PHOTOS BY ALENA KUZUB
By BRIDGET TURCOTTE
SAUGUS — With 1950s truck stop-style motels on their way out, Route 1 is making way for the hospitality needs of the future — such as hotels with restaurants on site and upscale dog resorts.
But the evolution of the road’s lodging began long before the 2015 change in zoning of the major arterial commercial strip that allows for mixed residential and commercial use.
Travelers began using Route 1 as a stop along their journey to everywhere from Boston to Maine as early as the 1930s, when the road was widened and improved from a simple, two-lane stretch.
“It has basically been a commercial area since it took off after the state rebuilt the roads in the ’30s,” said Steve Carlson, chairman of the town’s Historical Commission. “Before that, it was basically a two-lane road. There may have been a couple of small businesses, but it was largely just open fields.”
Many of the motels that still exist on Route 1 date back to the 1950s. The Colonial Traveler Inn has been family owned and operated since 1965. Avalon Motel, another family-owned establishment, calls itself an “economic solution” to Boston’s high-price properties.
A room at the Plaza Motel in Peabody, known for its heart-shaped whirlpool tubs, can be rented for $77 per night on Kayak.com. The Chisholm’s Motor Inn sign is arguably as iconic as its neighbor, the orange dinosaur.
Louis Karamas managed the North Side Motor Inn and later, Sir John’s Motel in Peabody, until it was torn down in the early 2000s. Before motels popped up, one-room cabins littered Route 1, offering a place to stay along the way to the final destination, he said.
“That was the first generation of travelers’ temporary lodging,” Karamas said. “Then they started creating the motels in a strip sort of assembly. It was less expensive to build motels. Then it just took off.”
Sir John’s and other area motels got a bad reputation on their stretch of Route 1, which was also home to strip clubs and trailer parks, Karamas said.
“I used to keep a notebook of weird stories,” he said. “We were on a first-name basis with all the police departments. We were attracting those types of people because they couldn’t afford to go anywhere else. The franchises required credit cards on file. It was part of the business, we just tried to be careful with who we let in.
“When I was out trying to find a franchise company that might be interested, it was a big drawback that on one side of the property there is a trailer park; on the other side is the Golden Banana,” he said. “But if you want to be on Route 1, sometimes you have to live with neighbors like that.”
Still, Karamas said disturbances didn’t typically escalate past a couple fighting or a wife on the hunt for her husband who didn’t come home.
Bob Long, former Saugus selectmen, planning Board chairman, and town moderator, said traffic changes and time led to the demise of many of the original motels.
As newer, franchise hotels began to open, families stopped choosing the mom-and-pop stops, he said.
Fern’s Deluxe Motel had its share of crime and controversy during its reign. If the decline in cash that thieves walked away with is an indication of the dropping value of a night’s stay, the transition didn’t take long.
In 1982 Fern’s was robbed for $100. Two years later, a knife-wielding thief made out with $70. In 1988, a bandit got his hands on just $27.
The motel was later deemed uninhabitable for long-term housing and eventually torn down, though the well-known sign offering free HBO and whirlpool tubs still marks its former space.
“They’re in locations where traffic patterns changed,” Long said. “In the beginning, there was no (Route) 128. We didn’t have the highways like we do now. A lot of the motels were built when we had a different network of roads.”
But with Route 1’s proximity to Boston and Logan Airport, developers still see the need for temporary lodging.
A $120 million development under construction at the former Route 1 Miniature Golf & Batting Cages site will include 250 apartments, two hotels, shops and a parking garage.
WoodSpring Suites will be constructed at the former Cap World Truck Accessories & Trailers site at 832 Broadway this year. The $9 million hotel will be a four-story building with 122 rooms and parking. The units, of various sizes, will feature kitchenettes.
The Red Dog Resort & Spa, a luxury pet hotel, is slated to open this spring.
Bridget Turcotte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.