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Remembering the Marriott Motor Inn on City Line Avenue

Posted on Wednesday, September 16, 2020

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Overview

According to Marriott International

"Marriott made a historic shift into the hotel business in 1957. The world’s first motor hotel opened in Arlington, Virginia, under the management of J. Willard Marriott’s son, Bill. Over the next 25 years, Marriott became a diverse global enterprise, and Bill Marriott became a visionary CEO whose leadership transformed the hospitality industry."

In addition to the Arlington, Virginia "motor hotel" property that opened in 1957, Marriott expanded to Philadelphia and opened the Marriott Motor Inn on City Line Avenue in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania in 1961. 

Marriott Motor Inn Philadelphia, City Line Avenue, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania

The Marriott Motor Inn featured "modern" amenities in each room and catered towards leisure and business travel.

Room Conveniences & Attractions

  • 700 rooms: Studios, Singles, Doubles and Suites
  • Individually controlled Air Conditioning in every room
  • Free TV and AM/FM radio in every room
  • Private balcony for each room
  • Heat lamp in every bathroom
  • Ironing board in every room
  • Direct dial telephone in every room

Marriott Motor Inn Philadelphia, City Line Avenue, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania

Features & Services

  • Multiple pools: cloverleaf outdoor pool, indoor-outdoor pool with glass partition and with bridge crossing (swim club for locals was offered)
  • Ice skating in Winter (ice skating club for locals was offered)
  • Miniature golf in Summer
  • Arcades (pinball machines, air hockey, pool tables, video games, ping pong, juke box)
  • Paddle tennis year round
  • Drive-in registration
  • Car rental service
  • Travel agency
  • Barber and beauty shop
  • Valet and laundry service
  • Gift shop and convenience store
  • Soft drink and snack vending machines throughout the hotel
  • Free ice machines
  • Room service (24 hours per day) for food and beverage
  • Babysitters & baby bottle warming
  • Playground
  • Sightseeing tours services featuring the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall
  • Banquet rooms to serve groups up to 600 people
  • Free parking around the Marriott campus so that guests could park close to their rooms
  • Helicopter port (with convenient access to Philadelphia International Airport, Penn’s Landing, New York, Atlantic City, Washington, D.C., etc.)

Marriott Motor Inn Philadelphia, City Line Avenue, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania

Restaurants & Bars

  • Fairfield Inn - Various contemporary All-American menu items at modest prices (burgers, fries, shakes, salads)
  • Fisherman's Wharf - Fish and seafood
  • Kona Kai - The exotic Kona Kai featured an enchanted world of sparkling waterfalls in a tropical South Seas setting to accompany a dining experience with food prepared using exotic Polynesian recipes and exotic beverages. Plus there was Polynesian inspired entertainment.
  • Sirloin & Saddle - Featuring open hearth steaks and other char-broiled entrees, as well as Sunday brunch.
  • Windjammer Lounge - Nightclub

Marriott Motor Inn Philadelphia, City Line Avenue, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania

Overview

The Santa Monica California based Armét & Davis, later renamed Armét Davis Newlove Architects, designed more than 4,000 buildings in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Indonesia. One of the firm's projects was the Kona Kai restaurant at the Marriott Motor Inn in Philadelphia.

According to Hidden City Philadelphia,

"In Sven A. Kirsten’s The Book of Tiki, which is as authoritative as the subject gets, the Marriott-run Kona Kai flagship at the mouth of the “Golden Mile” (City Line Avenue at the Schuylkill Expressway) is described as a 'true temple of Tiki.' The 'Golden Mile' refers to the mile long stretch of City Line Avenue that boasted some of the finest mid-century modern architecture in the Northeast. Kona Kai, which represented Marriott’s response to Hilton’s alliance with the still-popular Trader Vic empire and Sheraton’s relationship with Kon Tiki, was closed in 1985, not long before its parent Marriott Motor Hotel was demolished in the late 1980s."

