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Wigwam Village, San Bernardino, California, USA

Few sites along Route 66 are as immediately recognisable as the teepee-shaped cabins of the Wigwam Villages. Depicted as the Cozy Cone Motel in the film Cars, there are actually two Wigwam Villages along the Mother Road. In fact, of seven such villages built around the country, only three remain today (two on Route 66): Wigwam Village #2, in Cave City, Kentucky, Wigwam Village #6 in Holbrook, Arizona, and Wigwam Village #7, in San Bernardino, California.

Like #2, #7 has the distinction of having been built by the creator of the Wigwam Village concept, Frank Redford. In 1933, Redford initially opened a teepee-style service station in Horse Cave, Kentucky, modeling his design after an ice cream stand he had seen in Long Beach, California. After numerous requests from customers, he expanded his operation with six tourist cabins in the same teepee motif. Redford disliked the word, “teepee,” however, and instead used the “wigwam” moniker. While wigwam and teepee architecture are very different from each other, this misnomer is indicative of the common stereotyping of tribal cultural by Euro-Americans during this time.

By 1937, Redford opened the larger Wigwam Village #2 in Cave City, patented his design, and over the next decade sold the plans to a handful of other entrepreneurs eager to take advantage of the kitsch and high visibility of Redford’s “wigwams.” While roadside architecture is usually noted for its vernacular styling and regional distinctiveness, especially on Route 66, the expansion of highway travel after the war also ushered in an era of increased homogeneity and the expansion of corporate-owned chains. Redford, perhaps, could have taken advantage of this process, but instead was quite cavalier in his attitudes toward collecting payment or royalties on his design, concentrating instead on running his own establishments as clean, wholesome, family- friendly lodging sites.

Redford sold his Kentucky properties to his friend Paul Young in 1944, and headed west after the war, like so many other Americans. In 1947, he began construction on #7, and the Wigwam Village opened for business in 1950. The Village initially consisted of a large wigwam office building and eleven cabins arranged in a semicircle surrounding a pleasant grassy area that featured a fire pit and picnic tables to encourage community and camaraderie among guests. As travel increased along the Mother Road and the San Bernardino Valley experienced booming growth, Redford added eight additional wigwams in a second semicircle behind the original eleven, bringing the total to nineteen units.

Each sleeping unit stands 32 feet tall, and is twenty feet across at the base, both slightly taller and narrower than the wigwams at #6 in Holbrook. An asphalt parking area separates the two rows of cabins. A small swimming pool sits in the middle of the grassy area behind the office wigwam. A third row of cabins was planned at some point, and the foundation of one remains near the northeast corner of the property, but these additional units were never completed.

Redford grew too ill to continue operating the property, and his old friend Paul Young once again took over the Village as he had done in Kentucky, although he died a few years later in 1961. Ensuing owners, for the most part, did not maintain the property sufficiently.

Fortunately, today the property is a shining example of a Route 66 survival and success story. The Patel family, immigrants from India who had operated a nearby motel since the mid-80s, purchased #7 in 2002. Despite its poor condition, the Patel family worked diligently to restore the property to its former glory. The property was included on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. Today you can still take the opportunity to “Sleep in a Wigwam” and add your own story to the history of the highway.

Wigwam Village #7, now the Wigwam Motel, is located at 2728 W. Foothill Blvd., Rialto/San Bernadino, CA. For information, visit the Wigwam Motel website or call 909-875-3005

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