Off-Ramp correspondent Robert Garrova takes us to the Wigwam Motel in Rialto, whose owner, Kumar Patel, will be crowned Americana Royalty June 21, by Charles Phoenix.
In America, roadside attractions are monuments to car culture, family road trips and the highways that connect the country. We have a giant Paul Bunyan, massive balls of yarn, and life-size dinosaurs always just over the horizon. And 60 miles outside of L.A., in Rialto, there’s a roadside attraction you can spend the night in.
At the Wigwam Motel, you’ll find 30-foot-tall teepee look-a-like cabins made of stucco and wood. Yes, it’s called the Wigwam Motel, but they actually look more like teepees. Built by Frank Redford in 1949, the Wigwam Motel became the most western member in a chain of teepee motels that stretched all the way from Kentucky.
But the Wigwam Motel might have seen the wrecking ball if it wasn’t for the Patel family, who bought it, and when Kumar Patel’s mom got sick, it was up to him to take over. At first, he didn’t really get it. But, after a couple trips along the Route with then Route 66 Association President Kevin Hansel, Patel says he became fascinated with the restoration projects he saw.
The Patel family bought the Wigwam in 2003, but you might say Kumar’s been running on Route 66 his whole life. “Born on Route 66, I live on Route 66, I’m a business owner on Route 66 and I love Route 66. I travel it every year,” Patel says.
Inside the lobby, he proudly displays pictures from his yearly Route 66 road trip. There’s the old-timey barbershop, the roadside diners and gas stations, even a shot of one man’s Wigwam Motel tattoo. “Now I love traveling for the people. So many characters on Route 66,” Patel says.
At just 32, Patel admits he’s a driving force in the preservation of the old road’s character. But he also says he’s just a member of the Route 66 family.
“They say you’re better off writing a book and having a best seller than becoming profitable on Route 66. ...Anybody that goes on Route 66 and opens a business and wants travelers to come, they’re doing it because they love it.” -- Wigwam Motel owner Kumar Patel
If you’d like to go check out the Wigwam Motel for yourself, Patel and “Ambassador of Americana” Charles Phoenix have just the party for you. If you can make it out to Rialto on June 21, Phoenix promises the full retro experience, with classic cars and vintage trailers, an old-fashioned weenie roast, the Bob Baker marionettes, and a vintage fashion show ... culminating with the crowning of Kumar Patel, an Indian-American who got a Native-American themed Route 66 attraction on the National Historic Register, as Americana Royalty. Only in America.