We finally arrive at the Lincoln Motor Court in Mann’s Choice, Pennsylvania, around 3:30, maybe 3:45. If the Altizer Family tells us we are just too late, Go away! and Never come back! I understand. But they have been patient. They are saints. They actually seem excited that we’re here. I called on my cell phone a couple of times to say we were on our way, but we just kept getting later and later. Now we’re here.
The Lincoln Motor Court is a collection of 12 little cottages arranged in a semi-circle, a horseshoe shape with a central courtyard where the owners have their house and the office. It’s a scene from a classic movie. It’s a set of time-machine structures that take you back to a time when you wanted your motel room to be a separate building not a lot bigger than your car! It’s a modest piece of American roadside architecture, apparently from the mid-1940s. It’s a hoot and a beauty.
The Altizer family has owned and run it since 1983 when Debbie and Bob drove up this way from their home in Washington, DC, looking for opportunities, maybe a small business that would get them out of the city. They found this place and decided to see if they could make a go of it. They saved this beautiful little bit of American roadside culture.
Although they had other design ideas and decorating plans early on, by the early 1990s they realized history-loving and roadside-crazy tourists could help make this motor court a success. They preserved the cottages in their original state as best they could. Debbie found vintage fixtures and furniture in flea markets and yard sales all around the Bedford County area. The walls of all the cottages are made of beautiful old knotty pine. “Not paneling,” says Bob. “Tongue and groove knotty pine.”
Bob Altizer has worked on the plumbing and the foundations and figuring out how to make the cottages look better and last longer. He tends to the distinctive red and white metal lawn chairs in front of the cottages, but he says they’re not as sturdy as they once were. “We’re always looking for good metal chairs at flea markets,” he says.
Debbie is in charge of the interiors, all the cleaning and the laundry and keeping the places presentable. We hear she can be a neat freak at times, but that’s a real asset when you’re talking about motel rooms. Her daughters used to help a lot with maid-duties, but they’ve grown up and moved on.
The 12 cottage-units are covered outside with gray Insulbrick, the weird building material that hasn’t aged well, and which at least one writer has called GhettoWrap because it seems to show up in lots of poor neighborhoods. Bob and Debbie gave the exteriors new class and style by putting white frames on all the corners, sort of giving a nice contrast to the Insulbrick. I generally hate InsulBrick, but it works here. In fact, I like it. The gray and white and red color-scheme is smart and timeless.
We spend a good three, three and a half hours at the Lincoln. Its name is not a coincidence. Lincoln Motor Court was the original name of the place, attracting Lincoln Highway travelers since its beginning. And the Altizers acknowledge that they were revived and re-energized by the Lincoln Highway Association when it had its first organizational meetings in the Bedford area. “They held one of their first meetings on our front yard,” remembers Debbie. “They convinced us to stay.”
We interview Debbie. We have her give us a tour of the honeymoon cottage. The bathrooms are small but fully equipped with showers and all necessities. Colorful old tile too. Then we talk to Carissa, one of the Altizer girls, who’s been working at the recently restored and grandiose Bedford Springs Hotel. It’s the family business but on a different scale. Then we talk to Bob Altizer on camera, and the light is starting to fade.
We can’t stay the night here. The Lincoln Motor Court is booked full tonight. That’s good. We want to get a few more miles under our belt before stopping for the night. We’re barely a hundred miles from Pittsburgh! We’ll have to travel faster tomorrow to be in northern NJ by tomorrow night.
But I’ll be back, maybe for a leisurely weekend trip into the Pennsylvania countryside, and I will stay in an InsulBrick cottage. Can’t wait.