Driving along U.S. 40 through Steamboat Springs, Colorado, you can’t miss the Rabbit Ears Motel thanks to its iconic sign with the pink rabbit and his long bunny ears on its sign. Named after nearby Rabbit Ears Peak, the 10-room motel and iconic sign were both built in 1952.
A 1954 postcard says the motel was “A new luxury in vacation comfort” with “Ultra modern in design and convenience.” Nothing is mentioned about “tiled baths” or “refrigerated rooms and steamed heat” as other motels often advertised. Indeed, convenience was the amenity here with a “Shopping area—restaurants—swimming pool” nearby.
Still, the motel seemed to do alright for itself, adding 10 more rooms in 1955. However, it did seem to change hands quite a few times until 1971. That’s when the Koehler family was passing through Steamboat Springs and saw the sign.
Road Trip Down the Bunny Trail
In August 1955, Ron Koehler opened up a Western Auto Store in Butte, Montana. By the late 1960s, the business was doing so well, he built a bigger building and started selling boats, appliances, motorcycles and hardware, under the business’s new name – Ron’s Gamble Marine.
However, Koehler’s success was built on the strong economy of Butte and the high-paying jobs the copper mines provided. When a copper worker’s strike threatened to weaken that strong economy, somebody offered to buy the building Koehler had built. Koehler accepted the offer and closed the business.
Soon after, Ron took his wife Lyle (who everyone called “Lee”) and their youngest son, Greg, on a road trip to visit his eldest son, Ronald, and his wife Lorraine who lived in Craig, Colorado and just had their first baby.
While driving through Steamboat Springs, Ron first got the idea of owning a motel. One day, the family traveled back to Steamboat Springs to look at three motels that were up for sale – the Western Lodge, the Nite’s Rest and the Rabbit Ears. However, upon seeing the Rabbit Ears Motel sign, Ron said, “That’s the one I want.”
A Sign of Things to Come
The famous Rabbit Ears Motel sign was built in 1952, the same year as the motel. Back then, however, with new roadside businesses booming in American postwar economy, and so many signs for those businesses going up, you needed a gimmick to compete with rival businesses. Back then, the rabbit’s eyes were animated, as were his ears, both moving side-to-side. At night, an outline of pink neon light framed the rabbits face while the words “Rabbit Ears” and “Motel” were done in red and green neon, respectively. It also had chaser lights on the arrow that pointed to the motel’s office. It was really a thing of artistry and beauty that attracted the eyes of both young and old.
However, not everyone was smitten with the sign and it’s rascally rabbit. When the Colorado Department of Transportation wanted to widen US 40, they told the Rabbit Ears Motel that their sign would have to go. Around the same time, the city council started regulating signs placing restrictions on their size and height, adding that no blinking lights or animations would be allowed, and the sign would could not hang over the sidewalk. After compromising with the city by turning off the rabbits eyes and ears, getting rid of the chaser lights altogether, and moving the sign back closer to the building, the city allowed them to keep it.
Today, the sign has become a local and historical landmark.
All in the Family
The Koehler’s put in a bid for the Rabbit Ears Motel and in April 1971, became the 20-room motel’s proud owners. Ray and Lee moved into a bedroom right off of the main office, while their son Greg had a room in the basement. In the beginning, Ray would work the front desk while Lee would clean the rooms. Greg would often do odd jobs around the motel like shovel snow before walking to class at the local high school.
Soon after purchasing the Rabbit Ears, the Koehler’s added 19 more rooms that overlooked the Yampa River in the back of the property. They sold nearly everything they brought with them from Montana to finance it, but in the end, the idea paid off.
By 1985, Ron had enough of the hospitality business and decided to retire. Greg moved his family from Denver to Steamboat Springs to take over the family business. He, too, would add more rooms and a second story to the motel, bringing the total number of rooms today to 65.
Ronald would pass away in 2004 at the age of 81. Lee would follow him at the age of 94 in 2016.
Greg Koehler still runs the Rabbit Ears Motel today
Your Own Little Rabbit’s Nest for the Night
Of course, nowadays, you can expect to find more than just convenience as an amenity at the historic accommodations. Today the Rabbit Ears Motel offers all of the modern comforts that road trippers and family vacationers alike have come to expect like clean, comfortable, newly renovated rooms, Serta Presidential Suite Plus mattresses and Speakman shower heads
And with five different room layouts to choose from , every room still comes standard with a microwave, refrigerator, hair dryer, coffee maker, USB ports, WiFi, high speed internet, and 32” flat screen TVs.
(Oh, and did we mention the FREE Continental Breakfast?)
The Rabbit Ears Motel is pet-friendly and eco-friendly with two EV CHARGING STATION right outside the front office door.
(Greg also says that two or three times a day, he’ll see people stopping by to take a picture of the sign, so don’t forget that selfie while you’re there.)
If you’d like to stay at the Rabbit Ears Motel on your next big road adventure, contact them by phone at +1 800-828-7702 or by email at email@example.com.
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