Dunes Hotel

The rise & fall of mid-century tourism

In the middle of the twentieth century, the developers of the Dunes sought to attract a new generation of travelers to the American west by locating it along 
Van Buren Avenue, which was arguably Phoenix's central artery. The Federal Highway system, buil in the 1920s and 1930s converged at the edges of Phoenix, and highwyas 60, 70, 80, & 89 flowed through the city, including along Van Buren Avenue.  These highways traversed the American Southwest, bringing out-of-town visitors that generated growth in the region's tourism industry.

Van Buren Avenue held a symbiotic relationship with The Dunes Hotel. The Dunes Hotel would not have been around if it had not been for the creation of the Federal Highways (60,70,80,89) and during the New Deal Van Buren street was worked on during the New Deal Road Improvement which allowed for easier access to Phoenix. This also created a tourist industry that would pick up in the 1940s as tourists from all over the country stopping on Van Buren to gets a night's rest. Eventually, these motels/hotels would change in look and what they offered as they tried to beat their competitors. Van Buren in the 1950s was the place to be as the Federal Highways allowed travelers to drive through Van Buren street and stay for a couple of nights and explore the surrounding area. The tourist industry allowed Phoenix to grow as a city and motel/hotels started to become frequent. So frequent were these motel/hotel business started to try to outdo one another by tapping into popular themes, The Dunes Hotel represented the desert. The themes were supposed to distract travelers and make them forget they were in the desert of Phoenix but send them somewhere else like a theme park. On Van Buren, you could see themes like Polynesian (Kon Tiki Motor Hotel), Native American (Navajo Motel), and even a log cabin (Log Cabin Motel). It would not be until the 1970s that Van Buren started to disappear from travelers' minds. With the installation of the Maricopa Freeway, and later Papago Freeway travelers could pass Van Buren hurting hotels like The Dunes Hotel. Motels that we're able to get near the freeway exits were able to keep getting customers. In this time the populace shifts from young families traveling the country to a mature audience. With motels now putting up "adult" signs and prostitution running rampant it scared off what little tourism Van Buren had left. By 1991 the Van Buren was reflecting poverty, crime, and lack of care for outward appearance. Once warm places to take your family with large neon signs became locations with signs over them saying "No Trespassing." The Dunes Hotel like many on Van Buren fell to changing times. The highways allowed for The Dunes Hotel's success and failure. As travelers were forced to go down Van Buren Street a tourist economy rose. Along with the Dunes Hotel it was believed there were 150 motels on that existed in Van Buren. But once the installation of the Maricopa Freeway was finished people did not need to stop on Van Buren. Now there have been efforts to preserve these hotels/motels like the Log Cabin Motel. But with little funding or public outcry, these historic sites are being destroyed and left as a lot/dilapidated leaving little trace of the glory years on Van Buren Street.



2935 E. Van Buren