Airline Highway, also known as the storied Route 61 or The Blues Highway, is dotted with motels.
Some of these are known for their more sordid pasts. It was at one of these Airline inns a little farther south, Sugar Bowl Courts in Metairie, that famous pastor and televangelist Jimmy Swaggart met with the disgrace that would cost him his career in 1987.
Some of the highway’s motels were wildly popular in the mid- to late 1900s, characterized by sunny pools and striking architecture. Three such motels—Oak Manor Hotel Court, The Shades Motel and the Watson Motel—were popular until the 1990s, but they now sit in disrepair, and some have been entirely replaced by facilities more suited to Baton Rouge’s growing urban culture.
Special thanks to Emily Ward of East Baton Rouge Parish Library for her research assistance.
OAK MANOR HOTEL COURT
8181 Airline Highway
Built: Building permit issued March 23, 1952; built by Lewis Construction Co.
Once grandiose and brimming with guests, the Oak Manor Motel is entirely gone. Today, a Home Depot stands in its place.
An Aug. 1, 1959, issue of The Register describes the establishment as “one of the most striking sights in the South” and as having an “excellent English Tudor style.”
Oak Manor, with 200 rooms and 10 suites on 14 acres of tree-shaded land, continued to be a fancied destination until the shift of business to other areas of Baton Rouge at the end of the 20th century. The exact dates of the hotel’s demolition and the Home Depot’s construction are unknown.
THE SHADES MOTEL
8282 Airline Highway
Built: Original date is unknown, but a permit for a $12,000 addition to the building was issued in October 1955 for J.C. Temple
Though dated and unassuming, this one-story motel, originally owned by a Mr. Curtis Shade, is still fully functional and even has a website. But its once-sunny pool has been filled in with concrete.
Most of the old newspaper references to the motel we found were about reports of criminal activity there. A Feb. 3, 1959, story reports on a couple arrested for cashing multiple fraudulent checks at The Shades. A July 25, 1968, article describes the arrest of the “Baton Rouge Bonnie & Clyde,” a couple who robbed a New Orleans man staying at the motel.
Still, a July 1974 brochure from the Baton Rouge Motel-Hotel Association lists The Shades Motel as “a little of the country in the middle of the city,” boasting its all-color TV, ground-floor rooms and free continental breakfast.
THE WATSON MOTEL
Approximately 16000 Airline Highway, across the highway from where Deep South Crane & Rigging is today
Built: Building permit issued July 3, 1960; built by Watson himself
The Watson Motel was built in the early 1960s and was slowly abandoned starting in the early ’90s. Around the time of its closing, the Morning Advocate stated it had a reputation for attracting prostitutes.
In February 2015, blogger and former Baton Rouge resident Colleen Kane took a trip to explore the deteriorating motel and found signs of its once-active nightlife scene: leftover cans of Red Dog, a neon Budweiser Light sign (the beverage’s name as a new beer in 1982) and a bar ledger in which the last entry recorded was in 1995.
Until July 2015, the motel stood decrepit, covered in overgrown plants and almost entirely invisible from the highway. The site has since been cleared and leveled, though there is no word of any upcoming construction.
SOURCES: historic copies of The Advocate, the Morning Advocate, the State Times, Abandoned Baton Rouge and The Register magazine
TURNING BACK TIME
We were inspired to create a feature about local history after discovering the Facebook group “You grew up in Baton Rouge if you remember when…” With nearly 12,000 members, the group generates several nostalgia-inspiring discussions among its members each week. We’ve scrolled through hundreds of posts to find some of the most interesting topics to tackle with our own research. Follow along with us each month for more Baton Rouge nostalgia, and check out the Facebook group at facebook.com/groups/OfficialBatonRougeHistoricalGroup.