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Reading 2: Wigwam Village No. 2

The coming of the automobile broadened the concepts of recreation and leisure. Unlike travel by train—for decades the most common means of long-distance transportation used by Americans—motoring could be, itself, part of a vacation, not just the means of reaching a destination. In the early 1920s, "autocamping" became the rage, and campgrounds sprang up all over the country. By the end of the decade, however, the camps' latrines and common showers, and the increasing patronage by itinerants brought about by the onset of the Depression, made these facilities less desirable for many motorists. The next step was the cabin or cottage camp, or the proto-motel. The tiny individual tourist cabins usually emphasized the attractions of the region; for example, mock colonial houses in New England, adobe huts in the Southwest, and the wigwam in Kentucky.

Frank Redford turned his interest in Native American history into a business in 1933 when he built a teepee-shaped building near Horse City, Kentucky, to display his collection of relics. The following year he added a group of teepee-shaped cabins to entice visitors to stay the night and named it "Wigwam Village." Redford obtained a patent for his innovative building design in 1937, and that same year he constructed a second village in the northern outskirts of Cave City, Kentucky, near Mammoth Cave National Park. By the early 1950s, seven wigwam villages had been built in the south and southwestern United States.

The typical wigwam village consisted of individual teepee cabins placed around a larger teepee which served as an office and lobby. The 18 steel-and-concrete tepees of Cave City's Wigwam Village No. 2 vary only in size and number of windows. At 52 feet tall and approximately 35 feet in diameter, the gift shop and office is the largest. Each of the 15 sleeping units is approximately 25 feet in diameter and has two windows. The exterior walls are painted white accented with a bright red jagged lower edge at the top of the cone, a bold zig-zag band encircling the building halfway up the wall, and a narrow zig-zag band with small triangles along the inner edge of the window openings and marks similar to exclamation points at the corners. In the narrow bathrooms created by a partition at the rear of the sleeping units, the floor is covered with red-and-white tiles and the walls and stall shower repeat the zig-zag motif. Four slender metal poles project from the top in imitation of branches of wood.

In its fanciful emulation of an Indian encampment, Wigwam Village No. 2 exemplifies a unique type of architecture created for automobile travelers along the American roadside. It is one of the most historic forerunners of a practice that has been referred to as place-product-packaging—the commercial use of architectural imagery denoting product or regional design characteristics by service-oriented establishments along the American roadside. The motel placed items in the room that patrons could take home as souvenirs. These items, including ashtrays embossed with images of teepees, served as advertisements as well. The gift shop sold t-shirts and miniature plastic teepees. In addition, teepee-shaped signs along Kentucky's highways advertised Wigwam Village.

The golden age examples of roadside Americana began to disappear in the 1960s and 1970s as a result of the burgeoning Interstate system. Superhighways took most of the tourist traffic away from the smaller U.S. roads like Rt. 66 and Rt. 31, and the motels along these routes began to go out of business. The Wigwam Villages were no exception: Today, only three the of the original motels remain: Cave City, Kentucky; Holbrook, Arizona; and Rialto, California.

Questions for Reading 2

1. In what ways did the owner of Wigwam Village No. 2 try to entice travelers to stop at the motel?

2. How is place-product-packaging different from literalism in advertising?

3. If you had been a traveler in the 1930s, would you have been attracted to the Wigwam Village? Would a stay there seem like part of your vacation? Why or why not?

4. What does Wigwam Village tell you about ethnic attitudes of the 1930s? How does it stereotype Indian culture? Why might American Indians find Wigwam Village offensive?

Reading 2 was compiled from Claudia R. Brown and Keith A. Sculle, "Wigwam Village No. 2" (Barren County MRA, Kentucky) National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1988.

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