Cover Image courtesy of the Jim Seelen Motel Images Collection

A sport fisherman’s paradise, the bayside town of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin has been a family vacation destination for decades. And where do vacationing families and roadtrippers alike stay when they visit Sturgeon Bay? Well, since 1952, many of them have been staying at the first motel built in Door County – the Holiday Music Motel.

Where They Holidayed

Built by business partners Myron Krueger and local supper club owner William Paul three months before that other “Holiday” motel and its Great Sign opened down in Memphis, Tennessee, the Holiday Motel (which has a pretty impressive neon sign all of its own) welcomed its first guests on Saturday, May 31, 1952.  

Early Postcard of the Holiday Motel in Sturgeon Bay, WI.
Public Domain

Krueger and Paul stressed modernity when they first built their motel and gave their guests exactly that. Like many mid-century modern motels built before the Googie style came along later in the decade, the Holiday Motel was built in the Modern Cubism architectural style that was popular at the time for motor courts.

Guests were treated to modern amenities and styling inside, too, like glass-block windows, photo-mirrors, tile bathrooms, theatre-lit hallways and stairs, and for the businessman, a ventilated phone booth – pretty fancy stuff back in 1952.

The motel was a success – so successful, in fact, that they added the Holiday Diner the next year, serving their guest from a full breakfast menu. Indeed, at a time when travelers stayed at auto campgrounds, cottage courts, or tourist homes, guests of the Holiday Motel must have felt they were staying in the lap of luxury.

Where They Played

In May 2007, 55 years after it first opened its doors, a group of musicians and music lovers under the name Holiday Motel Management, LLC, purchased the Holiday Motel. They had first come together to save the Michigan Street Bridge (the motel is located at the approach to the bridge) in a project called the Steel Bridge Songfest (SBSF) – a music festival held to both celebrate the bridge and raise awareness about its preservation.

The bridge that brought them all together.
Image by Flickr user mbaylor, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

At the time they were organizing the festival in 2006, singer/songwriter pat mAcdonald (aka Purgatory Hill) put together The Construction Zone, a songwriting workshop that was headquartered at the Holiday Motel. Twenty-five songwriters were invited to the workshop and, together, wrote 60 songs – all of them recorded in a motel room that was converted into a recording studio. One of those who attended the workshop was Anna Sacks, who was really encouraged by what the group had accomplished, so much so that she said she wished they could just buy the hotel and write songs all year long.

Word soon got out that owners Pete and Marilyn DeVaney wanted to sell the motel, and many bridge lovers, music lovers, and musicians like Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Jackson Browne came together, bought the motel and changed the name to Holiday Music Motel.

Rising From the Ashes

After another workshop in June 2007 (which also produced 60+ songs) disaster struck. On August 5, 2007, there was an electrical fire that forced the motel to close for 22 months while the extensive damage was repaired.  

All the modern amenities and retro feels await at the Holiday Music Motel. Image courtesy of Teresa Young via The Holiday Music Motel

However, the fire actually turned out to be a good thing. Today, the motel has been completely rewired, new cost-effective HVAC heating and cooling installed, and brand new carpets and drapes have been added. Other modern amenities that the Holiday Music Motel features are comfortable mattresses, high-quality bedding, free wireless Internet, and cable TV, among others.

Even with all the latest in modern amenities added, the Holiday Music Motel will still give you those retro feels starting with the original 1950s chip-proof and fire-proof Simmons furniture and much of the original tiling that was saved from the fire as well.  Even with the removal of a lobby entryway wall, you’ll feel like you’ve journeyed back in time with a stay at the Holiday Music Motel.

Image courtesy of melaniejane via The Holiday Music Motel

And since the motel is located in Sturgeon Bay’s downtown historic district, there’s also plenty to do. Walk to the waterfront, shops, restaurants and nightlife. Also be sure to check out the Holiday Music Motel’s website for all the latest live music performances and songwriting events that go on year round.

Oh and that sign? It’s still there, too, so be sure you get your selfie before you leave.

The next time you’re thinking about roadtripping through the Sturgeon Bay area, whether it’s to attend one of the motels songwriting events or to welcome Wooly back to Sturgeon Bay next weekend, do yourself a favor and spend the night at the Holiday Music Motel. Reservations can be made online here or by calling  +1 (920) 743-5571.

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