Their motto was once “Highway Hospitality Coast to Coast” and, indeed, you used to be able to find them along America’s highways from New York City to Santa Monica, California. The Beatles stayed at one in New Orleans, Louisiana, during their first visit to America in 1964, and an episode of The Sopranos was shot at the one in Hackensack, New Jersey in 2005 for the show’s sixth season.
So, how is it that one of the fastest growing hotel chains of the 1950s and 1960s with such obvious pop culture relevance has fallen by the wayside in recent years? Well, for that answer and more, join us for this 4th of July Motel Monday as we look at one of America’s most successful but often overlooked motel chains in America – the Congress Inn.
The Age of Referral Chains
Starting back in the early 1930s, motel owners would often get together with one another and organize their own “referral chains” where they would each meet the group’s agreed upon set of standards, then display their group’s name on their signs, postcards, and advertising. Each motel would also offer a guide to its guests that listed the names, location, and contact information of other motor hotels so that their guest knew that the next motel up the road met the same standards of the one they just stayed in.
These referral chains included groups like Quality Courts United and The Best Western Motels. Quality Courts United was established in 1939 with 40 motels located mostly along the East Coast while The Best Western Motels group was their western counterpart that was founded in 1947. In 1950, the Superior Brand and their four-leaf clover logo got into the referral chain business with over 500 motels (found mostly along the East Coast) being listed in their guidebooks.
The Congress of Motor Hotels
The Congress of Motor Hotels was founded in Santa Monica, California, in the early 1950s as a membership cooperative referral group. Unlike the other aforementioned referral chain groups, however, the Congress of Motor Hotels would come to focus more on motel financing rather than just referrals. In fact, backed by Congress Enterprise, Inc. out of Miami, Florida, the Congress of Motor Hotels slowly moved from a referral chain group to a motel franchise corporation in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Financing motor hotels included purchasing, upgrading, remodeling, enlarging and new construction of Congress Inns was all part of the former referral chain’s new lease-back program.
This was actually not that unusual for referral chains at the time. Quality Courts United would become the better known Quality Inn motel chain which is part of the Clarion hotel franchises today. The Best Western Motels would, of course, become the Best Western group of motels that we’re familiar with these days with locations all over the world.
What’s in a Name?
Congress Inns got investors and motor hotels to franchise with them based solely on the idea of what we know today as branding. “Ask the average person to name a food store, a variety store, a gas station,” read a 1961 Congress Inns International magazine advertisement. “99 times out of 100,” they continued, “you’ll get a nationally known chain name – Safeway, A & P, Woolworth’s, Shell… In almost every type of business today, BRAND NAMES stand out.” Still another advertisement stated that brand name motels had an on-average “12% higher occupancy rate than independent motels”. Thus, independently owned motels had another way to get into the world of nationally known brand-name motels.
And it worked. By 1964 there were 172 Congress Inn franchise nationwide.
However, it wouldn’t last. Poor quality control led to the Congress Inn franchise’s downfall and by the 1980s, their brand name had already begun to fade from people’s minds. Many of the motels converted to other nationally known brand name motels, while others, like the New Orleans Congress Inn were simply abandoned and demolished.
For now, there at least one that’s still hanging in there – the aforementioned Congress Inn of Hackensack, New Jersey, for those who may be feeling a bit nostalgic about the chain.
Let us know if you remember staying at one or know of any others that may still be out there.
Speaking of feeling nostalgic, how many of you are longing for a bite America’s favorite road trip snack – the Stuckey’s Pecan Log Roll?
Well, while you’re reminiscing about summer road trips past, why not also plan for summer road trips present with our “Welcome to Summer” Gift Box. It’s got all of the pecany goodness you’ve come to love us for including:
2 – 2 oz. Pecan Log Roll
2 – 1.7 oz. Pecan Divinity,
2 – 1.5 oz. Pecan Pralines,
1 – 12 oz. Salt Water Taffy,
1 – 8 oz. Hunkey Dorey,
1 – 4 oz. Sea Salt Pecans,
1 – 4 oz. Kettle Glazed Pecans,
1 – Candy Shoppe Coffee, and
1 – Plush 12″ Squirrel.
For all of your favorite road trip treats and kitschy souvenirs make a Stuckey’s stop part of your road trip itinerary or order directly from our website and have them delivered to you before you even leave your driveway. Visit stuckeys.com for more.
Stuckey’s – We’re Making Road Trips Fun Again!
Whether your next road trip is by car or by rail, it’s not really a road trip without taking Stuckey’s along. From our world famous Stuckey’s Pecan Log Rolls to our mouthwatering Hunkey Dorey, Stuckey’s has all the road trips snacks you’ll need to get you where you’re going.
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Stuckey’s – We’re Making Road Trips Fun Again!