Friday, December 28, 2007

Cave City's unique motel: Wigwam Village

From the C-J two Sundays ago, Katya Cengel on a cool lodging opportunity-- and slice of "Americana"-- near Mammoth Cave...

Wigwam Village Inn 2 near Cave City, Ky., is celebrating its 70th year. The village, one of only three still standing, has been on the National Register of Historic Places since the late '80s.
When Sahidur Mir first heard about his brother-in-law's plan to buy Wigwam Village Inn 2, he was skeptical....Almost three years later, after managing the 15 "tepees" that make up Wigwam Village "7 days 24 hours," Mir still doesn't know the difference between a wigwam and a tepee.

Of course, Wigwam Village is neither. Its cabins are neither dome-shaped like a wigwam, nor are they mobile like a tepee. They are steel-reinforced cones stretching 30 feet tall that form a semicircle around a more-than-50-foot central cone....

Cave City is the second of seven Wigwam Villages, and one of only three still standing. The other two are in San Bernardino, Calif., and Holbrook, Ariz....

It is thanks, in part, to Hollywood Westerns, with their tepees and smoke signals, and in part to affordable automobiles, that Wigwam Village exists, says Rachelle Green, who wrote her master's degree thesis on the motel. Green, who recently graduated from the University of Kentucky and who spoke by phone from Lexington, had planned to cover something more authentically American Indian, but changed her course after hearing about Wigwam Village....

Built by Frank Redford in 1937, it was the second of his villages and is constructed so that the cabins face a natural grassy depression. The other surviving Wigwam Villages are "squared off," says Smith, who spoke by phone from Nashville, Tenn., where he works as a high school science teacher.

And despite a neighboring fast-food restaurant and a laundromat, Wigwam Village Inn 2 maintains a "country feel," says Smith. It was this ambience, coupled with the 1930s-era bentwood furniture and the general kitsch of the place, that captured the attention of Smith and his wife, Anita Hartel, when they stayed there in 1984....

Afzal Rahim likes to tell his business students at Western Kentucky University that real life is not like the classroom. Wigwam Village is a case in point. When Rahim, who teaches business management at the university, bought the place in 2005, he says, he thought it would make money. And it might have, if he hadn't had to replace the electric lines, which dated from the 1930s, and the water lines and repair numerous leaks.

"I did not investigate enough," he says, seated in the basement office of his Bowling Green home. "But as I look back, I am not unhappy. It is going to make money (starting) next year."

In the beginning, Rahim spoke of constructing replica Lincoln cabins at Wigwam Village. Historical preservationists objected, he says. Now, the only changes he makes are improvements. The hickory and cane furniture from the 1930s remains in the rooms, space heaters have been added, and the no-longer-functioning steam radiators have been covered.

The cabins' unique design makes the bathrooms a challenge, with the mirror and wall curving, and a closet smaller than 5 feet tall.

When trains pass by, the unremarkable painting of an Indian woman, her long, black hair blowing in the wind, vibrates and wobbles.

Towels are stiff and amenities basic -- a coffeepot and TV set. But if creature comforts and predictability are what visitors are seeking, Rahim says, "Wigwam is not for you. You don't understand it."


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