Site hosted by Build your free website today!

more 1920s

Nostalgia Cafe
main page

Nostalgia Cafe
site map

1920s Travel & Nightlife
(page 2)


"Tin Can Tourists"

In the 1910s, the automobile changed the way Americans went on vacation.

In the old days, your summer holiday was spent in a single location, such as a resort or summer home in the country. Families rented rooms or cottages for a week, a month or the entire summer.

The automobile changed all that. Our travels were no longer limited to places with boat or train access. With an auto, we could go anywhere, stay for a day or two, and then pick up and go somewhere else. We could also spend the night anywhere, which introduced us to the new concept of stopping for the night. We had become automobile tourists.

1920: a wash-up kit for hikers and campers, with paper towels and "paper soap" that dissolved in water

"The motor camp today is our finest American democracy. Informality is the password, snobbery is taboo, every man is your 'neighbor.' And all are bound together by an almost unbelievabley powerful tie--the dust of the open road."
--Frank E. Brimmer, 1927

There was just one the early 1910s, there wasn't anywhere to stop. Automobile tourists slept in their cars or pitched their tents in farm fields alongside the road. The locals called them tin can tourists.

The first campgrounds for automobile tourists were established in the late 1910s. They were free, contained no modern luxuries, and were located on public land set aside by towns to discourage travelers from camping on private property.

By the 1920s, the cost of upkeep and an influx of undesirable guests usually resulted in a fee being charged. At this time, many landowners were also getting into the tourist business by opening auto camps of their own. Extra features like cold water faucets, outdoor restrooms and picnic facilities were also added during the 1920s.

Some camps, like the Restawhile Camp Ground pictured above, sold lunches to weary travelers. With roadside restaurants still a rarity, the lunchtime visitors often outnumbered the overnight guests. In 1925, the Tourists' Camp Ground in Woodstock, Illinois reported that 54 autos stopped for picnics in July, while only 37 autos brought overnight campers.

Increased competition from privately-owned auto camps caused most cities to abandon their municipal camps in the late 1920s.

Cabin Camps
Motor Courts

Shortly after the first automobile campgrounds were built, the first tourist cabins were introduced. These establishments ranged from simple cabins to cozy, homelike cottages. They all had one feature in common....guests could park their cars right outside their doors.

Cabin camps resembled auto campgrounds, but with cabins instead of tents. The cabins didn't have indoor bathrooms and were built without regard to pattern.
-----At tourist courts, the cottages had indoor bathrooms, closets, and sometimes garages or carports. They were arranged in rows, clusters or in a U-shape.

Many cabin camps were part of a larger complex containing a cafe and service station. Of course, the quality of the accomodations varied from location to location. The nicer establishments were quite pleasant, but at some places it was wise to check your mattress for bugs before hopping into bed!

By 1926, there were 2,000 tourist courts in the United States. Most were located in the warm climates of California, the Southwest and Florida.

"The Motel is neither a hotel nor a
bungalow court, yet it combines the features of both.
You drive your car right off the highway
and into your own garage!"

--Milestone Interstate Corporation, ca. 1926

Green Acres Motor Court

-----In some tourist courts, the individual cabins were combined under a single roof, or were attached to each other in small groups of three or four. These were motor courts and motor hotels. In San Luis Obispo, California, Arthur Heineman finished building his new attached "bungalow court" in 1926, with the intention of calling it the Milestone Motor Hotel. However, he couldn't fit the entire name on the sign, so he shortened it to Milestone Mo-Tel. The term caught on, and before too long other motor courts were calling themselves motels.

The Milestone Mo-Tel
Jazz Age Chicago: Hotels
Edgewater Beach Hotel
Beverly Hills Hotel
Algonquin Hotel
Hotel Pennsylvania


For travelers who planned to spend more than a day or two in the same city, there were hotels of all shapes and sizes. In large metropolitan areas, the hotels were gigantic, with restaurants, posh carpeting, electric lights, modern bathrooms, ballrooms and lobbies filled with plush furniture and exotic palms.



Coney Island
During the 1920s, Coney Island reaped the benefits of a booming economy and an increase in leisure time for the average American.

Luna Park and Steeplechase Park were the two big parks at Coney Island. There were also many individual attractions. In 1920, the Wonder Wheel opened, and in 1927 the famous Cyclone roller coaster opened. The Wonder Wheel was a huge wheel with eight stationary cars and 16 mobile cars that slid back and forth between inner and outer wheels.

To accomodate the growing number of visitors, the beach was expanded and a boardwalk was built in 1923.

Railroads played a part in promoting pleasure travel in the 1920s. The Illinois Central Railroad encouraged visits to Chicago.

organized tours
When you reached your destination, the parlor car tour was a popular way to do your sight-seeing, especially in the city.


the beach
In the 1920s, Americans fell in love with any activity that involved the sun. This new interest in healthy outdoor living made beaches even more popular than they already were. In 1921, hotel owners in Atlantic City held a pageant and National Beauty Tournament to entice summer visitors to remain into the fall....this was the first Miss America pageant.

