The Blue Bonnet Court - Austin's Oldest Surviving Motor Court
By: motoraustin 8/22/2016 8:00:00 AM
Behold, the Blue Bonnet Court!
It's one of Austin's first motor courts.
It is a historic gem, hidden in plain sight.
It still stands. But how long will it survive?
History of the Blue Bonnet Court
The Blue Bonnet Court is located at 4407 Guadalupe (near 45th st.) and is the oldest motor court in Austin.
The business was started by Joe and Elizabeth Lucas in 1929 and was originally called Bluebonnet Tourist Camp.
The owners picked this location for strategic reasons.
- Guadalupe was the main road (Highway 81) to Dallas.
- Guadalupe was scheduled to be paved in 1930.
- It was across the street from the Texas State Hospital, built in 1857.
If you were visiting the State Hospital from out of town you probably stayed at the Blue Bonnet.
Although it was originally called a "tourist camp" the building resembled the classic architecture of a motor court.
Motor courts had unique characteristics.
- They were typically built close to the roadway.
- The building layout was typically parallel or U-shaped structures.
- The earliest courts had a garage between each room.
- Many had an ornate fascade that served to attract attention and provide a sence of privacy within the court.
The structure was built by the Brydson Lumber and Construction Company in Austin. However, the rock fascade might have been added by the owner. According to Gaye Lucas, the grand daughter of Joseph Lucas, "The fancy rock front was built with rock hauled back themselves from around Marble Falls, Texas. The rest of the place was rather plain, because that's all they could afford."
First Neon Sign in Austin
The Lucas' sold the motor court in 1937 to John and Marie Maige.
At some point they changed the name to Blue Bonnet Court.
The name change was probably an effort to align with the current trend in lodging. Tourist camps were declining in popularity and motor courts, with their more comfortable accomodations, began springing up on main roads everywhere.
Along with the new name came a bright neon sign.
Although I can't find an authoritative historical source for this (yet), the Blue Bonnet Court sign was apparently the first neon sign in Austin.
The Maige family owned the business for over twenty years. They eventually sold it in 1958 to Ruth Woollett, who currently owns the property.
The Slow Decline of Motor Courts
With the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 traffic patterns began to change. Year after year, fewer travelers chose the slower business route on Guadalupe and Congress.
However, this was a boon for new motels that built along Interstate Highway 35.
The days of the mom and pop motor courts that adorned the main street through town were numbered.
Will It Survive
Today, the Blue Bonnet Court operates as low-income housing.
Thankfully, it's located far enough from downtown Austin to be passed over by the bulldozer of progress.
In 1990 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but that designation provides zero legal protection. "Listing on the National Register alone does not place restrictions on the property owner, nor does it necessarily preserve a property in the future."
The Blue Bonnet Court is a great, and rare, example of motor court architecture.
If you're interested in automotive history, you best go get a few photos while it still exists.
Blue Bonnet Court
4407 Guadalupe Street
What's the difference between a motor court and a motel? Good question! To answer that we have to dig into the history and evolution of the automobile age!
How the Automobile Age Created Motels