I'll admit, sometimes Mod Betty's New England upbringing gets the best of me, as I'll try to pinch a penny rather than splurge even a leetle beet. That is why I'm so glad I found the Francis Marion Hotel when we were driving up Route 81 in Virginia. While it cost a leetle more than we're used to paying (but not much), I'd rather spend that extra dough at a historic downtown hotel like this than a stucco box on the side of the highway any day.
And there were some other unexpected Retro Roadmap discoveries awaiting us because we stayed here!
The General Francis Marion Hotel
The General Francis Marion Hotel in downtown Marion VA is an easy jog off of the interstate (on Route 11 which is quickly becoming my favorite road), and well worth the exit.
Again hating to pull off the road until the sun has set, we tumbled into town under cover of darkness. Pulling up to the front to unload our gear (and there was a lot of it b/c Retro Roadhusband had been gigging) we were pleased to find that there was a parking lot at the rear of the building. And I loved the aged sign!
Built in 1927, it was said to be one of the most grand hotels in the area, and I'm pleased to report that (after some hard times in its 85+ year history) it has been lovingly restored to reflect that classic heritage. Check out this spic and span vintage-inspired bathroom! This ain't no beige and boring chain hotel.
Our room was on the cozy side (especially with all our gear) but perfectly suited to our one night stay. And while the internet connection was iffy at times, the complimentary breakfast made it an even trade.
Speaking of breakfast my favorite part of some of these trips is to get up before everyone else does and do some roaming around with my camera, and this was no exception. I was happy to be able to do some "sploring" in the morning while Retro Roadhusband sawed some Z's.
When you stay there make sure you see the original "Prohibition Era inspired" linoleum tile work in the Game Room. Love it!
One note for those less ambulatory Retro Roadmap Readers - there are a few sets of small stairs that you need to navigate to get to the lobby, but there is a lift, and once checked in there is an elevator to bring you to your room. But those few steps are well worth the feeling of staying someplace grand, within minutes of the highway.
My early-bird excursion outside of the hotel brought me some unexpected surprises, with some neat art deco facades and vitrolite storefronts on Main Street. But that wasn't the best part.
Just down the block from the hotel I spotted the marquee of the Lincoln Theatre. Being early morning I did not expect anyone to be there, but I was lucky that there was someone in the office who was kind enough to let me snap a few photos of the (again wonderfully restored after some hard times) interior.
In contrast to the staid and unassuming exterior of the theatre (an apartment complex) I was more than delighted to discover that the auditorium was wonderfully decorated in an Aztec/Art Deco style so popular in the 1920s and 30s. Which makes sense since it was opened in 1929.
Upon doing some research I am pleased to share with you one of the only three remaining Art Deco Mayan Revival theaters in America! It is also in the Register of National Historic Places as well as the home of the "Song of the Mountains" Bluegrass Concert Series.
I'm thrilled to see that the 1920s era spots in Marion have made it through The Tough Times. You know, the tough times that all of these vintage places we love so much go through - when older buildings and businesses aren't seen as Historic, just outdated eyesores.The fact that local individuals saw the worth in these historic structures where many people saw blight is a testament to their vision of the future of their town.
But it's interesting to observe that so many places don't make it past the Tough Times, and there were a couple of examples just a few minutes down the road from downtown Marion:
The Skyview Drive In Movie Theater - opened in the mid 1950s closed in the mid 1980s and is now the site of an equipment company:
This mini storage place obviously used to be a roadside motel, and upon digging I'm pretty sure it was the Cedars Motel. (Click that link to see a vintage post card image of it.)
And I'm sure there are many other mom-and-pops that are already gone, having been bulldozed and replaced by stucco boxes along the highway.
I know there are different reasons for some places making it through the Troubled Times and some places dying off. I know that it isn't easy to survive and I don't have all the answers.But I know I want to feel like I'm doing my part to help "the little guy" survive - especially in this tough economic climate. And hopefully you do too.
So remember, by patronizing these original old businesses that have been able to make it through som many years AND by supporting the folks who have brought places like the General Marion Hotel and Lincoln Theatre back to life, we can do our part to ensure that the legacy of these places remains for the next generation.
And next time I'm trying to be frugal I'll remember that my extra money spent is an investment in the kind of world I want to live in.
Rant off, now go have some fun!