Last Stop Salado, TX
Last June, it was 99 degrees at 4:00 on Father's Day. Don and I pulled up to the Shady Villa Hotel office feeling hot, tired and curious. It was the final stop of our 18-day road trip.
A minute before, we'd pulled into Salado, knowing little about the town. It looked surprisingly lively, on a hot afternoon. Tourists roamed the shops and picnicked in the nearby park. We pulled into the lot and I headed inside the Registration Office, where the a.c. worked well! I was given a key and a very chilly metal pail, filled with ice. Ahhh! But where was the hotel?
The Original Inn
Just steps from the office, (but fairly hidden behind trees) was the hotel's restaurant. The wood framed building, was the original, Shady Villa Inn. It opened in 1861 as a stagecoach stop, serving travelers on the Chisholm Trail. (This was not our hotel for the night!)
In 1943, Dion and Ruth Van Bibbers bought the property and opened a sophisticated southern style tea room. It was renamed the Stagecoach Inn. They stopped accepting lodgers at some point and focussed on adding dining rooms. We made reservations for the evening!
In the late 1950's, the Van Bibber's nephew took over the business and added motel-style quarters on the west side of the 6-acre property.
We drove our car from the office, to a shady building in the back of the grounds. Our accommodations were in a post WWII motel, not a Civil War era inn. No problem.
As soon as we hopped out of the car, we could hear the cars whizzing by on I-35. I wandered towards the sound and found the original motel lobby and coffee shop. Now closed.
I also found a stagecoach, sitting on some dry grass. Even with bright yellow and pink paint, it looked sort of lonely and forgotten. I'll bet it must have delighted kids back in the day, when they spotted it from the highway. The front of the hotel once faced I-35. That was back when the highway was brand new and much quieter.
Love the Neon
From our parking area, the trees nearly blocked the iconic neon sign. But the cars flying by, had a good view.
It was only a couple years ago, that the Stagecoach Inn was taken over by Austin based "Bunkhouse Group". They reverted to the original Shady Villa name. I'm glad the old neon sign still glows!
Scattered on the property, there were several buildings holding 48 rooms. All were connected by pretty walkways. As we headed towards our building, I wondered how this structure looked when it was built in the '50's.
The Bunkhouse Group has done a great job rescuing numerous historic hotels. We've stayed at a few in Texas. I felt like I was spotting their style as we climbed the steps. The white brick, chickenwire with vines and interesting light fixture... All seemed to have a little Austin Hipness.
The outdoor hallway revealed painted doors, but no windows. Each upper unit had an entrance on the north, with glass doors and balcony on the south side.
The lush landscaping offered lots of privacy, to the patios on the lower level. I was glad to be higher, with a view.
Our spacious room with Saltillo tile floors felt cool on a hot day. The shiny floors made me feel like we were staying at a hotel in Mexico.
The whole room had a cool, mid-century vibe. We had our naugahyde daybed/couch with lounge pillows and a hip swag lamp and a wall of glass, inviting us to the balcony.
The daybed actually was not a bit comfortable, but the king bed and linens felt heavenly. And we had a very relaxing photo image above the bed. (Big Bend National Park?) All rooms featured photographic scenes of Texas.
I so appreciate having side tables and shelves and lamps, when we travel. I never expect to have a sound machine, but we had one.
The tile work in the bathroom was extra bright and fun. Reminded me of minty, Chiclets gum!
The modern sink was sleek and the towels were thick and soft. What did the bathrooms look like 2 decades ago, when the hotel was run down and truckers were the usual guests? Those tired drivers would have loved making use of the giant showers, with great water pressure!
Back in the '50's and '60's, travelers never expected a fridge in a motel. Microwaves weren't even in homes then. Our mid-century motel room had neither of those. I was fine with that.
We did have an interesting coffeemaker, though. I fussed with it a while, but couldn't get my water heated. The cans of still water, were much cuter than plastic bottles. Color television? Luckily we didn't have a retro model with rabbit ears. We had a nice wall-mounted TV, with good picture and decent stations. Yay for TCM movies!
The balcony was almost perfect. Especially with canvas butterfly chairs and an exotic lamp! There was just a little bit of stain on the fabric, from roosting birds. Balconies and birds...we've had this problem before.
But we had a perfect view of the pool and grounds. Not too close! And we had the perfect amount of trees for shade. But, it was still 99 degrees!
We had a couple hours until dinner. Don cooled off in the room, gabbing with the kids who called to wish him a Happy Dad Day!
I braved the heat and wandered the grounds, enjoying the shade of live oaks and the sounds of splashing in the pool.
