The best attraction in Gila Bend, AZ, is a motel, the Best Western Space Age Lodge. It seemed like everyone staying there or eating in the Space Age Restaurant was taking photos or videos of it when we were there. Carmen Navarrete, its Assistant Manager, told me some interesting things about it.
The Best Western chain was founded in 1946 by M. K. Guertin. Because it had the only reservation service covering the entire United States by 1962, Best Western was the largest motel chain in the industry by the next year. It had 699 properties and more than 135,000 rooms to stay in. It became international about 1975 when it put its name on properties in New Zealand and Australia. It now has 4,100 hotel and motels in over 100 countries
Best Western is headquartered in Phoenix, which is less than an hour’s drive from Gila Bend. That’s probably why the Space Age Lodge, which opened in 1964 or 65 depending on whom you ask, was Best Western’s 4th property. President John Kennedy had promised to put a man on the moon within a decade in 1962. There was no aerospace facility in or near Gila Bend at the time, but Al Stovall, the Space Age Lodge’s creator, had an interest in The Space Race and figured that folks on their way to places that were involved in the space program might stop there. He designed 4 other space age destinations and created what were, in the mid 1960s, futuristic details, like specialty lamps. Al died but the Space Age Lodge, which was renovated by Best Western while keeping its theme, continues to delight travelers. The murals date from the 1990s. All of it is a hoot.
The Beach Motel in Long Beach California is considered the 1st Best Western property. Guertin eventually owned 13 motels and was responsible for helping to shape an association that could refer lodging businesses to each other. The Best Western chain occurred. Now, of course, we have Travelocity, Expedia, Trivago, etc. The AAA mentions The Space Age Lodge’s “hard-to-miss spaceship design outside and a unique atmosphere inside”.