Saturday, May 17, 2008

Driftwood Motel & Sambo's Restaurant - Modesto, CA

Here in the Central Valley, old remnants of the former Highway 99 snake through the downtowns of dozens of small towns. These sometimes forlorn stretches often showcase the roadside survivors from bygone days.

Typical of these hangers-on would be the Driftwood Motel in Modesto…

Back in the day, The Driftwood was:

"Modesto's finest motel only 3 minutes from downtown. 31 beautiful units with individually controlled refrigerated air-conditioning, and thermostatically-controlled heat. Room Phone - free TV - heated swimming pool. Sambo's Restaurant adjacent."

Here it is during happy times in the early-sixties:


Today, a pretty sky belies the fact that times have left the Driftwood in a state of decline. Many lodgers now call this place home for weeks at a time.


The pool looks refreshing and would have helped sooth yesteryears lodgers when the temperature hits 106 in Modesto as it did today (May 17th). I can clearly remember the sight of that large Driftwood sign while driving on highway 99 as a child. At night, the multi-colored neon was an impressive sight indeed:


The pool serves no purpose now; and a fence keeps the curious from hurting themselves:



And what became of Sambo’s you ask?

Well, mid-century coffee shop style is hard to hide. The original building still serves food and what-not under the banner of “The Ranch – Bar & Grill”:



It looks like they’ve attempted to add a bit of authenticity with the covered wagon entry piece:



I spoke to the owner of a business on the other side of 9th street (who by coincidence used to work at the Driftwood 30+ years ago), and he warmly remembered the days when more than just the downtrodden stopped at Sambo's and the Driftwood…


P.S.: All apologies for the big break between posts. I appreciate all three of you checking back (you know who you are). Take care and I’ll try to be back again soon…

17 comments:

Namowal said...

Aw, another pool turned into a lawn. Something gravelike about that.
The Driftwood sign looked wonderful, complete with a big arrow and a starburst! It must have been wonderful at night.
As for Sambo's, trying to turn a mid fifties coffee shop into a western place with that and a wagon wheel is like putting a doily under a model rocket. The angled roof, palm trees, tall sign and decorative bricks still scream "1957!" and make me smell pancakes.

walterworld said...

I agree about the filled-in pool being somewhat grave-like. A functioning pool means the place is holding on and holding up. Once the pool becomes a garden it means the end is near or has arrived; the place is no longer a true Motel but rather a short term apartment complex for those with very limited means.

Rather sad...

Thanks for stopping by Namowal---

jedblau said...

Another fantastic then-and-now post. LOVE THEM!

Chris Jepsen said...

Nice work!

Note that the Sambo's was one of those blatant knock-offs of Armet & Davis' 1950s designs for Denny's. But even a knock-off makes for a pretty cool building.

Am I the only one who's hungry for a stack of Sambo's pancakes with "tiger butter?"

Anonymous said...

I shot some h at the drift a few nights ago, then took a swim in the pool...

outsidetheberm said...

Good stuff! Thanks!

Bob said...

Looks like the Sambos was originally built as a Denny's. The architecture is distinctive. It was designed by Armet and Davis, probably 1958, though this one may have been built later. The one at the corner of McHenry and Needham was built in 1965, and it is the same basic design.

Great photos! Thanks,

Bob

walterworld said...

Thanks for stopping by Bob. I'm looking forward to the downtown tour this weekend!

We can swap theories as to the origin of the restaurant (Sambo's vs Denny's). I believe it was a Sambo's from the get-go and was merely using a similar design to the Armet & Davis Denny's prototype. The boomernang is more pronounced on the Denny's version.

Next time I'm at the library I'll check the reverse-directory to see when it opened and the original name.

Fun stuff to debate huh? Talk to you soon, and thanks again for visiting...

Viewliner Ltd. said...

Just wanted to let you know that I truly enjoy this blog. Absolutely great stuff. Will add you to my link list. Thanks, Richard.

walterworld said...

Thank you Richard---I'm glad you enjoy my little essays...

And being linked to your outstanding blog is a compliment indeed!

Thanks & all the best to you---
CHRISTIAN WALTER

Vintage Disneyland Tickets said...

Hi Sir! I've been checking your site too... This place looks, well, like it WAS fun in the day... I've stayed at the "Days Inn" in Madera a couple years ago. It wasn't bad, the room was a little slanted, but it was clean. "Farnesi’s" for breakfast was excellent, I would go back just for the coffee in those big thick mugs!

Roy from Texas said...

I am delighted I found your website! When I was a junior at Eastwood High School High School (El Paso, Texas) in 1968, our band was invited to perform at the LA Rams - Minesota Vikings football game in LA. I wasn't a band member, but me and a friend managed to sneak off from Texas to Anaheim and hook up with our band and cheerleaders. We stayed at the motel next to Sambo's and ate at Sambo's. What memories. Going from a dusty West Texas town to Anaheim was a grand adventure and we had nothing like Sambo's in Texas.

I am sad to see the restaurant has come under hard times. I thought it was fabulous. Also sad, is why people have given the owner's of the chain such grief in regard to a name they perceive as not being politically correct... I mean the name came from the two guys who started the chain. IS NOTHING SACRED?

Thanks again for making this website, I enjoyed the trip down memory lane (from 40 years ago) where I had such wonderful times at that motel and especially eating at Sambo's

Synthetrix said...

That Sambo's remodel is scary, especially the covered wagon.

walterworld said...

Hello Roy---

Thanks so much for recounting your stay at the Driftwood and Sambo's back in the Summer of '68. It must have been quite an adventure following the band out to L.A.!

Hope to hear from you again...

Take care & have a great 4th---

walterworld said...

Hi Vic---

Yeah, the covered wagon just doesn't do it for me either.

And according to the guy I talked to while I was on site, that place had some shady dealings going on that were not restaurant related...

tom mercurio said...

I was the manager of this Sambos restaurant from 1964-1969. It was built from the ground up as a Sambo's and never was a Denny's. Any questions that I can answer just post it.

Tom

walterworld said...

Hello Tom---

Great to hear from you! Do you still live in Modesto by chance?

I had a few questions:

1) How much did business fall off once the new HWY 99 was opened?

2) Did the restaurant remain a Sambo's until the chain closed in the 80's?

3) Was the Driftwood a crowded motel and did you have any tie-ins at the restaurant?

4) What association/interaction did you have with the other Sambo's in town?

Thanks for answering and also for stopping by...