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Motels are typically constructed in an "I"-, "L"-, or "U"-shaped layout that includes guest rooms; an attached manager's office; a small reception; and in some cases, a small diner and a swimming pool.A motel was typically single-story with rooms opening directly onto a parking lot, making it easy to unload suitcases from a vehicle.A second story, if present, would face onto a balcony served by multiple stairwells. Route 66 is the most popular example of the "neon era". In some motels, a handful of rooms would be larger and contain kitchenettes or apartment-like amenities; these rooms were marketed at a higher price as "efficiencies" as their occupants could prepare food themselves instead of incurring the cost of eating all meals in restaurants.The post-war motels, especially in the early 1950s to late 1960s, sought more visual distinction, often featuring eye-catching colorful neon signs which employed themes from popular culture, ranging from Western imagery of cowboys and Indians to contemporary images of spaceships and atomic era iconography. Rooms with connecting doors (so that two standard rooms could be combined into one larger room) also commonly appeared in both hotels and motels.
Entering dictionaries after World War II, the word motel, coined as a portmanteau contraction of "motor hotel", originates from the Milestone Mo-Tel of San Luis Obispo, California (now called the Motel Inn of San Luis Obispo), which was built in 1925.The next step up from the travel trailer was the cabin camp, a primitive but permanent group of structures.During the Great Depression, landholders whose property fronted onto highways built cabins to convert unprofitable land to income; some opened tourist homes.Several historic motels are listed on the US National Register of Historic Places.Motels differ from hotels in their location along highways, as opposed to the urban cores favored by hotels, and their orientation to the outside (in contrast to hotels, whose doors typically face an interior hallway).