Filed Under Tourism

Rose Bowl Auto Court

The Rose Bowl Auto Court was the prototypical automobile court of the 1930s. Two wings of cottages, with adjacent carports, faced a long central courtyard with a lawn, palm trees, and a small swimming pool. It's buildings were both heated and cooled (the first generation of air conditioning.) Even better, the court was situated along Phoenix's East Van Buren Avenue, along which U.S. Federal Highways 60, 70, 80, & 89 flowed. The coast-to-coast highway brought the first generation of automobile tourists to the American west.

The owners of the Rose Bowl emerged as leaders in the Valley's early hotel industry. In 1949, Michael Mikol (who purchased the property after World War II) helped to establish the Phoenix Chapter of the Arizona Motel Association which had the owners of 40 auto court hotels as charter members. Elected as president of the organization, Mikol also represented Phoenix to the Arizona Motel Association, along with fellow hotelier Ralph Hawkins (who operated the nearby King's Rest Motor Court.) The Phoenix Chapter sought innovative ways to lure guests to member hotels. Groups like the Arizona Motel Association played a vital role in promoting tourism in the state and region. In 1953, for instance, it began offering "western barbecues and square dances" for winter visitors to the city. Not only did it promote tourism but also worked to better the region. For example, according to the Arizona Republic, in 1949 the organization had a committee to investigate "smog, smoke, and dust in the air over Phoenix, and to aid in finding a remedy for the problem."

Mikol himself was the sort of entrepreneur who contributed much to the region and state's development. He was active in the region's cultural organizations. A Polish-German immigrant, Mikol belonged to a Polish social organization--the Pulaski Club of the Valley and the Orpheus Male Chorus, where he served as President. (The group performed at the 1961 dinner honoring Senator Carl Hayden at the Westward Ho Hotel, at which President Kennedy also spoke--see the Westward Ho entry for more details.) He also expanded his business interests as the Rose Bowl prospered. In 1952, Mikol purchased the well-known Kohl's Ranch Lodge (in Payson); he dramatically expanded the property into "just about Arizona's biggest hotel-restaurant-resort," according to the Arizona Republic in 1965.

As local hoteliers hustled for business along the Van Buren, the Interstate Highway Act of 1956 would begin a decades long process of remaking American roadways. In Phoenix, plans for Interstate 10 through the downtown were introduced in 1960 but would not be completed until 1990. Promoted by commercial interests and political leaders, opposition mounted on a variety of fronts, including location (too far south of the central arteries of Phoenix, such as Van Buren Avenue), environmental concerns, and concerns about the loss of historic neighborhoods.

Although the construction of the Interstate languished, hotel owners along Van Buren discovered that investment along the road was harder to obtain. Coupled with a growing reputation for crime--including especially prostitution and drugs--local business owners banded together in the East Van Buren Parkway Association to promote the street, to improve the landscape, and to thwart gradual decline that accompanied changing consumer tastes and driving habits.

In about 1980 the Rose Bowl was acquired with a corrupt businessman who would acquire more than a dozen properties along East Van Buren, allowing them to languish to the point of becoming unlivable. After the owner was convicted of theft and fraud in 1985, the Rose Bowl (as well as the Lazy A next door) were sold at auction by the state of Arizona. In 1992, the Salvation Army purchased the lots adjacent to Rose Bowl (the Desert Hills & the Seabreeze) and built its new regional headquarters along Van Buren--part of an ongoing effort to remake and redevelop the once-vital commercial street.


Lighting the Auto Court
Lighting the Auto Court A Farm Service Administration photographer captured how the neon signs of the motels and courts along Highways 60, 70, 80, & 89 lit up the night, beckoning weary travelers. This is the site a traveler would have seen as they traveled East along Van Buren at 24th Street. The Rose Bowl Motor Court's neighbor, the Lazy A Court still exists as the Arizona Hotel. Source: Lee, Russell, "Lineup of tourist courts at Phoenix, Arizona," Arizona Maricopa County Phoenix, Arizona, United States, Februay, 1942, Photograph, Library of Congress; accessed June 4, 2018. Creator: Lee Russell Date: 1942
Auto Court Layouts
Auto Court Layouts The Rose Bowl Auto Court (on the left) and the Seabreeze Motel were typical auto courts of the 1930s and 1940s. The stand-alone cottages had parking next to, in front of, or behind the unit (a less common design.) Source: Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Phoenix, Maricopa County, Arizona, Sanborn Map Company, image 19, sheet 330, Vol.3, 1958, Map; image accessed May 31, 2018. Creator: Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Company Date: 1958
Motor Courts along Van Buren
Motor Courts along Van Buren The Rose Bow, Seabreeze, and Desert Hills typified the auto courts that once dominated Van Buren Avenue in Phoenix. However, these hotels were across the street from the Arizona State Hospital. Source: Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Phoenix, Maricopa County, Arizona, Sanborn Map Company, image 19, sheet 330, Vol.3, 1958, Map; image accessed May 31, 2018. Creator: Sanborn Fire Insurance Company Date: 1958
Western Mixer
Western Mixer Entrepreneur Michael Mikol (lower right) meets with fellow hotel owners to plan to use a series of "Western BBQs" to lure out-of-town winter visitors to central Phoenix hotels. Mikol was the Phoenix representative to the influential Arizona Motor Hotel Association. Source: Arizona Republic Creator: Ralph Camping Date: 1953



Mark Tebeau, “Rose Bowl Auto Court,” Salt River Stories, accessed June 24, 2024,