Site  by Lynne Landwehr © 2001






  San Luis Obispo's Motel Inn:
The World's First "Mo-tel"

Built in 1925, the Motel Inn was to be one in a chain of "mo-tels" stretching from San Diego to San Francisco.  It is located at the northeast end of the city of San Luis Obispo, on what used to be the old Camino Real when it still ran straight through town.  

The Motel Inn is currently being restored and will become part of the Apple Farm Inn.  Above is a photo which shows the motel in its present state.  Below is an old postcard which shows the highway when it ran directly in front of the motel's buildings. 

The plaque shown below commemorates the historic nature of the establishment which was named from a combination of the words "motor" and "hotel."  In the early years, a neon sign alternately flashed the words "Hotel" and "Mo-tel" so that motorists would know that here was a place they could park their bodies and their automobiles.


       The following piece is posted here with the kind permission of Brian Dalessi, who has provided his personal reminiscences about 1950s life in San Luis Obispo and fun times at the Motel Inn:

    "In the mid-to-late '50s, postwar America was in the midst of a remarkable bloom. In many places the condition ran unchecked as life laid out its promise in iridescent attractions. Growing up in San Luis Obispo, it seemed certain the prizes in this life were all around me. I was six years old in 1957, and I could ride my bike anywhere in town, day or night. I lived five minutes from Cuesta Park, and made that the focal point of many of my journeys. There was such a sense of freedom and abundance about everything--those days are the bedrock of my memories.

      "My father had a small road construction business, paving roads throughout the county and competing for jobs with Alex Madonna--they were high school pals. At some point my father acquired the building that housed the Obispo Theatre and various other shops on the corner across from the county courthouse. On the very corner of that building and directly adjacent to the Obispo Theater was a cocktail lounge. This little establishment soon took on my fatherís name (ďDanísĒ) for Dan Dalessi, and became the focus of all his time and energy. The barís business was bristling in those days--Danís was just a working manís bar, but it collected the best of the downtownís business people throughout the day and night.

     "Two good friends of my fatherís were Al and Marge Caulkins, the owners of the Motel Inn. Most of the clientele that frequented Danís made their way to the other end of town and the Motel Inn, and back and forth. The Motel Inn had a very special flavor about it, a spirited buoyancy where the local ranchers could mix with the downtown crowd and the occasional traveler. Al and Marge were quite the hosts, always warm and friendly, making sure your food and drink needs were met. The food was tremendous there, the only barbeque that could rival Jockoís in Nipomo.

     "When I was six, seven, or eight years old, what I saw most of was the pool and patio area of the Motel. It was always so busy, always with a lot of boisterous activity going on in the pool. People would take lounge chairs off the diving board with drinks in hand; rollicking games of pool volleyball were the norm, and oh yes, there were hamburgers I could barely hold with two hands. All of this as the music and vocal activity from the bar washed over the pool area.

      "When we kids werenít having lunch or swimming, we would find our way around the Motel grounds.  They had a horse stable out back, and a radio station on site.  I donít remember the stationís call letters, but I do remember going through the dumpster beside the radio station on occasion and finding demo 45s to take home. And at night there was always a lively game of hide-and-go-seek.

      "As I look back, I knew my surroundings were something out of the ordinary, something to covet. Iím so thankful for my beginnings in San Luis Obispo--I witnessed the halcyon days of an America that is no more."    
                                                                                              --Brian Dalessi, ©2006



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Copyright © 2001 Lynne Landwehr.  All rights reserved.