Postcard circa 1970s
Monroeville, Pennsylvania
 -- 22 48th St

The Monroeville complex was opened in 1973, and featured a modern high-rise 289 room Motor Lodge, along with its Restaurant, Cocktail Lounge, and disco. Built near a Pennsylvania Turnpike Interchange, the site served travelers as well as locals and became a landmark and social hub.

Developed and owned by a colorful figure, the complex's origins began in 1960 when Al Monzo, an excavation contractor, bought the 13 acre parcel of land that the Monroeville HoJo's was built on. Although the site was adjacent to one of Pennsylvania's most heavily trafficked intersections, it was low land not well suited for any building development much less a Motor Lodge and Restaurant complex. Thus over the years and without proper permits, Monzo used the spoils from his excavation jobs to create the prime real-estate where his HJ was sited.

Photographs courtesy of Bob Venditti

An atypical Howard Johnson's, Al Monzo dubbed his franchise the "Casa Di Monzo!" Although the site featured a large restaurant, it like the rest of the complex deviated from the norm. Nonetheless standard HoJo's fare was offered in a coffee shop setting. It is likely that the restaurant arrangement was similar to the New Orleans-Downtown Howard Johnson's which featured a small coffee shop as well as a large dining room (the John James Audubon Room) that was less a HoJo's and more an independent restaurant that served signature Howard Johnson's foods in addition to house specialties (a couple of similar examples; Deerfield Beach, Denver-Airport).


Bob Braughler, a western Pennsylvania native, worked at Monroeville during its heyday and has vividly described the scene on his blog. It is an excellent account of the times as well as the "wild" Casa Di Monzo!
Photographs courtesy of Phil Edwards

After the Howard Johnson Company was sold in 1985, Monzo and the brand's new owner, Prime Motor Inns, were not able to come to terms with a revised franchise agreement. Although the Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge sign remained lit until 1989, the site was no longer properly listed in Howard Johnson directories as Mr. Monzo had refused to pay Prime the 2.5 percent franchise fee that it demanded. Finally Monzo converted the Motor Lodge into Al Monzo's Palace Inn. Upon his death in 2000, his widow Daisy Rose Monzo, and their daughters continued to run the Palace Inn until it served its last patron on June 2, 2004.

After the family closed the Palace Inn, the whole site was fenced off and has remained empty since 2004. A developer named Craig Cozza has indicated an interest in converting the former HoJo's into a casino with up to 500 slot machines, but state law will likely put a damper on the idea. No doubt the buildings are rapidly deteriorating and something must be done soon if they are to be reused.