updated: the snow flake motel
An update on this snowflake-shaped architectural wonder is on claass HAUS today.
Several months ago, I posted a look at the Snow Flake Motel, an often misidentified and now demolished roadside inn. Recently, I came across the building's National Register of Historic Places nomination as well as several more photographs taken by John Margolies in 1991 that offer further insight into the history of this architectural oddity.
A Midwestern marvel, the Snow Flake Motel, sometimes misattributed to Frank Lloyd Wright, once stood along a quiet stretch of road near St. Joseph, Michigan, a sleepy resort town less than two hours east of Chicago. In 1958, local businessman Sahag Sarkisian commissioned Wright's Taliesin Fellowship (later Taliesin Associated Architects) to design a luxury roadside hotel (apparently he got the idea to contact Wright from Carl Schultz, a close friend who lived in a home designed by the architect). Designed by William Wesley Peters, Wright’s son-in-law and protégé, the uniquely shaped motel epitomized modern hospitality, offering ice makers and color TVs in each room and a lounge called “The Flake” that served sophisticated cocktails to groups of well-heeled tourists.
Opened to the public in 1962, the motel complex resembled an abstracted snowflake comprised of six units (5 v-shaped and 1 y-shaped) arranged around a central courtyard. Covered by a sawtoothed metal roof, the concrete block sections were connected by an open metal canopy of interlocking hexagons. The canopy covered a paved surface that continued around the building, uniting the complex and creating individual patio spaces for guests. A large, heated pool crowned by a geodesic dome-like structure (never completed) stood as the centerpiece of the motel, while a wide expanse of interior green space supplied each room with access to the thoughtfully landscaped courtyard. The motel office extended outward from the building in continuation of the garden's linear arrangement of water features.
During the 1960s, the 57-room motel found success as a steady stream of guests sought comfortable rooms, modern amenities, and memorable architectural spaces. But business didn’t last, and Sarkisian sold the Snow Flake in 1979 to William and Carlene Lymburner, who worked to restore the motel before selling it in 1986. Ten years later, the Snow Flake began operating as the St. Joseph Inn, catering to long-term residents. In 2006, despite its listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the Snow Flake was demolished.
Like many roadside motels from the period, the Snow Flake's demise is not surprising. The interstate highway system and the growth of major hotel chains left many small motels struggling or neglected in the latter decades of the twentieth century. Even its association with Wright (it remains unclear if the architect offered any input on the' design, but owners did use his name on signage) couldn't save the motel from eventual deterioration. Today only a vaguely hexagonal form remains on the vacant lot along St. Joseph's Red Arrow Highway, a quiet reminder of a past highway highlight.
Image at top: eBay.com
Rooms by the Hour
5/14/2020 06:02:18 pm
When I was a kid in the seventies my family would visit Southwestern Michigan every year.
9/27/2020 01:52:09 pm
In 1976, we spent our honeymoon at the Snowflake. When we woke up in the morning, we found roses on our car. We happened by years later to find it partially razed. I was able to find our room still standing for a photograph.
11/13/2020 07:26:08 pm
Stayed there several times in the early 80s I drove a truck from St. Louis and the company would have the drivers layover there and return back to St. Louis the next nite. Company Was Be-Mac Transport
1/4/2021 01:38:00 pm
As a kid growing up my grandmother used to work in the restaurant and the bar. I spent much of my childhood growing up on that land working in the kitchen and exploring those grounds. Some fun memories.
12/1/2021 12:32:27 am
My Mother worked at the smow flake for years its her car parked in the pic on this site. to CORRECT all Frank Lloyd Wright DID design the motel he arrived in St Joe met the land owners and designed the structure. Started by he himself and finished by his son and Grandson. The flaws were easily spotted the snow and ice slid off the roof hitting parked cars due to the steel structure and metal roof, patio doors froze shut as the rooms were built flush with the ground. And finally snow removal inside the flake was impossible as there was no place to put it. I spent many years at the snow flake it makes me very sad it was torn down. St Joe should have tried to fix its issues and kept it going as it truly was a marvel.
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