Many folks dream of living in close proximity to like minded people – preferably on a tight budget. These visions range from large extended families, “maker” types looking for an arts compound, self organized retirement villages, and all sorts of other affinity groups. There’s an understandable impulse to want to build a specially designed place from scratch. Unfortunately it’s almost always a miserable and hideously expensive experience to build much of anything, particularly if it diverges in any way from the standard tract house, strip mall, or office building model. In many locations permits, impact fees, as well as zoning and building code restrictions make these sorts of highly specific projects nearly impossible to construct at any price.
Enter salvation in the form of a budget motel. This is a standardize run-of-the-mill pre-existing “product” well known by all the relevant authorities. Banks understand commercial loans for such buildings and can sell them on to pension funds in the secondary markets all day long. City planners know exactly how to categorize and manage these properties. The fire marshal has already put a stamp of approval on the wide fire lanes that wrap around these buildings. Minimum off street parking requirements are already satisfied. It’s all plain vanilla cookie cutter stuff. And it’s the kind of property that very few people actually care about, so tinkering with it won’t set off any alarm bells in the community.
There’s also an economy of scale. Dollar for dollar you get a lot more space in an old motel than a similar amount of square footage from a collection of individual homes. I count at least two dozen rooms each with its own private bath. This building type is amazingly flexible and can be reorganized in all sorts of ways. Two or more rooms can be combined to create larger apartments. Living and work spaces can be merged or segregated as need be. Friends, family members, and business associates can mix or keep a respectful distance depending on the particulars. Second floor additions for some or all of the units are a viable option. And a motel can easily be co-owned by a group of investors or converted to condo units each with separate ownership.
Yes. Yes. I know. These motels are UGLY. But ugly is the beauty part. They’re a blank slate that can easily be transformed on a really slim budget over time.
Here’s a 1947 motor lodge. Not too long ago this was a rent-by-the-hour establishment suffering from decades of deferred maintenance. It had been squeezed hard like a piece of fruit until all its juice was extracted. Then, it was purchased at a good price by a savvy investor who gradually brought the place up to a better standard room by room and upgraded the hotel’s reputation. Fresh paint, landscaping, cost effective decor, and good management did most of the heavy lifting.
The original covered parking spots (one for each room) were re-purposed as outdoor living rooms, although they still satisfy municipal off street parking requirements. Regulations insist the spaces exist. They don’t dictate that they have to be occupied by cars per se.
Half the pavement was ripped up and planted with shade trees and attractive shrubbery. The required fire lanes and parking are still in place – just more thoughtfully and attractively organized.
Crushed stone was used in place of some required parking spots, but the spaces accommodate outdoor seating just as easily as cars. Strategically placed hedges break up the pavement and create the suggestion of individual gardens at each doorway.
The interiors are all simple and embrace the streamlined minimalist aesthetic of the 1940’s. Plain white walls, simple furniture, and unadorned windows provide a clean backdrop for a few well chosen accent features.
Notice how the tiles around the tub faucet were patched with broken pieces in complimentary colors in a mosaic style. This was no doubt a playful cost saving technique when the plumbing needed to be retrofitted. The same mosaic pattern can be seen in the walkway. Cheap. Attractive, Functional.
Both the budget motel and the (now) upscale hotel are on the same lackluster block in a forgettable suburban location. Buildings like this exist everywhere and they’re often available at reasonable prices for those who can see their potential.