Forging a new future for motels
With its captivating landscape, Old Hollywood legacy and burgeoning creative community, Pioneertown is securing its spot as a hot new escape – and the member-founded Pioneertown Motel is putting Mane Street back on the map
By Kate Lough Above image by Cole Kilburz Saturday 5 September, 2020 Short read
‘Our parents moved out to Palm Springs in 2010,’ remembers Mark. ‘It’s only 40 minutes from here, so we came out to the desert a lot and just fell in love with the area. Pappy & Harriet’s, which does big shows with great bands also caught our attention.’
So much so, in fact, that in 2014 the brothers decided to buy and renovate Pioneertown’s old motel, which had been opened in 1946 by Roy Rogers and Gene Autry as a waypost for movie stars on set. Mike moved from Manhattan; Matt from Portland and, today, the brothers live as neighbours in Pioneertown full-time. ‘It had so much opportunity,’ says Mike. ‘We wanted to restore it to a degree where it would be the best place to stay in the High Desert. It also has this incredible Old Hollywood history, which we wanted to celebrate while creating a rustic, modern experience.’
Rogers and Autry originally bought the 32,000-acre slice of desert because the landscape had the uncanny ability to look like Texas, Arizona and California all at once. ‘There was a vision back then to create a real town and destination, so Pioneertown is on a relatively standard city grid,’ explains Mark. Since those Old Hollywood days though, Pioneertown has evolved into a thriving community. ‘There’s a really cool neighbourhood feel but it’s also really remote. You have a blend of the old-timers who have been here for decades, plus artists, creatives, musicians and horse people. It’s a very welcoming place.’
COVID-19 forced the brothers to shut the motel until early June – but they’ve since seen an explosion of interest in Pioneertown. ‘People are moving out here every day, gravitating towards the desert: creatives from New York, Los Angeles and Nashville, so that’s been a silver lining,’ they add.
It’s this sense of having fun while enjoying the area’s remoteness that is key to the Pioneertown experience. ‘When people arrive here, passing jagged mountains and boulders, there’s a shedding or delayering that happens. They forget their phone and unplug. But it’s not like the Big Sur or Amangiri – people are here to explore, hang out and have fun. They really settle into the experience at the motel and disappear for a bit.’