The Scottish Origins of Downtown Phoenix’s Mid-Century Motel Masterpiece

by Douglas C. Towne
Business Development History Douglas C. Towne January 23, 2024

Downtown Phoenix’s economical lodging alternative, the Friendship Inn Motel, was once regal accommodations, at least by the sound of its original name. The Imperial 400 Motor Hotel featured a thrifty Scotsman in a kilt and the slogan, “Aye, Royal Accommodations at ‘Thr-rifty’ Rates,” which targeted consumers who may not have had access to a noble largesse.

The Imperial 400, featuring 71 rooms, opened near Five Points just south of Van Buren Street, along Seventh Avenue in 1961. The motor hotel was built by the Daum-Donaldson Construction Co. and designed by the architectural firm Buchli and Associates. Imperial 400 Motels, Inc., a Los Angeles corporation, leased the land for 99 years from the Halstead Lumber Company, which had used the site as a lumbar yard from 1914 to 1960.

Imperial 400 Motor Hotel in Downtown Phoenix, 1962. (Photo: Doug Towne)

The $750,000 motel complex featured a pair of two-story buildings facing each other and riffed off its “Five Points” location with a five-point swimming pool. The motel chain had a co-owner-resident-manager format, with Milton and Martha Mauzy serving in this capacity.

The Imperial 400’s grand opening included an open house for the public and a performance by James Young, a red-bearded, bagpipe-playing man who served as the kilted goodwill ambassador of the motel chain. Curious visitors could investigate rooms that included “electric individually controlled heat, color-coordinated rooms, air conditioning, and a heat lamp in the ceiling above the bath for additional comfort” for $8-12 per night.

The first Imperial 400 Motel, designed by the architectural firm of Palmer & Krisel, was built in Los Angeles on Sunset Boulevard across the street from Hollywood High School in 1959. This prototype was the only motel to remain company-owned. It was used to train new franchise partners in guest relations and motel management, according to the blog “Southern California Architectural History.”

Imperial 400 Motor Hotel five-sided pool in Downtown Phoenix, 1962. (Photo: Doug Towne)

Initially, three more Imperial 400s were built on Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix at 3830 East Van Buren. The motel chain then launched a franchise campaign and soon boasted of opening a new location every ten days. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, the Downtown Phoenix Imperial 400 was the 23rd motel in seven states, and there were projected to be 179 franchised Imperial 400s by 1965.

A search of newspaper articles indicates that relations between the Imperial 400 franchises and the corporation were often contentious, with both Phoenix co-owner managers filing lawsuits in the mid-1960s. Eventually, the Imperial 400 chain overextended financially and was brought out in 1987.

The Downtown Phoenix motel has been fickle about its name over the years, changing to the Friendship Inn in 1972, the Travel Inn in 1986, and by 2004 it reverted to the Friendship Inn. It’s one of many Imperial 400s that survive, relatively unchanged, though operating under another name. The motel remains vital to the Downtown community by not only offering budget accommodations but also as an outstanding example of modernist design.

“These [Imperial 400s] were truly the work of the ‘Modernists for the Masses’ Palmer & Krisel,” according to the architectural blog.

Decorative breezeblock at Friendship Inn in Downtown Phoenix, 2022. (Photo: Doug Towne)