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Hotels, Motels, Holiday Inns

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An examination of various lodges across the world and time

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Hotel Postcards: Rise of a Resort Mentality

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On a postcard to her friend Stella, Andy describes her stay in Asheville, North Carolina. She says the food is excellent. The front of the postcard shows her living quarters: the George Vanderbilt Hotel rises out of the rolling hills and quaint side streets of a mountain town. It’s a red-brick building with a blue street sign. She writes that she “feels like a big shot living here.”

She sent that postcard in 1945. Economic security postwar gave the hotel industry an innovative edge; existing hotels extended their list of amenities, and new hotels capitalized on rising urban centers, like Asheville.

Expansion happened on a larger scale in big cities. New York City, Atlantic City, and Miami Beach were expanding rapidly. Buildings were growing taller, cars were moving faster. The end of the Second World War afforded leisure to city-dwellers and the luxury of travel to those who lived outside the city. During this time, the hotel experience evolved from convenient to decadent. Hotels began offering new amenities like air conditioning, private baths, and indoor pools. Dining, casinos, and nightlife were all part of the hotel experience. The Commodore in New York City could pump ice water through all of its 2,000 rooms; The Princess Hotel in Atlantic City had an authentic French chef and an orchestra on site. And, at the St. George, guests could swim in New York’s largest natural salt water pool.

Travel was on the rise. Some hotels capitalized on the tourism of a particular attraction, like the Hotel Converse within walking distance of Niagara Falls. Others were the attraction. Hotels found ways to make themselves the destination. New, bold architecture ushered in a stylized hotel experience. Atlantic City’s Elephant Hotel epitomized this ideal: guests could walk through a giant, nineteenth-century elephant in front of the hotel. It was unique, frivolous, and memorable: the hotel aesthetic was an experience in itself. Memorable hotels could attract tourists as much as their surrounding city, casinos, and restaurants.  

Unsurprisingly, these hotels were advertised like tourist attractions. Postcards featuring upscale or outrageous hotels experimented with style and form. Bright colors and outside illustrations were superimposed on the images; lists of amenities cluttered the fronts and backs of cards. The Princess Hotel postcard is a good example: the hotel emerges from multi-colored rays, like a sunrise. It looks like a fantasy.

Beaches attracted resort-style hotels. In the postcard of Atlantic City from the 40's, beachfront real estate is dominated by hotels. Like this card, many other postcards of beach resorts use bright colors, feature crowded beaches, and showcase the scenery surrounding the hotel itself. This is resort mentality at its finest: the hotel experience shown in the postcard includes every aspect of a vacation— outdoor pursuits, social and family time, nature and beach activities, and luxurious accommodations.

This exhibit features postcards that advertise hotels in the mid-twentieth century. These hotels range from traditional to extravagant, from the tropical resort to the elegant, inner-city escape. All of them serve as testament to the resort mentality which exists to this day. While the Princess Hotel once conjured fantasy for many, nothing can compare to the hotels of our time: the Venetian in Las Vegas, the Marriott Marquis in New York, Atlantis in the Bahamas. In examining these postcards, we are looking into the past and seeing industry goals that exist today: to attract, impress, pamper, inspire. The endgame of a hotel’s resort mentality is a postcard sent from a guest to a friend containing the highest praise: this place makes me feel like a big shot.