Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Those Weird Woodward Motels

As this week runs up to the world's largest intentional F.U. to climate change in the form of the Woodward Dream Cruise, I thought it makes sense to shed some historical light on one of seedier elements of mid-Woodward particularly near 12 Mile Road: the Woodward motels.

There are less of these motels than there were 10 years ago, and way less of these motels than there were 75 years ago. None of them belong to any chain with which you are or will ever be familiar, and at least externally, they are none too aesthetically pleasing. In younger and more innocent times, I had no idea why anyone would choose to stay at one of these places when they could easily go stay at a Marriott or Holiday Inn. While they are not beautiful pieces of architecture, homes of luxury, or places in which you would like your children to play, these motels are a reflection of Michigan fame and glory in the late 1920s and 1930s.

In 1923, Father Charles Coughlin moved from Windsor, Ontario to Royal Oak, Michigan to be a priest at the National Shrine of the Little Flower Church, located at 12 Mile Road and Woodward Avenue. In 1926, he began radio broadcasts on the WJR radio station, and in 1931 when CBS removed free sponsorship of his program, he became an expert fundraiser. There is a ton to say about Father Coughlin and you can read much of it here on Wikipedia, including that he was estimated to have more than 40 million weekly listeners of his broadcast and that he is accused of being antisemitic as well as sympathetic to Hitler's and Mussolini's brand of fascism.

The Woodward Avenue motels arose because this man was a true cult of personality. People would travel from around the country to be near the church at which the "Radio Priest" preached and broadcast. While his program was broadcast to many areas of the country, it couldn't reach everywhere, and other people came to southeast Michigan just to be able to listen to Father Coughlin during his weekly broadcasts on Sunday at 2pm. All of these people needed places to stay and sleep, and the motels were born.

In 1939, father Coughlin was forced from the airwaves, the visitors ceased, but the motels remained. One-by-one they have been torn down through the years and replaced with strip malls and auto dealerships, but there are a few of these motels that still exist. They are more than just temporary housing, more than just eyesores - they are a direct result and reminder of past glory.

1 comment:

Dave said...

What about the "8wood"!