By Mark Okrant, NH Travel Guru
Despite this country’s ongoing effort to modernize its built environment, the contemporary cultural landscape is dotted with fully operational, albeit aging treasures—including travel services dating to the 1950s and earlier. Fortunately, not every roadside motel and diner, nor every railroad hotel, has been replaced by a shopping mall, condominium, or parking lot.
Under proper management, numerous vintage purveyors of hospitality—i.e., lodging and dining establishments—are thriving despite competition from omnipresent, cookie-cutter franchise hotels and restaurants.
As the author of a book on motels titled, “No Vacancy: the Rise, Demise and Reprise of America’s Motels” (Plaidswede, 2013), I have a scholarly, yet emotional investment in the continued survival of these properties. I’ve argued for decades, with mixed success, against those who question the quality and cleanliness of motels, opting instead to stay in the Marriotts, Hiltons, or Westins of this world.
Recently, circumstances necessitated that my wife and I find a place to stay for several nights in Los Angeles. A recommendation prompted my wife to visit Yelp, one of those websites where one can read past guests’ endorsements of specific properties. Several hours later, to our good fortune, we found ourselves in the tiny office of the Villa Brasil Motel, located in the Culver City community of Los Angeles. This proved to be the beginning of a beautiful experience.
We soon learned that the Villa Brasil Motel is owned and managed by two Brazilian immigrants, Fatima Donvito and her husband Marcelino. Discovering the background stories of little gems like the Villa Brasil is half the charm of such experiences. These are far more fun than franchise properties, where corporate general managers remain faceless, and interactions with staff are impersonal at best.
About the Villa Brasil: twenty years ago, Fatima emigrated to Los Angeles looking for a means to earn a living. A charming, petite, silver-haired bundle of energy, she decided that operating a motel would suit her. Unlike most remaining motel properties in the U.S., the Villa Brasil was not constructed to serve the needs of the traveling public. Situated along Washington Boulevard, this was designed as a Section 8 residence, providing housing and medical care for low-income people.
The property was derelict when Fatima purchased it in the late 1990s. By 1998, she had sufficiently remodeled it to begin operation as an eighteen room motel. With her new business thriving, Fatima decided to purchase the adjoining medical clinic building, which was converted into the charming, delicious Café Brasil, in 2006.
Entering through an archway framed by flowering trees, the Villa Brasil will remind experienced travelers of stepping into a small plaza in a Brazilian village. Abundant flowers, café tables, and charming knick-knacks line the exterior walls of the U-shaped motel; meanwhile the dulcet sounds of a bossa nova sound track contribute to the ambiance. All of this translates into high occupancy rates, and a substantial number of returning guests.
The purpose of this column has not been to promote the Villa Brasil Motel. Rather, let this serve as an appeal for readers to support those remaining mom and pop establishments, whose owners’ principal raison d’être is to serve guests, not add to an unseen bank account.
Even in the face of long hours performing as hosts, housekeepers, chief cooks and bottle washers, these small scale operators never forget the importance of ‘getting up-close and personal’ with their clientele. My hope is that our grandchildren and great grandchildren will have the opportunity to enjoy these experiences.
After forty years as an educator, researcher, and consultant, Mark Okrant joins IndepthNH.org to offer concise, informative insight into New Hampshire’s travel and tourism industry as a business, while showcasing the people and places you want to know. This guy’s really been around. And, he’s funny, too.
For more about Mark’s compelling tourism-based murder mystery series, visit www.markokrant.com.
For information on current things to do in New Hampshire, go to: http://www.visitnh.gov/what-to-do/event-calendar.aspx