by Mike Donnelly and Leslie Layton
The nine-unit Grove Motel north of Willows on the old Highway 99 has been in the family of Gene Del Pape since 1957. Its sign is a rusting relic with peeling, powder-blue paint and unlit neon.
“They don’t make signs like that anymore,” says Del Pape, noting that it was featured in a historical book. When his father bought the motel on what is now called County Road 99W, it was a four-unit building, a motor court where cars parked between units on a well-traveled highway.
Remnants of these classic American icons from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s can be seen up and down the old motoring routes. “No Vacancy.” “Eat.” “Cocktails”, they call out — if you can still read them as they decay in the crumbling ruins of road stops. Weary travelers now stop at fast-food restaurants and corporate hotel chains on the Interstate.
But the old Highway 99 signs still have their purpose. They are historical reference points to a rich and colorful era that should be preserved. And the Grove Motel will, for the time being, continue to serve travelers who venture off Northern California’s speedways.