Not too long ago, we got a text that said if we liked old motels, and especially the old custom neon signs that stand out in front of them, then we better head over to Tuscaloosa, AL, and get a good look at the neon sign out in front of the Moon Winx Lodge. It seems that current owner, Bob Patel, was looking to sell the neon sign way back in 2016, claiming it was too expensive to maintain. Patel wouldn’t find a buyer for the sign. Soon after, in 2018, tragedy would strike the lodge in the form of a tornado taking 12 rooms with it and leaving the future of the Moon Winx Lodge up in the air (no pun intended).
Obviously we jumped at the chance to see this vintage motel and its famous neon sign while both are still standing …
The Lodge’s History in a Wink
The Moon Winx Lodge actually began as the Moon Winx Motor Court nearly a century ago. Owner Meade Johnston started the motor court in the 1920s along US 11 – then the busiest route from New Orleans to Birmingham. The motor lodge featured 20 rooms that could accommodate 56 people.
Johnston sold the Moon Winx to Victor Rogers in 1946. Rogers decided to expand the motor courts in 1950, and two years and $10,000 later (a little over $100,000 dollars today), there were 12 more rooms – all air-conditioned – that could accommodate up to 24 more guests. By 1954, all the cabins had air-conditioning and a brick exterior. In fact, by 1961 Rogers had modernized the place so much that the Moon Winx Motor Courts ended up on the cover of Tourist Court Journal that year.
What’s more, the motel proved to be quite a popular stop for football fans throughout the 1950s and 1960s as they headed for Tuscaloosa (“Roll Tide!”). In fact, Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant rented out 10 rooms at the Moon Winx Motor Cabins for his 1961 championship team. It’s even said that Hollywood celebrities have spent a night or two at the Moon Winx.
Sometime during his renovations, Rogers also built an on-premise restaurant that went by a couple of names over the years, such as The Barn and The Lamplighter.
Under a Neon Moon
At the time, House 26-year-old was a young starving artist who needed the work, so he agreed to design and paint the crescent moon sign for advertiser Dan Kilgo, who agreed to pay House 50 cents an hour. House ended up earning $1.50 as it only took him about three hours to paint the sign.
The neon was added by the Rivers Sign Company, who also installed the it in the place it has been standing for 65 years. However, it hasn’t been without its own trouble all of those years.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina damaged the sign, and it miraculously escaped being destroyed by a tornado in 2011; 12 of the lodge’s nearby rooms were, in fact, destroyed during the same tornado.
In 2016, current owner of the what is now the Moon Winx Lodge, Bob Patel, put the sign up for sale, stating that, at a cost of $300 a month, the sign was not only becoming too costly to maintain, but also after local sign technician Cliff Flora of the Flora Sign Co. retired, it was becoming difficult to find someone to maintain it.
In 2018, Patel said he was interested in selling the property to any interested real estate developers. He hopes that if any buyers decide not to continue operating the motel, someone like Northport’s Kentuck Art Center would put it on display.
For now, however, it seems the Moon Winx Lodge remains closed and is still waiting for a buyer. Its future, like the moon, remains up in the air, so you better go get a good look at it in the wild while you still can.
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