Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Robert E. Lee Motel

(c) photograph by m. wells

Somewhere between Bristol, Tennessee, and Abingdon, Virginia, stands the Robert E. Lee Motel. Back in the summer of 2001, I and my car made a series of trips around this area. It was before I was a preservationist, but the seeds of it were in me: history, art, architecture, and storytelling.

My friends gave me exceedingly complex directions to backcountry locations. One of these was a junkyard, seemingly abandoned. Cars from the 30s, 40s, and 50s were sinking into the soft earth here, only their headlights visible from the road through the thick brush and Virginia Creeper. My search for the perfect grille was abruptly ended by an adrenaline-inducing chase though the forest by junkyard dogs and a man in a blue pickup truck. On another backcountry trip, I encountered a revival in yellow and white striped tents.

In the case of the Lee Motel, I was armed with only one thing--the camera. I came to an abrupt stop at a gas station across the road from this fetching Moderne motel. If only it had been night-time, and the place had been open: the neon sign would have been lit, and so enticing. But it was not open, and it was heavily overgrown. Some of the plants had come in at the windows, and through cracks in the structure and pavement. A man at the gas pump was watching me. I could hardly try and slip through the windows, or around back without rousing some suspicion. But I snapped this picture, and I still remember the crickets humming.

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