Motel Du Beau Picture of the Week

Motel Du Beau - This 1929 establishment was one of the first to cater to tourists driving those new-fangled motor carriages.
Motel Du Beau – This 1929 establishment was one of the first to cater to tourists driving those new-fangled motor carriages.

When Queen Anne and I spent a week in Flagstaff last month, our primary goal was heat relief, but I was confident that I could snap a few shots of historic buildings and signs to add to my Route 66 collection. In this journal, I’ve written several times about my experiences traveling the Mother Road as a kid, so I’ll spare you from repeating them. Instead, I must say that I was disappointed at how hard it was to find kitschy motel and dinner signs along the main street. More profitable strip malls and professional offices are rapidly replacing them. Interstate 40 travelers prefer the newer hotels on Butler Street, where the Little America Hotel is. Nobody drives 66 anymore—too many lights and too much traffic.

John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath, the depressing story of dust bowl migrants, searching for survival, didn’t make Route 66 famous. Nor did that fame come from my father’s generation, who—like the Joad family—moved en masse to California after World War II. It came when Angel Delgadillo—the Seligman barber—pitched a historic highway idea to the State of Arizona. When that designation came through, tons of beer-guts had a play-pen to gather and drive their car toys. We’re dying off now, and like the coals in your Webber Grill, that passion is dying with us.

Master photographers Ansel Adam and Minor White influenced how I photograph the world. Still, in 1975, the George Eastman House showed a photo exhibition called The New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape. The show still floats between museums today. It was a collection of ten photographs made by ten photographers that were opposite the landscapes I embraced. It was heresy. The photos are stark images of industrial buildings and houses devoid of people. I didn’t even think some of the artists printed very well. But I did kind of like the ones John Schott did. His pictures were of Route 66 motels. You can see where this led.

Flagstaff Train Depot - Either this is new or I've been blind, but the coolest Route 66 sign that I saw was the train station's address.
Flagstaff Train Depot – Either this is new, or I’ve been blind, but the coolest Route 66 sign I saw was the train station’s address.

I’ve considered compiling a book of my Route 66 photos. I have several, but most are from Arizona, with a couple from California and New Mexico, but nothing east of Texas. If this horse hadn’t been flogged to death, I still could work on my own Mother Road project. Now that I’m retired, I have time. I figure a month on the road should do it. To do it properly, I’d have to drive a classic car—something from the ’50s or ’60s. However, it needs air-conditioning, cruise control, and a good stereo (I won’t put up with AM radio stations dropping out under bridges). My ultimate ride would be a red ’62 Corvette—like the one Buzz and Todd drove—but hold the whitewalls. I could haul my camera equipment behind it in a small aluminum trailer like the autocross guys lug their race tires. October is a perfect month for a road trip, so if anyone out there wants to be my Angel investor, let me know. You’d get all the bills, half of the proceed, and a free book out of the deal.

This week’s featured image is of a prominent Flagstaff landmark. It’s called Motel du Beau, and the subject is the sign. It’s one of three hotel signs towering above the city (can you guess what this month’s project is). With the Lowell Observatory on top of the hill, Flagstaff has adopted a dark-sky policy, so the zoning people would never allow these enormous signs in town. If they weren’t historical landmarks, the city would tear them down.

In the late 1920s, Albert Eugene Du Beau vacationed in northern Arizona and envisioned a new way to make money. Instead of building a multi-story building for railroad and train travelers to stay, why not create a place for people traveling in these new-fangled motor cars? So, he designed and built a single-story motor-hotel (later shortened to motel) to be convenient to unload and load their vehicles in 1929. His design featured a U-shaped layout with steam-heated garages (they burned down in a 1970s fire) and indoor toilets. He built his motor court adjacent to downtown’s main street, which was brilliant because, in time, the busy highway became Route 66. The Motel Du Beau was one of the pioneering businesses to use neon signs and elevate them on towers.

In today’s modern world, the Motel Du Beau still looks like a nice place to stay, with rooms starting at $75—a far cry from the original price of $2.50 per night. Their website shows various room types, and they have a lovely little wine lounge called Nomads. I’d certainly be willing to try it after they reopen the bar.

I hope you enjoy seeing a part of Flagstaff’s history. You can view my Motel Du Beau web version on its page by clicking here. Next week, we’ll look at another historic Flagstaff motel sign, so be sure to join us then.

Till next time

4 thoughts on “Motel Du Beau Picture of the Week

  1. Tree is almost as tall as the tower sign. I like this photo and the train address. Loved the Flagstaff history.
    You should do the book! Route 66.
    Fred and I had always been anted to do Route 66 with the 72 and casita. Guess it won’t happen. 😞

    1. Thanks, Deb. After I wrote this article, Anne and I kicked around a bunch of ideas on what it would take to take this trip and produce a coffee table book. The big concern, of course, is the funding, so we talked about self-funding vs. a sponsor vs. crowdfunding (i.e., Kickstarter). The first thing we need to know is what this project would cost. So, with very little research, this is what we guestimated.

      The Photo Shoot Trip
      In the article, I mentioned a month on the road and thought that meant from Chicago to Santa Monica (2448 miles). However, we’d need to get to Chicago from Congress and home from Santa Monica. That means double the miles. That doubles the fuel cost, but it also means we’d get two opportunities to photograph things. Rounding the mileage to 5000 and dividing it by a month, I get an average of 166 miles a day—about what we experienced on our Alaska trip. Anne and I jokingly try to budget $100.00/day, but in reality, we spend $150-200 days on the road (pulling a trailer). So a rough estimate for the shoot would be $4,500-6,000.

      Produce a Book
      If I give myself plenty of time, I could get a book laid out and ready for the printer in a couple of months. As you know, I’ve made a couple of print-on-demand books this year, and they’re expensive because I order one at a time. My new publications are also smallish. This book is for a coffee table with 80 pages (10 pictures of 7 states = 70 photos). A book of that size would cost $125 – 150. Even if I order ten units, I only get a 10% discount. It would be more economical to have them offset printed, but you’d need a run of at least 300. I would hand out many of them as marketing, but there’d still be several unsold boxes that I’m afraid would wind up in my attic. On Kickstarter, we’d be able to give them to backers as an incentive. Offset printers can print these books at 5.00/book for a run of 3,000, so maybe double the cost for a smaller run or $3,000.

      So, my initial guess of what a Route 66 book project would cost would be $7,500-9,000. We could front two grand, but we’d need to raise the rest. If we could guarantee to sell out the first edition (300 books – 100 for marketing) at $50, we’d see a gross profit of $8,000. Of course, we’d pay taxes so that the net proceeds would be negligible. I guess the big reward would be producing a first-class art book.

      Any thoughts – jw

      1. Not familiar with kickstart. Kind of like finding someone to pay for a working vacation. How do you find backers?
        Fred said you would need to get books into all the little gift shops along the way. So people buy your book and not someone else’s.The museum does have a small Route 66 book. Believe it is in black and white.
        As far as producing the books…does sound costly.

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