The Capri Motel: To Please the Most Discriminating Guest
by Lynne Rostochil, brochure and postcard of Voyager Inn from her collection, photos of signs from the Oklahoma History Center’s OPUBCO collection
In the mid-’50s, the crossroads of the newly expanded Lincoln Boulevard and NE Expressway seemed like a great place to add to the conglomeration of motels strewn along the road headed toward the State Capitol. The city was expanding northward and with suburban neighborhoods, such as Wildewood, sprouting up near the intersection, developers were correct in believing that the area could sustain yet another inn where weary travelers could lay their heads. So in 1957, the swank Capri Motel opened its doors, proudly proclaiming itself “the Southwest’s finest,” as you can see in this brochure highlighting the new inn:
At the time, there were four motels in the Capri chain — the other Capris were in Lawton and Joplin, MO, and the chain also owned the Voyager Inn on NW Expressway across from Founders Tower (pictured below):
Oklahoma City’s Capri enticed customers with 100 very modern rooms — love that wallpaper and those furnishings:
From the brochure: “Relax in beautifully appointed comfort in a Capri bedroom or suite. Nothing will be spared to make your visit pleasant and enjoyable.”
The Capri also offered up a sparkling pool, beauty shop, meeting rooms, and a fashionable restaurant, where “carefully prepared food and excellent service are the marks of Capri hospitality. Enjoy delicious meals in the attractive décor of Capri dining rooms”:
The Joplin version also got a very mod bar. “The cocktail lounge in the Joplin Capri Hotel is a perfect spot for pleasant relaxation and a delightful meeting place for friends and business acquaintances”:
As if the photos weren’t lure enough for customers, the brochure also boasts these colorful graphics illustrating the amenities provided by the Capri Motel — I especially adore the television scene with the half-chopped guest reclining in a modern chair:
I guess Lawton and the Voyager Inn didn’t merit a map, however:
When the Capri Motel opened, it was an immediate success, with couples booking wedding receptions in the banquet room, housewives meeting for long, lazy lunches in the restaurant, and kiddos splashing away in the pool. Of course, it also helped that the inn had one of the best signs (and certainly the largest) among all of the motels in the area:
That spectacular, oversized, and oh-so Googie sign landed owner Jack Harris in trouble just a year after opening, however, when the city informed him that it encroached a mere 17 inches over the right of way on Lincoln. The Capri Motel and several others along Lincoln were told to move their signs or face legal action because the encroachment forced the holding of over $200,000 in much-needed federal road funds. Harris and his fellow owners fought the order, however, by stating that they had obtained city approval to build where they did in the first place and OKC should pay to have the signs removed. Ultimately, a district judge ruled in favor of the city (surprise, surprise), and Harris moved the sign. And what a great sign it was, too:
As you would probably expect, there were many adventures at the motel, too. In 1958, a home grown prostitution ring was busted at the motel. A man, his ex-wife, another woman, and the Capri’s bellman were busted at the motel when the bellman unknowingly organized a meeting between the ex-wife and an undercover cop in one of the rooms. A year later, a soldier from Ft. Sill, his brother, and another man were arrested after robbing the Capri’s night clerk of $800; the soldier (and the group’s ringleader) got a whopping 20-year sentence for the offense.
Even with all of the success … and the adventures … just a few years after it opened, Oklahoma City’s Capri Motel was no more. A New York-based company bought a 40-year lease on the Capri in 1961 and added it to their growing Congress Inn franchise of motels:
The newly named Congress Inn continued to flourish throughout the sixties, even after a barefooted robber broke into over 20 rooms one night, stealing goodies, shooting the night manager who tried to stop him, and leading police on a 100-mile-an-hour chase before being captured. Luckily, the night manager’s injuries weren’t severe, and in addition to overseeing many a party, evening meeting, and late-night arrival in the years that followed, the quick-witted man also stopped at least one other robber in his tracks. Good for you, Mr. Night Manager.
As the ’70s dawned, the area around Lincoln Boulevard began to decline, and the once-swank motels that lined the street now became home to long-term tenants down on their luck, petty criminals, and drug users. Several of the motels, like the Thunderbird Inn and the Suntide, were transformed into work release or community treatment centers. For awhile, the Congress Inn was considered for such a function, but nearby home and business owners protested so vehemently that another location was chosen and the motel was left to linger in its sad state until it was finally demolished in the ’80s. The site is now a vacant lot.
The last of the chain Capri Motels, the one in Joplin, weathered many a storm during its six decades in business, but it couldn’t recover from the economic losses it sustained in the wake of the 2011 tornado that gutted the city. The famed motel with its iconic sign closed its doors in October 2012 — I just hope someone saved that gorgeous behemoth of a sign.
(Photo courtesy Roadside Architecture)