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The Valley motel that always steals the show

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Even if you’ve never stayed there, you’ll recognize the Pink Motel

Sun Valley’s Pink Motel serves as the backdrop for an idealized version of California
David Cantu

The Pink Motel in Sun Valley is even more famous now that it has closed its doors to guests.

With its picture-perfect motor court architecture, the Pink Motel serves as a backdrop for pretty much every type of filmed content imaginable. The still-stunning 1940s icon was most recently thrown back into the spotlight due to its starring role in the Netflix hit GLOW.

Built by Maximillian and Gladys Thomulka in 1946, the Pink Motel quickly became a roadside attraction due to its bright pink and blue facade and eye-catching neon sign.

The Pink Motel appears as the Dusty Spur in the new Netflix show GLOW
Netflix

In its prime location on San Fernando Road, the motel was an easy stopover for people traveling in or out of Los Angeles, promising “air conditioned by refrigeration” comfort to guests.

In the 1980s, the Thomulkas’ son Monty started renting the property to production companies, which quickly became more lucrative than catering to travelers (especially after construction of the 5 freeway diverted traffic from San Fernando Road). As many motels were demolished along this same corridor, the Pink Motel survived, and thrived, due to a steady stream of location scouts.

It’s easy to see why the Pink Motel has become a quintessential filming destination.

In addition to the motel, the Pink Cafe (now branded as Cadillac Jack’s) offers an exquisite diner experience, and the property comes with a dozen beautifully restored classic cars to complete the look.

When it’s not a stand-in for 1950s America, the Pink Motel also excels at playing the role of the gritty, rundown hotel that often harbors criminals.

Here is an excellent rundown of TV shows, films, commercials, and music videos which have been filmed there, from Dexter to Drive to Cee-Lo’s “Fuck You.” The Pink Motel also posts clips to its Twitter account.

The motel is swathed in colorful period detail—just look at those breeze blocks!—but it is the fish-shaped swimming pool that cemented the Pink Motel’s fame with a different audience.

In 1987, Stacy Peralta’s skate movie The Search for Animal Chin was filmed at the motel, starring a young Tony Hawk and other members of what was known as the Bones Brigade. Monty Thomulka plays himself, the pompadoured motel owner.

Suddenly, in addition to being a must-see for midcentury architecture fans, the motel became a pilgrimage site for skaters. Perhaps to remain true to his role in the film, Monty granted star-struck skateboard-toting teens free range of the pool when it was empty, and hosted popular skate charity events.

A vintage postcard touts the many wonders of the Pink Motel
Gift to The Museum of the San Fernando Valley from Gary Fredburg 2011

The Los Angeles Conservancy lists the Pink Motel as an exemplar of the type of architecture that was once prevalent in the area but “one of very few midcentury roadside commercial resources to have survived.”

Drive through the Valley, and it will be clear that the Pink Motel is an endangered species. From the Safari Inn to the Sportsmen’s Lodge, the region’s few surviving motels have been renovated and revamped in the hope of remaining relevant to tourists.

Today, Monty’s daughter Tonya and her son Alex run the property, which sometimes serves as a stand-in for the Valley, but is more likely being recast as someplace else. Yet after all these years of selling pink-hued fantasy, somehow it’s more fitting that the best-preserved motel in the San Fernando Valley would be more artifice than authentic.