When following the beat of Mid-Century Modernism in all its philosophy, incarnations and quirks so often the metronome first swings by the love of a retro motel. Is there a structure which more so encapsulates the western 20th century experience? Cinematic, functional, sentimental, anonymous, fun, seedy, home to all on the road.
In a post war glow, the drive in motel popped up all over the globe, always within the design paradigm of USA at it’s peak – victorious, commercial and living the dream of a poolside banana lounge with a bikini blonde besides. Australia in the 1950s and 60s, joyfully bouncing at the heel of the ascendant empire and awash with new wealth and constant sunshine, was always going to embrace the motel.
And so they serviced this country for years until crashes of confidence, finances, tourism, the family unit, you name it – made motels a sometime necessity but not a destination to be anticipated on your long drive to QLD or Perth. Many of these originals have been lost, dozed or ‘renovated’ beyond saving for another more lucrative enterprise. But in scattered locales around the country a few Googie gems remain as unwitting showpieces of a time gone by, lifting the spirits of those who love them and making us think – if we only had the money (and the desire to get into hospitality) to bring them back to glory, surely people would love a bit of old timey motel fun?
Which brings us to Mildura and the Kar-Rama Motel (c’mon, who can even go past that name?). What we seem to have here is a close to perfectly preserved specimen. We have a centrepiece pool, we have the neat angles of modern, car-centric design and a flat roof, utilitarian layout with external walkways and a courtyard at it’s heart. We have manicured lawn and dotted greenery, feature stonework, dynamic signage, parquetry in the reception and mosaic tiles in the bathrooms. What makes this one special is what it lacks – no ugly facelifts from the 80s, no painted over wood or stone (nothing major anyway), no removal or change of any character at all. Delightful all round.
What we hope and we suppose is required is someone – or perhaps a group of likeminded individuals – to take the reigns of this classic. Restore and polish her up (perhaps the yellow-on-everything scheme could be relaxed?) and then open up for business and pleasure. Well, mainly pleasure.
Now although it pains us to say it, we sadly cannot envisage a small motel within the Mallee jewel that is Mildura becoming the next rainbow-tinged party mecca or hipster destination but then again, stranger things have happened. So the impetus to drop everything and follow this particular dream all the way to a distant Victorian country town has to involve a party with obsessive love of the motel, drive and deep pockets – any sun-loving David Walsh types out there? Of course if the town burghers had any sense they’d realise that rainfall patterns suggest a move away from intensive farming and into a Palm Springs, well okay, a Daylesford variety tourist development. But again, these things always kick off best organically and in private hands.
The question is – in whose hands will the Kar-Rama in all it’s potential glory end up? We can only hold our breath and see.