Hotels and Motels, Rest Stops, U.S. Highways

Then and Now – City Center Motel, Mauston, Wisconsin

2009. City Center Motel on U.S. 12 and the former U.S. 16, now WI state highway 16.

Can you imagine old cars lining the building in that parking lot? Can you imagine parents running after their kids along that second story railing? Can you imagine how noisy those air conditioners were?

Seeing the City Center Motel like this in 2009 was probably the first time I felt a strong need to document the architecture of the American roadside during the heyday of auto tourism.  We were on a U.S. 12 road trip in Wisconsin when we drove up on this motel in Mauston, Wisconsin. It took my breath away. All at once I felt a rush of sadness at its current condition, but also a wave of happiness.

The City Center Motel postcard from its early, single-story days.

Mauston wasn’t a destination. No doubt the travelers that stayed at the City Center Motel were on their way to the Wisconsin Dells, or to Milwaukee, Madison, Minneapolis or Chicago…or points farther. I’m sure it wasn’t always the case, but I like to think the travelers that stayed here were excited, happy and enjoying their trips.

In the years since that first visit, I’ve come across a couple of postcards that depict the motel in those earlier, happier times.

Vintage postcard of the updated, two-story City Center Motel.

Looking at the postcards proves business at the City Center Motel was thriving at some point – They added a whole second story!

2009. Abandoned City Center Motel.

But at some point it fell into disrepair and was abandoned.  According to the Juneau County Star-Times newspaper, the building had become a detriment to the community. As of 2010, it hadn’t welcomed travelers for years, says the newspaper. It no longer met building codes, and became an eyesore on Mauston’s main thoroughfare. At one point, the city of Mauston couldn’t even find the owner to issue its demolition order.

Demolition Auction Notice in 2010. Photo from the Juneau County Star-Times.

Eventually they found him in a suburb of Chicago and issued the order.

2011 – Former site of the City Center Motel, Mauston.

After months of back and forth “discussions” between the owner and the city, the City Center Motel was demolished. During another one of our road trips though the region in 2011 we found nothing remaining except the u-shaped concrete platform the motel once sat on.

2017. Former site of City Center Motel, Mauston.

We drove by it again last weekend on our way to Minnesota. It’s still a vacant lot…..

2017 Former Site of City Center Motel. Available for sale.

…..this time it was for sale.

I prefer to think of it in its heyday.

I know not every building can be saved. And not every building’s story can be told. But I like imagining what these walls could say about the roadside memories shared within them. I’m so grateful for the old postcards I’ve found of the City Center Motel too – they captured it at the high point of its life. And I prefer to think of it this way.

Sources and Further Reading:
Juneau County Star-Times
Razing and Revitalizing Recommended in Mauston – Juneau County Star-Times
City Center Motel Owner Can’t Be Found – Juneau County Star-Times