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Friday, January 8, 2016

Sixties Tulane Avenue

Edward B. Silverstein’s  Motel Conchetta (1962-1964) is one of the last surviving mid-century architect-designed highway lodging structures on Tulane Avenue. Conceived for the Losch Brothers in December 1962, the 3-story, 40-unit motel featured an entrance façade that uniquely referenced constructivist architecture with its cantilevered restaurant, vertical cubic signage and bold primary colors (postcard detail above).

During the mid-twentieth century, Tulane Avenue served as an important motel corridor for U.S. 51-61-65. Between 1955 and 1965, architects Benson & Riehl, Charles Colbert, Curtis & Davis, Harold Piqué, August Perez, M. Tony Sherman, and Edward B. Silverstein designed modernist lodging structures on this so-called “motel row.” Garnering the attention of writers Richard F. Dempenwolff and William S. Burroughs, these structures enticed motorists with convenient drive-up registration and parking, neon lights and theme-based cocktail lounges.

Silverstein (1909-89) designed the Conchetta for the Losch-Greco families in late 1962 and early 1963 (TP 8.4.1963).  Named for a family matriarch of Spanish heritage, the structure functioned as a motel for over a decade before its alteration as a women’s work-release prison facility.  The Losch family invested over $550,000 in the project. 

Silverstein acknowledged the venue’s urban placement by turning its motel elements inwards. Sheathed in precast concrete panels on its east and west elevations, the Conchetta offered privacy and quiet rooms. Organized around inner open-air walkways – which the architect called “planks” – the Conchetta allowed its guests private access to their suites through perpendicularly placed reinforced concrete arteries joined by spliced openings extending to the ground level parking area. Room-height plate glass windows afforded views of their vehicles parked immediately underneath their suites.

More intimately scaled than M. Tony Sherman’s earlier Fontainebleau and Curtis & Davis’ contemporaneous Pan-American, Silverstein’s Conchetta accommodated motel guests’ desires for convenience and discretion.  An architect versed with the needs of motorists, he angled and cantilevered the motel’s second-story restaurant in alignment with Tulane Avenue.  This plate-glassed projection attracted incoming motorists and served as a porte cochère for the registration area. It also supported a third-story gallery from which guests could watch the streetscape, including the annual St. Joseph’s Day parade. 

The Conchetta’s original entrance façade deployed the bold colors of the Spanish flag separated by aluminum mullions and precast concrete. A red wooden screen unified the front elevator/stair corridor under a rotating geometric “MOTEL” sign, the latter referencing the nearby Falstaff Brewing Company’s lettered tower.  The registration area’s “CONCHETTA” sign, the north elevation stair rails and third-story balcony rail were also primary red, while the restaurant’s window coverings were primary yellow.

August Perez's 30-unit Best Western Patio Motel (1962-1964) was constructed for $200,000. Like the Conchetta, its angled facade served to attract motorists. The raised structure accommodated private patios, a drive-up registration and guest parking.

Perez & Associates designed the structure for Anthony Guardina (TP 1.7.1962). Despite being plagued with frequent robberies, the motel expanded quickly.  In 1968, Guardina hired George Riehl and Donald Graves to design a 3-story addition. Four years later, the same firm began the structure's French Quarter-ification by removing the Perez curtain wall and adding faux masonry panels.

Both former motels are slated for demolition.

Images above:  Edward B. Silverstein. Motel Conchetta. 2620-2626 Tulane Avenue, New Orleans, LA. Undated postcard. Detail. Private collection.

August Perez. Patio Motel. 2820 Tulane Avenue, New Orleans, LA. Circa 1964-1967. Private collection.

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