Tourist at the Alamo
Circa 1950s: A tourist strikes his pose
Remembering the Alamo Plaza

Born into a region of economic prosperity and at a crossroads of rail lines and new concrete highways, Alamo Plaza was founded in 1929 by E. Lee Torrance and Drummond W. Bartlett when they opened their first Alamo Plaza Tourist Apartments in the 900 block of Elm Street in Waco, Texas. Torrance and his partner had recognized the largely untapped market for affordable quality temporary lodging in Waco, and they set out to fill the need--figuring to profit along the way. Unhindered by preconceived lodging patterns of the day, Torrance was free to create a new standard of innovative hostelry. The concept he devised differed from both formal hotels and the informal roadside cabins of the era. His plan was to offer high quality lodging available at moderate rates. In order to distance his concept from all others, the Alamo Plaza Hotel Courts evolved. Offering "hotel-like" service behind the Alamo facade, his customers were sure to "Remember the Alamo Plaza!"

The Alamo facade--architectural model

From the motorist's view, the most memorable feature of an Alamo Plaza was its facade. Although Southwest adobe/stucco style buildings were not unusual when the first Alamo Plazas opened, use of the Alamo-esque facade appealed to potential patrons. Its use reminded the public of the Nation's history and called upon their patriotism. The Alamo has remained an enduring symbol, and referring to it in commercial architecture, as Torrance and Bartlett had done, created a new kind of marketing and branding tool for the hospitality industry.

Like the Alamo itself, the Alamo Plaza facade became a symbol. As the chain expanded, consumers came to associate the Alamo facade of the motel chain with the service that it advertised, rather than any historical meaning. It was place-product-packaging incarnate, and the Alamo Plaza's facade clearly told people that it represented "America's Finest Tourist Apartments."

A Beautyrest Mattress on Every Bed
Simmons furniture and Beautyrest Mattresses with Box Springs
Part of Lee Torrance's clever marketing was to emphasize the progressive quality features that were standard at Alamo Plazas. Rooms were outfitted with state-of-the-art Simmons metal furniture and Beautyrest Mattresses. Moreover, by the 1940s long before the debate had ended about the desirability of in-room telephones, most Alamo Plazas included them. Later, free televisions were added at a time when most motels either charged for their use or did not offer them at all.
Circa 1941: A growing chain
The South's Finest Apartments for Tourists

The early years of the chain were marked by a gradual if ad hoc expansion. On the surface Alamo Plaza appeared to be highly standardized with methodical central corporate planning and control. However Torrence never developed a systematic expansion or franchising plan, and each subsequent Alamo Plaza not owned by Torrence was developed by members of his family or business associates--not always with his blessing. By 1955 there were more than twenty Alamo Plazas in operation, but each ownership group was largely independent of Torrence and each other. However they all based their locations on the model that Torrence had created and profited from. In addition, other moteliers took advantage of Alamo Plaza's successes and copied parts of the model.

Touting the benefits of Alamo Plaza to prospective patrons, a circa 1948 brochure asserted and reassured:

Constant Study and Research, New Ideas and Improved Methods, New and Better Tourist Hotel Equipment are installed in Alamo Plaza Hotel Courts to provide the traveler of moderate means with the best Hotel accommodations for a reasonable price