Once, seven such wigwam-styled motels dotted the country, the first built in 1937 in Kentucky. Today, at least three remain—including another on Route 66, in Holbrook, Arizona. The San Bernardino wigwams, 19 in all, date from 1949 and are wood-framed and stucco, not stick and animal hide.
• Wigwam Motel (2728 West Foothill Blvd., Rialto): wigwammotel.com
No, it wasn't all 'Donna Reed' and 'Father Knows Best' in the 1950s. And, no, it was not a more innocent time. But it was a time of small towns, when going to a pharmacy meant visiting Chermak's Pharmacy and talking to Chermak, and when crossing a street didn't require using flashing lights and beepers to bring eight lanes of traffic to an unwilling, screeching halt.
Look carefully, though, and you may be able to find such a place, seemingly suspended in time. Consider the Southern California town of Claremont, which hides just off busy Interstate 10 in the Pomona Valley, amidst other 'cities' made up of big-box centers.
Here you'll find tree-lined streets of independently owned shops and small restaurants. It's a college town, which provides intellectual and financial sustenance—but a surprising lack of trash or rowdy behavior.
Adding to the '50s feel is the abundance of mid-century modern banks, churches, and storefronts, many decorated with mosaics, paintings, and sculptures created by the modern artists who made the town an important regional art center, including Millard Sheets, Susan Hertel, John Edward Svenson, and Harrison McIntosh.
Even a recent redevelopment that added a new downtown hasn't hurt the old downtown. If anything, it helped—which suggests that the future is not always at war with the past.
Photos: John Eng (Covina Bowl), Tom Fox/SWA Group (Kaiser Roof Garden), Charles Phoenix (Jell-O, dressing alike), Jeff Spirer (roller derby), Ben Noey, Jr. (Randy's Donuts), Chris Carter (Tonga Room), David Kelly (Tonga tiki), Big Sandy (Big Sandy), Bound_4_Freedom (necking at the drive-in), Chris Bruno (Big Dipper), Scott Beale (pinball), WallpaperWeb (wigwam)
• Charles Phoenix is Southern California's favorite retro raconteur. His latest book is 'Americana the Beautiful: Mid-Century Culture in Kodachrome.' For info about his books and performances, visit charlesphoenix.com.
• Adriene Biondo is a Los Angeles preservationist and co-author (with John Eng) of the book 'Southern California Eats,' a lively look at the region's diners and roadside eateries. schifferbooks.com
• Heather David is a Bay Area preservationist and the author of the profusely illustrated 'Mid-Century by the Bay,' which reveals what life was like during the 1950s and '60s in the Bay Area. calmodbooks.com
• Big Sandy, lead singer of Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys, performs regularly on several continents. His latest album is 'Turntable Matinee.' bigsandy.net
• Gretchen Steinberg blogs about Sacramento mid-century modern at eichlerific.blogspot.com. She helped organize that city's first mid-century modern tour, in June 2010.