Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Wagon Wheel Motel - Gone but not forgotten

The Wagon Wheel in full swing.  Pic courtesy of schaferphoto.com

From 1947 to the mid 2000's there was a road side icon called the Wagon Wheel Motel & Restaurant, located in Oxnard, CA.  As things often go, the past didn't fit the aesthetic of the future and the Wagon Wheel is no longer standing.  It had been vacant for many years and tied up in litigation between those who wanted to save it and those who wanted to develope the site.  Several months ago, the developers won.  My boyfriend and I had to drive down to the site and pay homage.  I managed to snap a few pics of what is left.

I had always admired the Wagon Wheel's Country-Western meets Googie architecture  and fantastic neon signs.  It was a hot spot for locals and a tourist trap for folks traveling the 101 freeway from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara.   It was built in 1947 by the legendary Oxnard developer Martin V. "Bud" Smith.  It got its western theme from some old cattle brands that were discovered during the original ground breaking.

 An original souvenir post card. Images courtesy of cardcow.com

 In a hilarious publicity stunt to promote the grand opening of the Wagon Wheel Motel & Restautrant, Bud Smith let loose a flock of 200 chickens on downtown Oxnard.  Each chicken had a band on its leg that read "I just escaped from the Wagon Wheel, where they serve the finest chicken around.".  Hows that for publicity!

 This is how she sat for many years, neglected but still loved.  Pic courtesy of scheaferphoto.com

In addition to the Wagon Wheel Motel, the rest of the area had a Mexican Restaurant called El Ranchito, A Polynesian Restaurant called the Trade Winds, a Roller Rink and the Wagon Wheel Bowling alley, which has been continuous operation since 1953.  The bowling alley is the only surviving business out of the original Wagon Wheel establishments.  There is also an old mobile home park located on the original property, that is still inhabited.  Almost every other business has closed down, leaving the Wagon Wheel area a veritable ghost town, quite befitting its western motif!

Pic courtesy of Laughing Dog Photography

It is harder to find pictures of the Wagon Wheel in operation than it is to find pictures of it in its abandoned state.  John and I went to an "out of business" sale for the restaurant portion several years ago.  We bought a beer sign and some other bar-ware but were mostly glad to be able to gawk at the gaudy deco and architecture, since the building had been closed for some time already.  They told us that the whole thing was going to be demolished.  It took a few years but they were right.  There is an awesome Flickr photo stream that you can watch below.   


I read that they intend to keep the Wagon Wheel neon signs for use in  "a small interpretive kiosk about Martin V. Smith in the new project."  Wow, maybe now the people living in the expensive condos that will inevitably be built will have an inkling of what used to be there.  That's something I guess!  R.I.P. Wagon Wheel, you will be missed!


  1. that wagon wheel bowling sign is to die for!! i love old buildings like this - too bad it had to go!

  2. What a nice homage to such a neat sounding place. Sad that there's so few places left like this around.

  3. How sad it had to go...was a beautiful place for sure!!!

    I got my Fezmingo in the mail yesterday...will post about it in the next few days! I love it! Thanks so much!!!

  4. I loved the restaurant / Motel sign!
    It always makes me upset when they take down the old stuff. We just had two very old store front stores with big old display windows torn down where I reside. Now sits a big empty hole.....

  5. Oh gosh that stinks about it being torn down! At least this is a great "memorial" post. There's an old theater in my town that we're currently trying to save (and winning at the moment! Woo!) Also, my Beatnick Chicks arrived! They're sooooo cool! Love those little guys!

  6. A very nice tribute to yet another cool landmark that has been lost. So very sad. I love the chicken story... I wonder what happened to them all!

  7. Wow! What a great post about yet another gone-but-not-forgotten piece of the past. Too bad the people who wanted to save it didn't have the clout that the developers obviously did. At least they're going to save the cool neon signs.

  8. Holy stars! It was sooo beautiful! People don't know their arses from a hole in the ground these days. Just taking down things left and right. Poor Wagon Wheel, I never knew you but I love you.

  9. Oh I cannot stand the fact that those places are gone! I lived it in the past, so it's really hard for me when they take some of these places down! Got your fezmingo, by the way!! Love it!

  10. Nice profile of a sad story. I wish I had taken more interest in these places back in the day when I was a backseat rider. They seemed to be everywhere in the 1960s - it's such a shame to see many disappear because of rising property values.

  11. Drove by there today, and happened to have my camera with me, so I took some pix of the signs, very similar to what you have here. Don't mean to expose my vintage-ness, but I have a real connection with that place as it was one of my favorites as a kid. Sometimes my Dad would drive us out to Oxnard from the S.F. Valley, just to eat at the Wagon Wheel. I would always have the fried chicken! Also, the floors were covered with sawdust, which was typical of the western-themed restaurants of that era. Glad I found your tribute! Great website!

  12. Wonderful site - thanks for this !

    I live in Ventura, a city maybe 3 miles from Wagon Wheel. I was born & raised in Santa Paula, maybe 8-09 miles from the site on the wonderful old Tradewinds restaurant!

    As a kid of about 12 or so, my folks took my sister & I there a few times.

    I actually liked the outside better! There were little foot paths, lined by a variety of very exotic flora, some small streams of water intertwined amongst the paths & plants, & a fountain or two. And some beautiful colored lights highlighting it all - that was some 42 years back but still fresh in my mind!

    Inside was also quite pretty but loud with all the chatter, music & laughing as everyone enjoyed themselves! Again, some well placed colored lights, candles & music - we didn't get to see a live show but they had some wonderful Polynesian music piped in.

    I wish you all could have enjoyed it as did my family & I!

    Thanks again for this great site !

  13. I also wanted to add that the interior also featured some totem poles, bamboo chairs, I believe there was some grass around the tables - I can't recall exactly about the grass but see it in my mind. It may have been the waitresses wore grass skirts, just can't say for sure of that.

  14. Hey, I found a great site with more Info. on the Trade Winds!


  15. My grandparents had their honeymoon at the Wagon Wheel Motel many years ago. Does anyone know if and or where I would be able to get a sign from there or a letter from the sign...anything that I could give them. I know it would mean the world to them, especially because they don't know that it has been torn down yet.

    I doubt I will be able to get anything, but if anyone knows maybe where they threw the wood signs away ( if they did) or if there is a pile somewhere I could dig through please let me know.

    I know this sounds crazy, but it's worth asking!!

  16. Stephanie - I happened to drive by the Wagon Wheel last night on the 101 (10-19-11) and it looked like all of the signs had been removed. Back when I took those pics, they were still there and I too had thoughts of acquiring a letter or piece of a sign. They were HUGE! There was no way any one piece could even fit in the trunk of a car. As far as I know there was talk of preserving the signs to put back in place after whatever they plan on building there is completed. We'll see. Since there isn't much left down there now, I think the best place to get a "piece" of the wagon wheel hotel would be to hit up ebay for some memorabilia. Good luck to you and thanks for sharing your parents story! It is really a shame that it is gone but it is wonderful it is a piece of your family's history! Have a great day! -Amber

  17. My wife's grandmother was a waitress at the Wagon Wheel when it closed. They gave her some of the memorabilia from the walls and my wife inherited one of those trinkets. It is a Wallace Boots and Saddle Chop Plate (http://images.replacements.com/images/images5/china/W/wallace_american_boots_saddle_13_chop_plate_round_platter_P0000110274S0006T2.jpg). We'd like to sell it, does anyone know anyone that is collecting things from the old restaurant?


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