The next time you drive along Route 1, glance out the window and look for an old motel. Some are now disguised as antique malls, others are abandoned and exist as haunting reminders of a bygone era, and those still operating don't look as inviting as they may once have appeared. Try to imagine these tourist cottages and motels in their heyday, however. Bright neon signs flashed "No Vacancy." Families unloaded cars for a night's rest. Hungry travelers ordered hot chicken dinners in the motel's restaurant before turning in for the night.
A new photography exhibition at the Library of Virginia—No Vacancy: Remnants of Virginia's Roadside Culture, October 15, 2013–February 22, 2014—will focus on a selection of motels and tourist courts found along Virginia's historic Route 1, weaving the individual stories into their historical context. The more than 25 historic and contemporary photographs and accompanying text in the exhibition will highlight architectural elements, present the significance of race and class in the history of travel, and demonstrate how the perception and operation of motels have changed over time. The motels will also be explored through an array of ephemeral items like travel guides, postcards, and advertisements.
No Vacancy will ignite nostalgic memories of family road trips, share the tales of the Virginians who operated the motels, and inspire us to pay attention to our cultural landscape. From campsites to quaint cottages to sleek modern accommodations, motels tell the story of travel and society in Virginia during the 20th and 21st centuries.