Promotional Photographs circa 1956: Kummerlowe
Willow Grove, Pennsylvania
 --US 611 @ Penna Tpke

Believed to have been the second Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge complex in Pennsylvania, the 99 room Willow Grove facility opened in 1956 (Breezewood also opened in 1956). Like its sister Motor Lodge in Horsham, the Willow Grove unit was developed and owned by the locally powerful Hankin family and became a link in their chain of seven motels and larger real estate empire. While the family owned two Howard Johnson's, their five other motels were called George Washington Motor Lodges and all offered the most modern accommodations of the era.

After the death of the family patriarch, his children became embroiled in a long-running feud that pitted brothers and sister against brothers. Unable to reach agreement to settle the large estate, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was eventually called to rule on the case which lasted from 1977 until the middle 1980s!


Long an integral part of the Willow Grove complex and a local landmark, the Restaurant was likely a franchised unit that later came to be owned and operated directly by the Howard Johnson Company. It benefited from its excellent site and its Gleaming Orange Roof that could be seen by motorists as they sped along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Since it had such a good site, the Restaurant remained a Howard Johnson's even after the Motor Lodge was stripped of its HJ in 1973.

Recognizing the highly visible spot, Marriott upon its purchase of Howard Johnson's announced that it would convert the Willow Grove unit into a Big Boy and have it operating by Christmas of 1986.


Upon learning of the conversion plans and after having worked her final shift, Kitty Lachman who had worked at the Willow Grove HoJo's since 1970 told a reporter that "There's a lot of people upset...I put a lot of myself into it, a lot of my life into it--I feel like I'm losing a part of myself."

Ms. Lachman added, "We have regulars that just come in for coffee and talk to their friends. They don't know where they're going to go." Finally she finished by saying, "Some of the customers were in tears because it was the only place they could get ice cream...I know it's good ice cream. I scooped it for 16 years. I feel sorry for the customers who looked forward to the ice cream, the clams, the fish--they don't like the ice cream at other places..."


Marriott ceased the Howard Johnson's operations on September 4, 1986, but it was never reopened much less converted into a Big Boy. Eventually the entire Willow Grove complex was demolished and a Pep Boys was built at its site.

Postcards circa 1960s-1970s: Kummerlowe
Willow Grove was built on the primest of real-estate adjacent to the then recently opened Delaware River Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the Willow Grove Interchange. While it boasted of its modern amenities, it was completely non-standard since the Howard Johnson Company had not yet adopted the prototype design devised by Rufus Nims and his associates (see Ft. Myers, Ocala and Little Rock for early examples).
Postcard circa 1960s: Dan Donahue
Promotional Photographs circa 1956: Kummerlowe
Luxurious and lavishly decorated public areas like the lobby, meeting rooms and lounge were offered to guests at the Willow grove Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge.
Deluxe by the standards of the day, Willow Grove's guest rooms were a cut above most roadside motels, but were not designed to Howard Johnson's standards which became mandatory after the complex was opened.

Following the sibling squabble and as part of the court ordered liquidation process of the Hankin's family holdings, Tollman-Hundley Inns Ltd. purchased the George Washingtons in Willow Grove, Norristown, Trevose, Valley Forge, and Allentown as well as the former HoJo's in Willow Grove and Horsham for $19 million in 1982.

All built in the 1950s and early 1960s, the Motor Lodges had suffered from age and neglect. Unfortunately Tollman-Hundley was only able to muster token effort to rehabilitate the properties. The large George Washington Lodge and convention center built in 1963 at Willow Grove opposite the HoJo's was closed and sold in 1993. By the middle 2000s, like the HoJo's no trace of it could be found.

Advertisement March 7, 1988
The Daily Intelligencer


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