I headed down Main Street, towards Salado Creek, then returned to make sure we had time to hit the pool before dinner.
Something about the trees and jungly growth and the retro motel building, took me back to my childhood years living in Florida.
I was reminded of neighborhood pools, near my family's home in Tallahassee. Something about those retro chaise lounge chairs, resting under mod sunshades. But most of all it was the grass. It felt like 1967 and we were gathering with other families for a Father's Day BBQ!. There was a homey, or even camp-like atmosphere.
Happy Hour on the Balcony
After a little pool time, we headed back to our room in wet suits.
We made use of the light, "serape robes" (that we've seen in other Bunkhouse Hotels) and covered our chairs. Our wet suits kept our bodies cool, while we sipped iced drinks and toasted to Don's 36th Father's Day. I promised we'd celebrate back home, the next day.
On our way to dinner, we took our time checking out the brand new, spacious pavilion.
There were lots of games that made me wish our kids were with us. Ping Pong, darts and giant Connect Four.
Best of all there was lots of seating. Chairs and tables and couches, all in little gathering areas. For cool months, there was a fireplace built into the stone wall. For steamy summer days, there were big fans hanging down from the rafters!
On the opposite side of the covered shelter, we found the Western Club.
The inviting bar, was just steps from the pool. I was surprised that it wasn't open on a busy "holiday", but maybe the new space hasn't fully opened yet. I can see how this whole resort-camp vibe might be catching on very soon.
As we approached the restaurant, I had fun imagining this place back in the '50's when the Van Bibbers kept customers coming back for more deviled eggs and hushpuppies and Mrs. Van's Strawberry Kiss dessert!
We could spot some obvious additions. Many were added by the Van Bibbers. The ramp with more chickenwire, looked new.
In the 1800's
It was fun to imagine what the inn was like, even further back in time.
The south side of the building offered a good view of the chimney and veranda. We heard that Jesse James once stayed here. No proof of that, I'm afraid.
The growth surrounding the inn, was lovely. The property claims to feature over 60 plant varieties.
I'm guessing this live oak (that seems to be growing in 2 directions) was probably around before the inn.
Don and I headed inside and took a quick trip upstairs to peek at one of the original rooms. 180 years ago, travelers made good use of that stone fireplace in the winter.
Local folklore says that General Sam Houston once stepped out onto the veranda to give a speech against secession from the Union..
We peeked in another upstairs room with the same appealing wood and stone.
Dining on Sunday Evening
The first floor of the inn is usually available for diners, but there were a.c. issues.
I would have loved to have eaten in this room. I have no clue about the man in the portrait or the cash register. There seemed to be many images of Mr Van Bibber in other rooms.
Lunch with the Ladies
The Van Bibbers added dining spaces gradually in the 40's and '50's. I love the way they built around the oak tree!
I wish I could go back in time and have lunch with some lady friends. We'd remove our white gloves and have a little iced tea with our sandwiches.
I wish Don and I could have enjoyed our dinner in this room, overlooking the grounds.
It was full of diners when we first arrived, but it would have been a fun choice.
The main dining room didn't have the historic charm of the old inn, but it had a nice open feel, with books and fireplace, a couch and a bar.
But we were happy to have a table at all, on a busy Father's Day, in a touristy little town. Don celebrated well with pan-seared salmon, served with squash and zucchini. He was perfectly pleased.
My traditional chicken fried steak barely fit on my plate. It had an incredibly crispy, flavorful crust and sweet onion gravy!
Back We Go
We didn't linger long. It had been a busy holiday at the hotel/restaurant and the staff had clearly put in a long day.
We left happy and meandered back. The pavilion looked inviting even though the bar was closed.
All to Ourselves
And maybe it was lucky for us that the Western Club wasn't open.
We had the pavilion to ourselves. Don got some wine from our room and we shared a glass, under a whirling fan. We were no longer bothered by the heat or the roar of I-35. What a fun and comfy space.
In the morning, Don and I rose early and headed off in search of coffee.
The air had cooled and Main Street was quiet! We found a coffee shop and wandered with our cups, in both directions. There were lots of little photo ops and I clicked away.
Here are a few from the evening before. Click to enlarge.
And way too many photos from our morning walk!
What a fun and artsy little town!
We booked a room for about $150, and got plenty. We enjoyed our retro-hip-fifites motel room. We had dinner in a 181-year-old inn, with a totally different vibe. It was an interesting combination of 2 eras!,
The jungly setting kind of tied it all together, with a casual resort feel! Cheers for a little pool time and quiet pavilion time and walking in town time.
We will definitely hit this place again! Hopefully before room rates rise high!
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!