St. George Motel Association
Scope and Contents
The records of the St. George Motel Association include interesting events such as a dispute among motel owners regarding whether room rates should be advertised to the public, a discussion about the effect of the new Interstate on motel business, efforts by the motel association to promote tourism in southern Utah, efforts by the motel owners to promote golf in southern Utah, and a dispute with the Terracor Company about the impact of the Bloomington housing development on St. George businesses. There are records of the Association’s political activities in seeking tax exemptions and other benefits through legislative contacts.
The records constitute a chronicle of important St. George businesses during the middle of the 20th century. Most of the motels in the Association were owned by long-time St. George families such as the Wittwer’s, Truman’s, Holts, Larsen’s, Pace’s, Hammond’s, Foresmaster’s and Atkin’s.
The collection contains research of the Utah Motel Industry by Lisa-Michele Church, a Utah historian and Salt Lake City attorney. The St. George Motel records were given to Lisa Michele-Church in June 2017, during an interview she conducted with Shayne Wittwer of the Wittwer Hospitality Group in St. George, Utah. Wittwer was given the St. George Motel Association records by his family members who were active in the organization in past years.
- Majority of material found within 1949 - 1973
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Biographical / Historical
Rural Utah towns built motor courts and motels by the dozens, beginning in the 1930’s and escalating sharply after World War ll. With neon signs inviting cottage rooms, and picturesque names such as “Rugged West” and “Shady Acres”, these motels provided the drive for a shift in St. George and other communities along the Arrowhead Trail from the agricultural economy of the previous century to the new tourism destination economy.
By the 1950’s, tourism in Utah generated eight million dollars annually and millions of cars traveled along Highway 91, previously named Arrowhead Trail Highway. The St. George Chamber of Commerce and Motel Association cooperated to place billboards on the road advertising the St. George sunshine and business kept coming.
Hotel chains such as Travelodge, Howard Johnson and Holiday Inn expanded nationally in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s giving the hotel industry a new lodging business model. Customers liked the fact that they could count on a chain looking the same, offering the same amenities, and charging the same price, no matter what the location. St. George businesses people did not miss this trend. Many family-owned motels began to modernize or sold out to new owners. Almost all of the motels in St. George added swimming pools and some even added a playground. During the 1960’s, some motel operators adapted by building even bigger facilities, called motor inns or motor lodges.
According to Travel Utah, by 1972 tourism was ranked as the second largest industry in the state and generated an income of nearly $209 million per year. It is poignant that St. George finally saw the millions in tourism revenue, but it came with its own set of problems. The volume of tourists in St. George made larger hotel properties a better investment. Twenty rooms were not enough. It is also bittersweet that Highway 91 originally gave rise to the motel boom, but the new Interstate 15 bypassed the center of St. George, and most other southern Utah towns. Within a few years of the Interstate opening, the mom-and-pop motels started disappearing. Chain operators bought some and rebuilt them into standard formats.
Church, Lisa-Michele. “Early Roadside Motels and Motor Courts of St. George.” Utah Historical Quarterly, vol. 80, no. 1, 2012, pp. 22-23, 40-42.
4 Files (St. George Motor Court /Motel Association Minutes and Early Roadside Motels and Motor Courts of St. George research by Lisa-Michele Church.)
Language of Materials
- Tammy Gentry
- March 2019
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Part of the Dixie State University Special Collections and Archives Repository
330 Holland Centennial Commons
225 South 700 East
Saint George 84770 United States