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The world’s first motel opened right here in SLO — and soon, it’ll be rebuilt

History of SLO’s Motel Inn, the world’s first motel

The Motel Inn once hosted the famous and glamorous, like Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe, who stopped there during their honeymoon. Plans have been announced to rebuild the world's first motor hotel.
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The Motel Inn once hosted the famous and glamorous, like Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe, who stopped there during their honeymoon. Plans have been announced to rebuild the world's first motor hotel.

The world’s first motel, located on Monterey Street in San Luis Obispo, will return to life in the form of a modern 55-room inn that honors its past while meeting the needs of today’s travelers.

The Motel Inn was built in 1925, situated conveniently along the highway for motorists to make an overnight stay between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio famously stopped off at the motel in 1954 for lunch, the day after they spent their honeymoon night in Paso Robles at the Clifton Inn.

The inn at the city’s northern gateway was shuttered in the mid-1990s, and plans to rehabilitate it have been discussed for more than 15 years since developers Rob Rossi and John King bought the dilapidated property in 2000 for $3.6 million.

The inn’s garages and bungalows were largely demolished by 2010, and all that’s left is the façade of the restaurant and a renovated office with a bell tower.

Construction on the new facility, also to be called the Motel Inn, will begin this fall, honoring the motel’s history with the same Spanish colonial architecture as the original. Its accommodations will include a hotel, bungalows and 25 rooms fashioned from converted Airstream trailers.

18 Number of motels envisioned by Motel Inn creator Arthur Heineman

The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2018, said developer Damien Mavis of Covelop, which is partnering with Rossi and Carmel-based Silver Lining Hospitality to construct the new motel.

“We can recreate a piece of history,” Mavis said. “This project reimagines the world’s first motel with the amenities that today’s hotel guests expect.”

The new motel will include a pool, spa and small gym. In addition to the hotel at 2525 Monterey St., King Ventures is planning a next-door restaurant with similar Spanish colonial architecture.

This project reimagines the world’s first motel with the amenities that today’s hotel guests expect.

Damien Mavis, developer

That project is separate from the motel venture, but the developers intend a complementary relationship, and guests likely won’t know the motel and restaurant aren’t part of the same property, Mavis said.

The idea of the world’s first motel was conceived by Arthur S. Heineman to accommodate a growing car culture. His vision was to line 1,200 miles of the West Coast with 18 motels that were a day’s driving distance away to offer overnight stops for travelers that were more comfortable than campsites.

“He borrowed the concept from the California missions, which were a day’s horseback ride away from each other,” Mavis said.

His first motel was called the Milestone Inn, which was changed to the Milestone Mo-Tel, and eventually the Motel Inn. The San Luis Obispo motel was the only one that Heineman built, though his business model was adopted by others and boomed in future decades.

The cost of the first overnight motel stay? $1.25 per night.

“We were aware of the history, which attracted us and made this site special,” Mavis said.

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