It became fashionable to acquire a sun tan during the 1920s. It was a mark of success to have enough free time to play in the sun.

Renting a cottage at a campground or church camp was a tradition that went back to the mid 1800s. At that time, many camps were founded when religious organizations purchased land on which to hold their yearly week-long camp meetings. The accomodations were less than glamorous (no electricity or plumbing), but they were affordable. There were plenty of outdoor activities (picnics, boating, swimming) and social activities (flirting, weekly dances), plus a dose of good old-time religion every Sunday.

Many city folks enjoyed taking a drive in the country and stopping for a picnic.

Simple resort areas were located near lakes and rivers. Here you could find hotels, summer homes, rental cottages, picnic grounds, dance pavilions and docks for fishing, boating and swimming.

Budd Lake, New Jersey....
a pleasant place for an outing



speakeasies: the first nightclubs
Between 1920 and 1933, the manufacture, sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages was illegal in the United States. This era was known as prohibition. Instead of destroying the liquor trade, this law managed to increase it.

"Keep your voice down and speak easy."
Establishments that couldn't sell alcohol legally resorted to selling it secretly. These places became known as blind pigs, beer flats, shock houses and speakeasies. They could be found everywhere, hiding in cellars and masquerading as soft drink parlors and tea rooms.

In an attempt to get around the law, speakeasies adopted the label night club, and even issued membership cards. By 1928, prohibition had replaced New York's 15,000 legal taverns with 32,000 illegal speakeasies.

A Tribute To Texas Guinan
Jack & Charlie's 21
The Cotton Club
The Stork Club
Speakeasy & Prohibition Photos
Texas Guinan
Chicago Speakeasies

----- A typical speakeasy had a doorman who scrutinized all prospective patrons through a slot in the door. You were "in" if you knew the correct password or dropped the right names ("Joe sent me").

Club Deluxe opened as a speakeasy in 1920. In 1922, it was taken over by new owners and became the Cotton Club. The employees and entertainers were all black and the customers were all white. The King Oliver Band was the house band, followed by the Duke Ellington Band in 1927.

Jack & Charlie's 21 opened in 1925. They were raided several times during prohibition, but were never caught. When the Feds started banging at the door, the doorman triggered an alarm which swept all evidence through a chute into the sewer. They also confused the issue by claiming that they had no liquor on the premises, which was true....while their address was number 21, the wine cellar was actually located at number 19.

The 300 Club was owned by former actress and showgirl Texas Guinan. Whenever she was arrested, she always claimed that all she did was supply "mixers"....if a customer added something from his hip flask, it was none of her business.

The Stork Club opened in 1929, and was soon attracting a celebrity clientele.

At The Colony, the liquor was kept on an elevator, which could be sent up to the attic or down to the basement when the prohibition agents came.

Claudio's was built on the edge of a pier. At low tide, alcohol was lifted through a trap door from boats sailing under the building.

Other famous New York speakeasies included the Merry-Go-Round, the Back Stage Club, the Dizzy Club, the Hi Hat, the Silver Slipper and the Furnace Club ("hottest place in town!").

other nightspots
Many establishments kept it legal by selling root beer, Moxie and various malted cereal drinks that were promoted as alcohol substitutes. They also focused heavily on dancing, dining and live entertainment. It was at this time that the modern dance club and ballroom were born.

Trianon Ballroom
Aragon Ballroom
Hotel Pennsylvania
Savoy Ballroom

For the most part, black and white patrons kept to themselves and attended all-black or all-white clubs. There were some clubs that admitted both black and white customers. These were known as black and tan clubs.

----- The Savoy Ballroom opened in New York in 1926. It featured a large dance floor, two bandstands and a retractible stage. Approximately 15 percent of the dancers were white, making it one of the first racially-integrated nightspots in the country. Unlike the Roseland, which divided its dance floor with a rope, blacks and whites shared the dance floor with no barriers. The Savoy employed two bands, which allowed for nonstop music and an occasional battle of the bands.

In Chicago, the glamorous Trianon Ballroom opened in 1922, and the Aragon Ballroom opened in 1926. There were also fancy nightspots at the Broadmoor Hotel, the Blackstone Hotel, the Edgewater Beach Hotel and the Blackhawk Restaurant. Both the Broadmoor and the Trianon owned radio stations, which played beautiful music from their ballrooms late at night.

The Roseland Ballroom opened in New York in 1919, and featured dancing, entertainment and a cafe. Occasionally, the Roseland held "mixed nights," in which both black and white patrons were admitted. A rope divided the dance floor, with blacks dancing on one side and whites on the other. In 1924, Louis Armstrong made his New York City debut here, playing with the Fletcher Henderson Band.

New York's Hotel Pennsylvania also opened in 1919. The Cafe Rouge Ballroom hosted some of the biggest names of the era. Need to make a reservation? Just call Pennsylvania 6-5000!

In Chicago, State Street was known as Chicago's Stroll. Many clubs, restaurants and cafes were located there.

return to:

Travel & Nightlife (page 1)

return to the 1920s main page