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!