black beans. The black beans were obtained from Mexico and were an item of interest to tourists as the beans grew up to 3 feet long.
The burgeoning motel business captured by Holiday Inn after the development of the Interstate highway system finally spelled the end of the Alamo Plaza Hotel Courts, and the last new location opened in 1960. In 1979, the Jackson corporation dissolved ownership, although the motel continued to operate under the name until 1989 when it was ordered demolished after closure in 1988.
Still extant Alamo Plaza Hotel Courts locations exist in Baton Rouge, LA, Savannah, GA and Houston, TX.
Tourist courts. They’re the dog-eared pages in the history book of mobile America. (Raad Cawthon, “Vacancy: Another Roadside Attraction,” Southern Style, Clarion-Ledger, Jackson Daily News, Nov. 8, 1981)
Categories: Demolition/Abandonment, Gulfport, Hotels, Jackson
Always intrigued by this place. Played baseball across Hwy 80 at Battlefield Park and the neon signs could be seen from the park. However, there was a sprawling Borden’s Dairy operation that was closer to the intersection of Hwy 80 and Terry Road that had a retail ice cream parlor and that was what really got our attention. Double scoops for a dime.
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Haven’t seen Wop Salad on a menu since the 1970s!
My grandparents stayed at the Jackson Alamo Plaza during a snowstorm in the 50s. My grandmother worked for Joe Williams Electric Supply downtown and my grandfather had gone to pick her up, but they got no farther than Highway 80 on their way down Terry Rd. before the snow became too deep for my grandfather to drive. So they abandoned the car and trudged over to the Alamo Plaza where they got a room and called home.
Living in Jackson and there being no such storms, I never got to stay in one until 2002 in Gulfport where we had a very nice room. I think I may have asked this before here, but I’m guessing Katrina did away with the Gulfport Alamo Plaza?
According to Wikipedia, it was demolished c. 2003 in order to build condos.
It was definitely gone before Katrina, but I don’t think those condos ever got built.
I was thinking that The Alamo Plaza had survived Katrina. The The Alamo Fried Chicken House in Hattiesburg on Broadeway Drive was in operation from 1950-1951. It was privately owned–not a franchise.
Web Heidelberg’s Night At the Alamo Plaza.
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It’s so sad that the charming motor courts are disappearing. This was very interesting! Of course, I had to wonder what prompted the adoption of the Mission Revival style buildings and the name when there weren’t any in Texas. Maybe a Texas connection or a visit inspired the idea.
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Actually, the first Alamo Courts was built in Waco, Texas, and designed after the Alamo. The black & white photo (2nd in the series) was the Waco location.
Uh oh. The 7-foot pit and fans in the house have caused me to not be able to read and understand. I need to re-read!
Hey, I hear you—you know, the 7 foot cat litter box where we had a section of driveway…:)
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I can no longer find Web Heidelberg’s blog online, but he posted his humorous experience of his stay at the Alamo Plaza a short time before it was demolished. Maybe Web remembers the Alamo Fried Chicken franchise in Hattiesburg(circa 1948)? It was located at the fork of Pine Street and West Pine Street.
I generally enjoy a good strong Modernist horizontal line, but I’ve got to say, that Modernist Alamo Plaza renovation is just sad.
In my early twenties, a couple of friends and I took a poorly planned trip to the coast. We were virtually broke, had never gone anywhere alone before, and had not planned on where we would sleep. All we thought about was BEACH!
A problem developed when we were not able to find a room that we could pay for, until we stumbled onto the Alamo! I remember a double bed with 3 of us sleeping in it and a shower that was not equipped for anyone over 5 feet tall. Years later, it’s still a joke among us.
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Before the bulldozers arrived, The Alamo Plaza Motel at Gulfport was sacked by SEAL Team Six-like ” forced entry” FBI agents.
I have fond memories of the Alamo Plaza in Gulfport. We stayed there every summer in the late 1950’s and 1960’s until Camille hit the coast. We went down a month after the hurricane and it was surreal. I remember trying to cross Highway 90 to get to the beach. It was like crossing a mine field!
My great uncle had a small house in Gulf Port right on the highway which we had to cross to get to the beach. Often we stayed at the Alamo Courts because my uncle’s step kids would show up.I loved the pool and how cold the room was when I would come back in. My uncle retired from Westinghouse and built a new bigger house on the front of his large lot. It was a great place. That was the summer Camille hit and washed it all away.