Marriott Motor Inn Philadelphia, City Line Avenue, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania

 

Irwin & Leighton, the archirectural firm which celebared its 100th anniversary in 2009, designed the Marriott Motor Lodge in Philadelphia.  According to Irwin & Leighton

"The 'Swinging Sixties' are remembered as a time of social change and upheaval. Trends and traditions rapidly came and went, and with the changes in culture came changes in the way Americans lived, shopped, worked, and learned. The good economy of the times presented opportunities for continued growth, which Irwin & Leighton realized through strong leadership and performance. e company earned vital new customers who were pioneers within their industries. Of particular note is Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which, to this day, remains one of Irwin's core customers.The hospitality industry continued to grow during the 1960s as customers began to expect a higher standard of amenities. The 'mom ‘n’ pop' roadside motel became a thing of the past and the grand urban hotels, too, were less popular. The modern consumer was most concerned with convenience, cleanliness, and comfort. These were the virtues of the well-known Marriott Motor Inn, built by Irwin & Leighton in 1962 along City Line Avenue in Bala Cynwyd."

Marriott Motor Inn Philadelphia, City Line Avenue, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania

Insider Information

The Marriott Motor Hotel was the sole hotel in Lower Merion township in 1980. The Marriott was one of the largest hotels in the United States, and it hosted conventions and meetings year round, bringing visitors from the world over to the Bala-Cynwyd area. In a 1979 prospectus for Lower Merion Township bond sales, the Marriott was listed as the principal employer in the area, with 1,140 employees. By comparison, other major employers were the Gulf Oil Company with 350 employees; Liberty Mutual Insurance Company with 400 employees; General Refractories Comapny's corporate headquarters with 650 employees; WCAU-TV and Radio Studios with 380 employees; and Germantown Savings Bank (GSB) with 230 employees. WCAU-TV moved from Philadelphia to City Line and Monument Avenues in May 1952 and the Marriott was built directly across the street in 1961. The WCAU studio, in its early days, had an entire frontier town built behind its studio. According to the Lower Merion Historical Society, "Live TV dramas entitled 'Action in the Afternoon' were filmed in the open air, with all the accompanying noises of City Line traffic and airplanes overhead. Later six additional radio stations were built in Bala-Cynwyd."

Even though the Marriott was located just over the "city line" in the Main Line (Lower Merion Township), the hotel became a legendary go to attraction for local and visitors alike. The Marriott was situated in a trendy area of Bala Cynwyd along with high end retail of Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor, as well as residential neighborhoods including new condominium communities. The NFL (National Football Leaue) was also headquartered in Bala Cynwyd because Bert Bell, the NFL Commissioner from 1946-1959 (when he died of a heart attack), was a Philadelphia native. In January 1960, Pete Rozelle, the 33-year-old General Manager of the Rams, was selected as Bell's replacement, and he relocated the NFL's headquarters from Bala Cynwyd to Manhattan.

The Marriott was also a favorite too among Philadelphia media since the Marriott was located across the street from WPVI-TV (6ABC, Action News), WCAU-TV (CBS), and within walking distance of numerous radio stations (WCAU-FM, Hot Hits, WIOQ, WFIL, WYSP, EZ101, WDAS, etc.). Back in the 1960s and 1970s, you could also book on over to "The Library", a popular 1970s era disco at 2 Decker Square (adjacent to Saks) on City Line for dining, drinking and dancing.

Sirloin & Saddle, Marriott Motor Hotel, Philadelphia

The Marriott was also the setting for various TV and movie filming locations. Here's the opening title sequence of a little known 1988 Orion film entitled "The In Crowd". In the movie, Joe Pantoliano portrayed Philadelphia record show host Perry Parker who saw himself as a rival to Philly's own Dick Clark and American Bandstand. The In Crowd was filmed in part at the Marriott Motor Inn's Kona Kai.

On the grounds of the office building at 401 City Avenue in Bala Cynwyd (the former site of the Marriott Motor Inn on City Line Avenue), there is an historic overcup oak tree that has lived there for more than 300 years. In 1976, when the Marriott Motor Inn occupied the site, the International Society of Arboriculture and the National Arborist Association jointly recognized this significant tree in the Bicentennial Year as having lived here during the American Revolutionary period (1776-1976) when The Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States were drafted in Philadelphia.

Arborists have listed the oak tree as a "Penn tree," which means that it was alive before William Penn visited the area. Back in the 1970s, the tree provided great shade to the outdoor playground area towards the back of the Marriott hotel.

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