Get your kicks on route 99

Route 99



Before to the coming of Interstate 5,  Route 99 was the main north-south corridor on the west coast of the United States. While “Old 99,” as it is often called hereabouts, never quite approached the mythic fame of Route 66, having generally less historical significance and being 800 miles shorter, it nevertheless was heavily traveled – and just as businesses of all kinds sprang up, catering to weary travelers along Route 66, the same took place along Route 99. By 1930 there were over 20 million registered automobiles in the United States, and the road vacation was coming into fashion. At the same time, however, here on the West Coast, there were vast wild expanses between major cities, and when there was no major hotel around for lodging, or when travelers on a budget couldn’t afford the cost of a room in an “upscale” establishment, the only alternative was roadside camping.

Out in the wide open in the small towns between the cities, local entrepreneurs along the road conceived of offering camping facilities to tired motorists. Rustic in their earliest incarnations, these “car camps” quickly evolved into motels (that word itself being a shortened form of “motor hotel”) and “motor courts,” which boasted garages for the family auto, hot and cold running water, soft beds, and often an eating establishment, to boot. Both comfortable and convenient, a  motel room for the night could be had at prices much less than one in a hotel.

The “court” designation comes from the fact that these establishments were often established as a cluster of units surrounding a central courtyard. Today, some of these, since converted to apartments or other uses, betray their former nature by their being arranged in this manner.

Route 99 began in Calexico, California, and stretched all the way to the Canadian border through Whatcom County’s own Blaine, Washington. Highway 99 also passed right through Bellingham, and where it passed, “motor hotels” sprang up, some of which are still in existence, today.

Motels listed in the 1962 Polk Directory for Bellingham, Washington. Compare addresses to Bellingham streets listed for Route 99.

Motels listed in the 1962 Polk Directory for Bellingham, Washington. Compare addresses to Bellingham streets listed for Route 99.

Route 99 in Bellingham

Traveling northward: Old Highway 99 North Rd , Lake Samish Drive, Samish Way, Maple St., Ellis St., E. Holly Street, Prospect Street, DuPont Avenue, Elm Street,  Northwest Avenue, Northwest Drive, W. Bakerview Road (where this author grew up) and Pacific Hwy, which is still a popular route out to Ferndale, roughly paralleling Interstate 5 Northbound.

Motels and Motor Courts in Bellingham

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