Back in the 1960s, my husband’s Russian grandmother Rose used to call it “The Vagon Wheel” or alternatively, “The Wagon Veal.” Her “Ws” never matched, but hearing her say either one of those phrases always gave his family a chuckle. So when I first passed by this iconic, uber-quirky structure in the 90s, I’d have to say it that way too. I still do. Even though now — it’s a heap of broken beams and splintered glass. (Pic #2)
A structure with history — but not “historical”
The somewhat awkward looking freeway-flanked motel was built on the site of an old hog farm by Martin V. Smith in 1947. It became a Southern California landmark, a popular stop for cross-country vacationers, or Angelenos passing through to Santa Barbara. According to Steve Chawkins of the L.A. Times, the kitchy roadside stop…
“…was decorated by a Hollywood set designer when westerns ruled the screen, it was a spot where residents would take out-of-towners for a thick steak, where visitors would enjoy cocktails on the barroom’s cowhide seats and gaze at the brands of local ranchers burned into the beams above.”
The Wagon Wheel was considered an authentic example of American roadside architecture from the mid-century (Pic #4). But it didn’t make the city’s cut as a designated “historical landmark.” And local preservationsists from the San Buenaventura Conservancy lost the lawsuit to keep the main motel building in tact, before the 64-acre commercial swath makes way for 1,500 new homes — including two 25-story apartment towers.
“Time orders Old Age to Destroy Beauty” 1746, by Pompeo Girolamo Batoni
This has always been one of my favorite classical paintings – which I stumbled upon during a visit to the National Museum in London when I was 18. To me, the title is as daunting as the work: “Time Orders Old Age to Destroy Beauty” – by Pompeo Girolamo Batoni, commissioned in 1746. The winged figure of Time (foreground), who holds an hourglass, commands Old Age to obliterate the stunning woman’s elegant visage. (Pic #5)
In his recent article – referring to the ultimate destruction of (what I might call ) this “funked-out” piece of property — Chawkins uses the phrase “wounded by time.” He nailed it.
In the last few years, it became abundantly clear that time had ravaged this admitedly unconventional example of modern day architecture. As tourists sped by on the 101 Freeway, they could see the abandoned property had turned into temporary digs for transients and a playground for skateboarders. The structures’ shingles buckled, their paint peeled, wiring was stripped by scavengers, and weeds and brush tried to push up and reclaim what was once theirs – as nature always does. (Pic #6)
While the Wagon Wheel façade may not be considered “classic looks” by any stretch, its originality – its authenticity – cannot be denied. But it had sadly become what conservationist Stephan Schafer calls “the victim of calculated neglect.” (Pic #8)
Still, photographing the gradual demise of the Wagon Wheel, I found what I consider to be a series of lovely abstract images – documenting her decomposition. A sort of visual record of “Time ordering Old Age to destroy Beauty.”
(See next post for additional images.)
Photo Credits: (Pics #1–7): Josh Kaplan, (Pic #8): Juan Carlo Mendoza, Ventura County Star.