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 Howard Johnson's: Bay City, MI
HoJomaniacs UNITE! Dan and I were able to meet with Cactus Bob, his sister, and mother for a HoJo's dinner under the Orange Roof. Pictured are (L to R) Katy, Cactus Bob, me, and Dan. While we all enjoyed the Howard Johnson's atmosphere and the very reasonable prices, little of the food proved to be authentic HoJo's. Most disappointing was that neither the ice cream nor the pancakes were authentic (trust me, once you've had the real thing, you can tell the difference).
See Cactus Bob's pictures here
No HoJopalooza is really complete without a visit to an operating Howard Johnson's, so it was with much anticipation that we headed north to Bay City! While the Restaurant is not one that has been continuously operating as a HoJo's, it was reborn mid-way through the FAI era. Except for a few years when it operated as an independent and then was closed, it has been a Howard Johnson's. The complex, opened in the mid 1960s, has seen a host of changes over the years. The adjacent Motor Lodge was converted into a Best Western in the '70s, and by 2001 it had become a Best Value Inn. In 2004, the former Motor Lodge's existence had become unclear. While it still used its Best Value Inn signage, it no longer was actually a Best Value Inn, but instead had taken the name Creekside Inn. Rumors indicated that the location might undergo a massive stuccoization to become a Days Inn.

 Former Arby's: Lansing, MI

 Former HoJo's: Grand Rapids-East, MI
Having somewhat satisfied our need to see a real Howard Johnson's, I snapped a few more pictures before heading south into a strange mixture of snow, rain, and brilliant sunshine. Backtracking through Flint, we mapped out a route through Michigan's capital, Lansing. Alas the city proved to be a bust. No HoJo's remains appear to have survived, and all I saw of even moderate interest was a former "Chuck Wagon" Arby's near the Michigan State University campus. Even Lansing's Motor Lodge, once a part of the Helmsley Hotel empire, succumbed to the pressures of rising real estate values. It was demolished and replaced with a Lowes Home Improvement Center. Undaunted, we rode on with our day's destination in mind--Benton Harbor, and with hopes of seeing what might remain around the next bend.
Arby's History here
Unlike Lansing, Grand Rapids had remains of both its Howard Johnson's Motor Lodges. Frankly, East is not much to see, but at least it exists. However West proved to be well worth the trip. Not built along an Interstate, it seems like a strange location. Vintage postcard views show it at its best and that it originally had a Nims-type Restaurant detached from the Motor Lodge.
See Cactus Bob's site here

 Former HoJo's: Grand Rapids-West, MI

Pulling up first into the Motor Lodge's parking lot, I drove around to the back of the property, but did not take any pictures. Apparently a renovation effort was underway, for piles of HoJo's era Landmark Supply room furniture were heaped near the dumpster. Padded headboards, desks and chairs all recently plucked from rooms--why hadn't I brought a truck! If you visit Cactus Bob's site, he has posted a room photo showing the authentic HJ furniture of the same type that Dan and I witnessed being discarded. Unfortunately the former Motor Lodge has not been well maintained, and the Patels running it were most inhospitable.

For the Restaurant, at some point near the end of its existence as a Howard Johnson's, calamity struck. Perhaps there was a tragic fire that resulted with the original Nims-type building burning down? At any rate, the HoJo's Restaurant was rebuilt as a non-standard Mansard. Much smaller than its predecessor, the Restaurant looks to be from about 1980. By 2004 it had been renamed Casey Stengel’s, and had suffered minor alterations. Only open for breakfast and lunch, its Orange roof and original Landmark Supply fixtures and furnishings remained largely intact.


 Former HoJo's: Battle Creek, MI

 Former HoJo's: Kalamazoo,MI

Back headed south, a snow squall caught us by surprise, but even though Dan thought that I should slow the pace, we hastened to the next ruin! Battle Creek once proudly could boast that it had a Motor Lodge and Restaurant for the convenience of its citizens and travelers alike, but today the complex is hardly recognizable. The Motor Lodge has suffered major alteration with only a portion of a guest building remaining--no doubt the rooms do not retain any HoJo-ness. The Restaurant, while it still vaguely maintained part of its shape, was not a pretty sight. I did not even properly note what it had become!

Thank goodness for Kalamazoo! At first though, another disappointment loomed as we discovered no evidence of the Motor Lodge that was once along I-94. The Country Inn & Suites that uses the Howard Johnson's address is a completely new structure. Kalamazoo's Motor Lodge is the only one in Michigan that I have no images of to post. Not expecting to find the stand-alone Restaurant that was closer to downtown Kalamazoo, we were amazed to find it! Angled at an intersection at the base of a hill, the Restaurant had excellent visibility. Furthermore it was located across the street from a motel which had once guaranteed that it would not only have locals but a percentage of the tourist trade too. Alas its last tenant, Lee's Garden serving Chinese Cuisine, has moved on. Now vacant, how much longer will the old HoJo's building endure?


 Former Horne's: Lawrence, MI

(this is not a Waffle House, but an independant restaurant called Waffle House of America)
In the course of traveling, it is often easy to spot the remnants of former chains that emulated or borrowed some of Howard Johnson's successful ideas. Horne's was such a chain, for it beckoned travelers to "Look for the Yellow Roof" the same way HoJo's had us dine under its Orange Roof. Thus, it used architecture to build a standard and easily recognizable image. Hornes grew from roadside stands inspired by Stuckey's into a medium sized hospitality chain with restaurants and motor Lodges throughout the Eastern United States and parts of Canada by the late 1960s.

Soon after leaving Kalamazoo, the skies cleared. With good afternoon sun, Benton Harbor was a welcome site even as a Days Inn and Empire Buffet!  It must have been a popular Motor Lodge and Restaurant. Built immediately along I-94, we could watch the traffic pass from our second floor room. The enclosed pool offered another close vista of the Interstate. This had been a Motor Lodge full of amenities for its lucky patrons--shuffleboard, BBQ pits, game room, meeting rooms, enclosed all-weather pool, and Restaurant--what more could anyone have asked for!

Not only is it sited along the Interstate, but it is also situated on a very large piece of real estate which has allowed for at least one major expansion over the years. Once a prime exit, the Howard Johnson's had a Holiday Inn and a Hilton as neighbors. Later the Hilton became a Ramada. In decline by 2004, the future for this former Motor Lodge like so many others is uncertain. The property is still in reasonably good condition, but today relies on longer term renters and itinerant workman to keep it in business. No longer do many businessmen or families stop to be Rest Assured and then Dine at this former Host of the Highways.

 Former HoJo's: Benton Harbor, MI

 Former HoJo's: Benton Harbor, MI

 Former Bill Knapps: Benton Harbor, MI
Just across the street from the former Benton Harbor HoJo's is a former Bill Knapps. Founded in Battle Creek in 1948, Bill Knapps grew into a large regional chain serving road food similar to Howard Johnson's. The privately held company faltered and failed when it adopted a plan in 1998 to remake the company's image. The last 29 Bill Knapps Restaurants were closed in August of 2002, three months after the company had filed for bankruptcy protection.

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