If you ever plan to motor west (or east from the Los Angeles area), why stay in a motel room when you can stay in a tipi. Technically, the concrete rooms at the Wigwam Motel aren’t tipis (alternately “teepees”), but they certainly aren’t wigwams (which are domed structures). Historically we’ve gotten the nomenclature wrong on all things Native American, not the least of which is the term “Indian”, a fact pointed out by Kumar Patel, the manager on duty on my visit. Blame Christopher Columbus, who assumed he had landed in India rather than pull over to a gas station to find out where he was.
If Columbus had taken old Route 66 through San Bernardino in 1949, he may have seen the newly-opened Wigwam Motel. This is one of three remaining Wigwam Motels built by Kentucky native Frank Redford, with one in Arizona and another in Kentucky still operating. The Wigwam had been a decaying slice of Americana since the Interstates diverted traffic from “the highway that’s the best.” An old sign (now relegated to the side of a small building at the back of the motel) beckoned, “Do it in a teepee,” a proposition not helped by the fact that there was a strip club operating on the opposite side of the highway (now an auto parts dealer). When the current owners bought the property, they began restoring the motel to its former glory. The property is clean and well kept, but according to Kumar, it has been a lot of work. The tipis are made of concrete and are 25 feet across, but remarkably roomy inside. There’s a small bathroom at the back that prompts disbelief that it actually fits inside. The room we saw was clean and looked comfortable and despite its kitschy atmosphere seems like a decent (and unusual) place to stay for the night.
Old cars are displayed at one section of the half-moon drive between where the rooms are situated, some with advertising on them and others set up in a diorama complete with a fake mechanic underneath. On the other side of the crescent,
Kumar showed us where they grow their own vegetables, including beans (which are harvested by the bushel) and arrowhead plants. We talked awhile with Kumar in the office, which was like a mini Route 66 museum. Discovering that the blog features road trips and unusual food, he asked if I had ever had arrowhead, and offered a taste. Unfortunately, someone had raided the refrigerator, but he did have fafda,
a fried crispy treat made with chick pea flour and topped with hot peppers. These were fresh and light, and the whole peppers added a nice kick. We talked about the magical flavors of Indian food (not Native American) and thanked him for his time and hospitality.
So it’s not an authentic Native American site, but then again, I haven’t been exposed to much culture in the casinos out here either. Still, I’d have no reservations about staying at the Wigwam Motel…
2728 W Foothill Blvd
Rialto, CA 92376-5333
GPS coordinates: 34° 6’25.40″N 117°21’0.13″W