Giving travelers a place to stay

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 8, 2002

About the time people started to travel from town to town by automobile, communities like Albert Lea were confronted with an interesting dilemma.

One option was a hotel. However, many of the travelers on the then rough roadways were frugal folks. They had tents and camping equipment and even crude predecessors of mobile homes called house trailers in that era. Those folks could spend the night just about anywhere, even on the main street or in a city park.

About 1919, the city of Albert Lea decided to use the old park at the west end of Hawthorne Street as a free campground for the auto travelers. This place, now known as Pioneer Park, was originally known as the picnic grounds. The new use for this place resulted in a name change to Lake View Tourist Park. In a few years this overnight haven became officially known as just the Tourist Park. (The area was designated as Pioneer Park in April 1963.)

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A free municipal campground presented a few problems. City or well water was provided; restroom facilities were somewhat primitive. Also, the city’s Tourist Park was located at a remote site in relationship to the highways going through Albert Lea.

A newspaper article in 1927 reported:

&uot;For some time many have been advocating a paid tourist camp for Albert Lea. Tourists in general, who have traveled for a number of years, will agree that the paid camp Is much more preferred than the free camps. As a rule a paid camp Is protected, is kept cleaner and has better accommodations than a free camp. Many tourists will not stop In a town where only free camps are found. They are out for a vacation and want clean places and comforts. For this the great majority are willing to pay a reasonable sum.

&uot;The heads of the Speltz Grain & Coal Company state that ever since they came in possession of the land on the north side of William Street, It has been more or less of an eye sore to the city. In order to give this part of the city a more pleasing appearance they have decided to improve the place, erect suitable buildings and convert it over Into a tourist camp. A small charge will be made (of) each tourist family coming into the camp which will help defray the expense of keeping the place In first class condition.

&uot;Full toilet rooms, connected with the city sewer system, are already in. A nice room with gas plates and hot and cold water is one of the comforts, which is already under way.

&uot;Another thing which will be a great attraction to a tired, dusty tourist is the shower baths, which are already installed. The baths will have hot and cold water. There is one for the women and one for the men.&uot;

This new campground for travelers was located on a somewhat triangular plot of land between East Clark and East William Streets and Babcock Avenue (which became East Main Street in the early 1950s.) The Rock Island Railroad Depot wasn’t too far away. And even closer was the route for Highways 1 and 9, which later became U.S. Highways 65 and 16.

Because of its location, the new business logically became known as the Central Tourist Park, then the Central Motel.

By 1931 the Central Motel had two types of buildings . There were several individual cabins and what became at least three long structures divided into units.

Restrooms, cooking and shower facilities were centralized, which was the custom for roadside motels in this era.

Unlike the city’s tourist park on the north side of Fountain Lake, the Central Motel was open all year long. It also had an office and a resident manager, plus a housekeeping staff. The Central Motel could provide

people staying in Albert Lea with an overnight place to sleep with reasonable rates, a nearby location to park their vehicles (which could be right outside the cabin or unit’s front door), and a nearby cafe for meals. As a bonus the Central Motel was near the Rock Island Railroad Depot for those folks arriving or departing on passenger trains.

A souvenir postcard featuring the Central Motel, issued in the late 1950s, said the telephone number was 6444. The information on the back of this card added that the motel was: &uot;On Routes 65 and 16 (and) near 69 and 13. Handy parking – 27 strictly modern units – Single & Double – Automatic Heat – Shade trees – cool in summer – Always open – Popular rates

T.V. Radio – Telephones – Air-Conditioning available – member Minnesota Motel Association & National Travel Association.&uot;

By the 1960s, the city’s traditional hotels such as the Albert, Majestic and Freeborn started to fade away. In their place, inspired in part by the Holiday Inn chain, came a new type of motel. These newer versions of roadside accommodations were in one building which had one or two or more floors, with a swimming pool, restaurant, bar/night club, and meeting/convention facilities. The older cabin, cabin court, and strip-type of motel started to also change or fade away.

About 1969 the Central Motel ceased operations. City records show that the present buildings for Hanson Tire Service, 505 E. Main St., and Godfather’s Pizza, 509 E. Main St., replaced the Central Motel site in 1970.

However, the Central Motel didn’t quite fade away. Three of the motel’s buildings were moved to the north side of Glenville, next to U.S. Highway 65. The buildings were joined together to form a u-type single structure with fire walls and a new foundation.

The place then became known as the Glenville Motel, originally owned by David W. Parks. For the past several years this transplanted structure created from a former Albert Lea motel has been owned by Larry Hamberg. The present name is the Glenville Apartments and it has 10 units.