It must be seen to be believed, but once glimpsed you cannot turn away. It is almost impossible to accept, but it’s true: an Indian-themed motel still survives in PC America. The Peace-Pipe Gift Shop? It’s here. The Bow & Arrow Coffee Shop? Have a seat.
Welcome to the fabulous Thunderbird.
It’s right by the Mall of America, but it wasn’t always in the thick of American shopping culture; when first built this was the outpost of the Twin Cities, with the adjacent Met Stadium providing much of the business. It hails from a time when someone could erect a motel to express their fascination and love of Native American culture - and no one would insist it was an act of cultural vandalism. As to the merits of the motel as a work of indigenous anthropology, I’ll be mute. As to the merits of the Thunderbird as an amazingly well-preserved example of Americana, I will be clear: this is a national historical treasure.
The hotel’s official site is here. You’ll find reservation information - and don’t those words take on a double meaning, all of a sudden? I recommend that all patrons to this site stay here when they come to Minneapolis - it’s not just convenient and well-appointed, it’s an utterly unique example of the motelier’s art in an age when standardization has blanded every suburb into a gelatinous simulacrum of the next one down the road.
Let us begin. If it helps to hum the theme to the Johnny Carson Show, by all means: go right ahead.
That was true in 2000, more or less. Today it's all gone. At the end of 2012 I found the original photos, taken with a bad digital camera, and did what I could to bring it all back.