Where is this cool round motel?
December 5, 2008 10:11 PM   Subscribe

Where is this amazing round motel featured in an old issue of LIFE?

Here is the photo, as displayed in LIFE's online archives. It was taken by Yale Joel as part of a motel essay...but that's all I got. Any information on location, city, country, year, is it still there? I think the photo is truly cool.
posted by GaelFC to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Hmm. Good mystery, Gael! Here's daytime.

It's obviously on a bay with shipping traffic, and someplace that gets snow. The only writing I can discern is that building off to the right that says "Libby, McNeill" and the buildings behind it are probably a Libby's cannery, of which there were several on the west coast. I'm going to guess Puget Sound someplace.

(I presume via WFMU, because that's the only reference to this I can find anywhere.)

I'm going to guess it was torn down or converted into something else long ago, because those glass windows must have been a bitch to heat once the (19)70s hit.
posted by dhartung at 10:43 PM on December 5, 2008

For what it's worth, a Google Books search turned up a tantalizing snippet in the otherwise unpreviewable A Guide to San Francisco and the Bay Region (1966) saying

They are an office building at 1275 Columbus and an unusual circular motel, elevated on vigorously modeled concrete supports, at the northeast corner of ...
posted by dhartung at 10:51 PM on December 5, 2008

dhartung, I bet you're right. The concrete support description fits the motel in the picture and it could very well be San Francisco circa 1960 or so (judging by the cars).
posted by Gerard Sorme at 10:56 PM on December 5, 2008

The location is about right as well....I uploaded a screenshot from Google Maps showing the 122 block of Columbus Avenue. The proximity to the waterfront might be about right. Here's the location:

Could it be?
posted by Gerard Sorme at 11:06 PM on December 5, 2008

OK, there was a Libby facility at 455 Beach St. in San Francisco [pdf], and the structure at the upper left seems to still be there across the Embarcadero. This is also adjacent to 1275 Columbus.

So, pretty much gone.
posted by dhartung at 11:10 PM on December 5, 2008

It was the Villa Roma Motor Hotel at Fisherman's Wharf.
posted by Knappster at 11:11 PM on December 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

From the San Francisco Chronicle of 5 Sept. 1988:

"[Jean Varda's] mural, which was commissioned in the late 1960s by the Villa Roma motel near Fishermans Wharf in San Francisco, was threatened with destruction in 1982, when the wedding-cake-shaped motel was razed."
posted by Knappster at 11:19 PM on December 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was just going to say that the neon fish sign in the far back looks like the old sign for Alioto's Restaurant‎ on 8 Fisherman's Wharf, which - based on Knappster's link - it probably is.

Cool motel and cool question.
posted by gemmy at 11:19 PM on December 5, 2008

dhartung, when you get a snippet from Google books and want to see more, take the last part of the snippet, put it in quotes, and add a few asterisks like so.

vigorously modeled concrete supports, at the northeast corner of Columbus and

posted by zippy at 12:15 AM on December 6, 2008

Mystery solved.

Knappster - Did you know the name and know what to look for? How did you find that? Cool postcard.

That was fun. Blew and hour or so! Too damn cold to get out where I am.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 2:19 AM on December 6, 2008

I found this article using Google News Archives and the clues you and Dhartung left. Then it was just a matter of Googling "Villa Roma Motor Hotel."
posted by Knappster at 8:12 AM on December 6, 2008

Awesome answers, everyone! Thanks so much. Too bad it's no longer with us.
posted by GaelFC at 7:50 PM on December 6, 2008

zippy, I know a lot of Google tricks, but I did not know about the asterisks!
posted by dhartung at 1:04 AM on December 7, 2008

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