The 1950s-era brown metal sign looks out of place amid the stately houses of the Mordecai neighborhood on Wake Forest Road.
“Gables Motel Lodge: Weekly Rates,” the bold capital letters proclaim to passing cars, adding that air conditioning is available. The 1925 home behind the sign fits in with other historic residences along the block, but a closer look reveals what the classic sign is advertising: a tiny, two-story motel tacked on the back of the house.
The Gables is the last vestige of a long-gone era for this section of Wake Forest Road. Until Interstate 95 and Capital Boulevard were built in the 1950s, the road through Mordecai carried U.S. 1 – then the main highway connecting New York to Florida.
Raleigh proved to be a convenient halfway point for drivers making the trek when the automobile era began in the 1920s. As the road grew busier, owners of the homes lining the route sought to cash in by renting rooms.
A collection of old postcards available on the UNC-Chapel Hill library’s website shows a number of them. Today’s Vannity Salon was once “Tourist Rest.” “The Haven” and “The Restover” are now private homes on North Person Street. “Wooten’s Homeytel” once stood on the block where Krispy Kreme is located, and “Mrs. J.C. Chamblee’s Tourist Home” was demolished to make way for the State Archives building.
Most ended their lodging run when U.S. 1 was rerouted to the new Downtown Boulevard – now known as Capital – in the 1950s, and I-95 drew much of the East Coast traffic to the speedier freeway. Travelers still passing through Raleigh opted for larger motels further north of downtown that had their own restaurants and names like Humpty Dumpty Tourist Court and Johnny’s Motor Lodge. Those, in turn, have now given way to the multi-story chain hotels lining freeway exits.
But while the rest of Mordecai returned to a relatively quiet neighborhood, the Gables Motel Lodge stubbornly hung on. Charlie Griffin bought the property in 1965, and he’s still renting rooms today.
Griffin says the Gables stopped seeking passing travelers long ago. Most of his guests stick around for awhile, and the minimum stay is three months.
“My oldest tenant stayed here 16 years,” Griffin said.
He says he’s never offered to sell the quirky, anachronistic property, and his reason for keeping the Gables running for 48 years is simple: “It’s a nice home.”