Smith's Uptown Motel

1223 W. 12th Street

In 1938 Robert I. Smith quit his job at Morrell's to open Smith Cabin Camp, taking advantage of the nation-wide craze of hitting the open road to discover America and its insects. The new-fangled automobile and the highway system made this more likely than those pokey ol' horses and dirt roads.

 

In 1939 it became Smith's Cabins. The card above says Smith's Auto Court, which may mean that they didn't change the sign until after 1948, when they changed the name to Smith's Auto Court.

   

Same card, different sign. Pretty easy to paint over the sign. From the get-go Smith's cabins sported clean rooms, comfortable beds, private showers, running water, and gas heat. Sounds comfy! In about 1958 they changed the name to Smith's Uptown Motel (as opposed to Downtown, I guess).

1956 brought the dawn of the interstate highway system, taking traffic away from the former major arteries like Highway 16 (12th Street).

It became Smith's Budget Motel c1976. As you can see, by now the whole cabin motif was long gone. Instead, the Smith's had a couple of L-shaped buildings, all single story, and a sign you could really set your watch to! The Smith's had the blessing of the Triple A and some hotsy-totsy neon to draw the crowds. There was never a pool as far as I know, which tells us the Smith's wasn't really going for the family-fun bucks.

 

Flash-forward to 1990. M.C. Hammer was all the rage and Robert Smith (the original owner/operator, not the frontman for the Cure) had long since retired. I'm not sure at what point the motel was sold by the Smith family. Robert Jr. was also in the biz, at one time running the Soo Hotel at 205 W 6th street and the Sunset Motel on west 12th.

The Smith's Motor Inn in '89 gave way to Nites Inn in '90. It's done the same as the De Lux in offering apartment rentals and weekly rates. Gotta love the fanciful dotting of the 'i' with a star. They just don't do neon signs the way they used to.

 

 

At some point this building was added. It just screams MOTEL. It was either dropped off by a helicopter, extruded by a giant motel machine, or dropped in pill form in the lot and a single droplet of water added to produce this generic cinderblock monstrosity.

 

There's got to be some catalog you can order to get stuff like this... Ooh! and those great industrial Belgian Waffle makers!

The big office building remains from the oldish days, but no telling if it was here from the days of the tourist cabins. It's still keeping afloat, but there's not a lot of improvement going on here. It's got to be hard work for $35 per room per night. The big chains have the sweet locations, continental breakfasts, pools, WiFi, and all that comfort crap. I don't want these Ma and Pa Motels to go away, I think they should be celebrated, but how do we stop the decay?
                     

Page Updated: 02/11/2007

The Polk Business directories at the downtown library were invaluable in my research.

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