This is for folks who either remember or are curious about Dan's Motel in Moss Beach. The picturesque motel, torn down in the 1980s, is the setting of my film by the same name, which screened recently at the Roxie cinema in San Francisco. Below, see Sam Whiting’s 2001 essay on beach motels, including Dan's Motel.
Vintage Views: Beachfront motels offer a slice of Americana, by Sam Whiting, Sunday, June 3, 2001
Motorists discover a tinge of seedy romance in driving the Bay Area coast, looking for the word MOTEL on the side of a weathered old building. Pull in, bang a bell and the owner or manager comes out of the back room, where he lives, maybe with a yapper dog for security. Price is negotiable, depending on availability, time of night and how much the manager likes the customer. Throw some 20s on the counter and get a key on a plastic tag for return by mail, along with directions to a wheezing ice machine.
People in road novels stay at motels and the ones at the beach add the drama of breaking surf. A beach motel is different from your typical roadside inn: An authentic beach motel means no chains, lodges or resorts, and the only conference center is the car, trying to close the deal. Bed yes, breakfast no. A true motel wouldn't want to encourage morning mingling among its guests. A communal hot tub is acceptable but you won't get a plush terry cloth robe to wear to it. A thin gym towel is more likely, along with a too-thin blanket beneath a too-thick bedspread.
A room with at least a sliver of a view of the beach is ideal, but this criterion is waived if the windows are crusted in salt, or if the beach motel was there before the condo that blocks its view. Beach motels never had the expensive real estate. They tend to be bunched together against the wind and dirty sand blowing across the highway into the ice plant.
The standard was Dan's Motel in Moss Beach. "It was all stucco, painted white with turquoise window trim. The rooms had really bad paneling and pea-green carpeting," recalls bail bondsman and artist Jerry Barrish, who made a film called Dan's Motel.
"It was a set-designer's dream. You couldn't make it any sleazier if you tried," says Barrish, who lived next to Dan's for 10 years, until it was torn down in the 1980s, breaking the filmmaker's heart.