Long time symbols of the great American road trip, the rise of motels during the 20th century mirrored the advent of the motorcar and hosted all manner of travellers. Appearing along highways in urban and rural areas alike and peaking in popularity during the 1960s, motels – and to an extent diners and gas stations that coexisted alongside them – have declined in recent decades, fading slices of Americana confined to the annals of nostalgia and urban exploration. If nothing else, their ruins lend themselves to haunting photography.
Abandoned Americana by U.S. Route 66, Arizona
Established in 1926 and spanning 2,448 miles between Chicago and Los Angeles, U.S. Route 66 remains one of America’s most famous roads despite falling into obscurity following the advent of the Interstates. Recognised in pop culture and known colloquially as the Main Street of America, it’s little wonder the haunting modern ruins along Historic Route 66 continue to draw travellers and photographers. The abandoned motel and cafe above are located in Arizona.
Abandoned Pool at Family Inns of America, Rowland, North Carolina
The sounds of relaxed laughter have long since faded from this pool behind a forlorn Family Inns of America in Rowland, North Carolina. Photographer Trey Ratcliff of Stuck in Customs wrote: “It looked like every roadside hotel you’ve ever seen, except it looked like it had run through about 20 different horror movies. Every room was completely gutted and scary, almost all the windows were broken, and the playground was rusted and creaked.”
Buckhorn Mineral Baths Motel, Mesa, Arizona
Opened in 1939 by Ted and Alice Sliger, the Buckhorn Mineral Baths and associated motel famously attracted major league baseball teams during spring training alongside myriad other visitors. Operating for 60 years until 1999, the shuttered venue was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005 – five years before original owner Alice Sliger died at the ripe old age of 103.
Abandoned North Shore Motel, Salton Sea, California
Immortalised in the 2005 film The Island, the abandoned North Shore Motel is as eerie as California’s incongruous Salton Sea by which it stands. A typical roadside establishment in many ways, North Shore reflects both the decline of motels in general and the long term depopulation of a region that once promised so much in terms of leisure and tourism. Demolished two days after these pictures were taken, the photographer’s face in the mirror creates a somewhat spooky scene.
Various Abandoned Motels
While many abandoned motels look similar – even generic or utilitarian – their most notable features are arguably the shabby (neon) signs that for decades signaled their presence to drivers and have become an important part of modern American history. Quite often, the signs are all that’s left.
Abandoned Diner, New Jersey
Like motels, diners are an integral part of modern American history. While these throwbacks to the glory days of Americana remain popular, many have fallen in disuse over the years. Despite a population increase between 2000 and 2010, the residents of Whitehouse Station, New Jersey apparently couldn’t keep this abandoned diner afloat. Photographer Gregg Obst even created the creepy and incongruous effect of “turning on the neon sign” – which in reality has been defunct since the venue closed.
Cheyenne Diner, New York
(Image: Flickr-Nickk, reproduced with permission)
Unlike its counterpart above, Cheyenne Diner in New York City looks to be in decent condition. Free of vandalism, graffiti and other damage, the seating and bar were still present when these photos were taken. Happily the 1940s “railcar-style” Manhattan diner is set for restoration – albeit in Birmingham, Alabama, where it now stands. Historic images can be found here.
Other Deserted Diners
Unfortunately many more will not be saved. These range from the utilitarian to classic Art Deco designs and trolley-themed diners. For those above, the future looks rather bleak.
Abandoned Gas Stations
Abandoned gas stations, also known as petrol stations or filling stations, might not command the same nostalgic value as historic motels and diners, but they’re a critical component of the great American road trip. Their shuttered offices, rusting pumps and derelict canopies are an increasingly frequent sight along rural (and urban) highways, underscoring the difficulties of turning a profit, especially for small businesses, in the retail gasoline sector.
The dated service station above, near Barstow, California (see also the Bottle Tree Ranch) has lingered on in abandonment for years, while those below demonstrate how the going is tough even for relatively modern facilities.