Remembering the Alamo Plaza Hotel and Courts

Tuesday, August 17, 2010 - by Harmon Jolley
Advertisement for the Alamo Plaza from a "This Week in Chattanooga" tourist pamphlet.  Click to enlarge.
Advertisement for the Alamo Plaza from a "This Week in Chattanooga" tourist pamphlet. Click to enlarge.

The legends of lodging used various strategies to entice travelers to turn in for the night. Col. Harland Sanders placed a model room at the office of his Sanders Court and Café, so that tourists could check out the features. Holiday Inn placed a tall, bright neon sign as a beacon to road-weary riders. Other chains went for unique looks, such as wigwam-shaped cottages.

Alamo Plaza Hotel Courts incorporated history into its original architecture. The chain was founded in 1929 by E. Lee Torrance and Drummond W. Bartlett in Waco, Texas. The entrance to Alamo Plaza was modeled after the San Antonio mission that was a famous battle site of the Texas Revolution.

Chattanooga gained its first Alamo Plaza in 1952, with the completion of a motel at 3000 South Broad Street. Promotional literature noted that the motel was located in an historic area dating back to Chatunuga Village, named for the rock now called Lookout Mountain. “Alamo Plaza Hotel Courts afford modern facilities, real hospitality, and friendly service,” the flyer proclaimed. “Its personnel is (sic) anxious to see that you enjoy every moment of your visit.”

The Alamo had the features that had become common for travelers of the 1950’s. Each room was air-conditioned, and had a free telephone and television. Some rooms had kitchenettes. There was a coffee shop and ample, free parking. The motel had gained the recommendation of Duncan Hines. In this pre-Interstate era, the Alamo Plaza proudly noted its location on four U.S. routes – 11, 41, 64, and 72 – as well as Tennessee 58. “Comfort-Service without Extravagance” was its motto.

Despite all of those nice features, the Alamo Plaza couldn’t escape its location, however. South Chattanooga was a heavy industry haven, and pollution was inescapable. Wheland Foundry was its neighbor diagonally across South Broad Street, and belched smoke that drifted towards the motel. Scholze Tannery’s odors wafted in the breeze, too. Chattanooga Creek flowed nearby, and carried industrial wastes from factories in Alton Park. Buildings north of the motel on Broad Street were old and decaying, and were homes of some un-family friendly businesses.

On June 7, 1961, the Chattanooga Times reported that a $50,000 facelift project was being carried out at the Alamo Plaza, in hopes that their image could overcome the surroundings. The Alamo mission motif gave way to a new face of porcelained steel and aluminum. The design was said to be an improvement over the white stucco for holding up in an industrial city like Chattanooga. More rooms were added, along with a swimming pool.

Despite the changes, the Alamo Plaza eventually lost its tourist appeal and moved into a new era for it. The pages of the local newspapers in the 1970’s and 1980’s carried many stories of crime, suspicious room fires, and safety code violations. The Night Haven lounge on the property had often become a crime scene. On September 14, 1991, City Court Judge Walter Williams ordered that the Alamo Plaza be vacated.

After appeals and plans for revamping the property came to no fruition, the Chattanooga Better Housing Commission ordered the buildings to be torn down. This was reported in a June 19, 1996 Chattanooga Times article.

Today, both the former Alamo Plaza and Drake Motel sites on South Broad have been cleared, awaiting their next use. The former locations of Wheland Foundry, Scholze Tannery, and U.S. Pipe are in a similar state.

If you have memories of the Alamo Plaza Hotel and Courts, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.

Another view of the Alamo Plaza.  Click to enlarge.
Another view of the Alamo Plaza. Click to enlarge.
- photo by courtesy of the Public Library

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