Hotel Chronicles: The Unbearable Ugliness of Cheap Stucco

20190310_152433What color are these walls?

I’m not sure. They seem to be some kind of blend of tan and something else – perhaps peach and vanilla and some kind of red berry you get in the special section at Wegmans. In any case, it’s a color scheme you often see on commercial buildings in the late Capitalist period.

The front of the Hyatt House (Short Pump, VA, just NW of Richmond VA) is more interesting of course. Interesting in that there are some reassuring late Capitalist architectural doo-dads that seem to indicate some kind of old-timey lodging with enough modern panache to reassure the somewhat upscale traveler.

The Short Pump Town Center Mall (that’s the official name) that the Hyatt is attached to, was completed in 2003. The hotel came along 2009. It looks to me like the hotel was assembled somewhere else of compartmentally segregated Lego block-type materials and then slid right between the Dicks and the restaurant. It was a piece that fit to complete the puzzle.

There are many like the Hyatt in America but this one is mine for the spring. The staff is friendly, the rooms are, as I’ve said before, somewhat bland and sterile but comfortable, well-appointed and well maintained. I can’t quite say the same yet for the pool area, but that’s another story for another day.

What I ask of these places is this: are they even trying, in the least way, to inspire people? What I mean is, the grand hotels of the past were of themselves as destination. They offered excitement, breathtaking architecture and the assuredness of good service. Each of them had it’s own character and style which was, after all, the point.

Nowadays, since the rise of the Holiday Inns, certainty has replaced discovery in most aspects of American travel life – hotels, chain restaurants, rest areas – all seem to look faintly the same at any give time of history since the 1960s. Recall what these three buildings looked like in the 70s – homogenization had taken hold. So they ‘evolved’ in a certain way to a new style. And today, the Hyatt looks like the attached outdoor mall.

Is this bad? Many people my age might have some nostalgic pangs for the now-disappearing mansard-roofed McDonald’s but be honest: don’t you like the new designs (minus the kiosks) better?

And yet I look at the Hyatt and Short Pump and wish, for nothing but a splash of color here or an unexpected architectural quirk there. At the mall, even the different fountains look like they were ordered from Home Depot.

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The hard cold charm of the Short Pump Mall

But over all of this, the Mall and the hotel need to pull off one big thing – they have to look rich while being made cheaply. This they do and you can tell that by looking closely at the materials used, especially the God-awful stucco that is so in vogue nowadays.

If I’m honest, I’m as guilty as anyone. I could have stayed in many different areas of Richmond but I carefully chose this monstrosity of modern commercial convenience. I’m assured that even though the architecture of the place will be soul killing, the bed will be comfortable. And if I need anything, anything at all, it’s probably less than a mile away.

I was warned about the commute I bought myself. In the beginning, the 30 minute drive to work was irritating but now I accept it as the cost of staying where I’m at.

But still, after everything I’ve written, I am absolutely fascinated by this place. It’s almost a world unto itself. It succeeded before, during and after the Great Recession because people wanted it. And still do. It may not say great things about our taste or sense of adventure but sociologists and cultural anthropologists would be wise to come here and study the place and its people.

Short Pump, which was named after the short-handled pump under a mid-19th century tavern may share the line that Gertrude Stein said of Oakland: “The trouble with Oakland is that when you get there, there isn’t any there there.”

At least Oakland was a city – Short Pump is a vast wasteland of upscale shops, notwithstanding the Wal-Mart that the community tried so hard to hide from the road.

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Straight ahead to the right. What? You can’t see it? It’s right there. Sign? You need a sign?

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Ah yeah, that man-made forest hides Short Pump’s shame. They’ll take Wal-Mart’s money but for God’s sakes, don’t tell the neighbors!

I would call it ‘the nowhere that everyone wants to go there.’

But again, if you’re going to put art in a hotel room, give it some thought.

At least most of the buildings around here are too short for suicide attempts.

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