By the mid 1950s the "Mission 66" mindset had a stranglehold on almost all construction within the National Parks. Incredible as it may seem, developer Bill Mackin obtained approval to build the Village Inn rather easily, at the same time the NPS was intent on razing the nearby Lake McDonald Lodge. It is important to understand that at the time it was built, the "motel" was still a relatively new phenomenon. While society now demands keyed entryways and security cameras at today's impersonal travel hotels, many Americans were still accustomed to "auto camps" or "cabin courts" where motorists paid a modest fee at a brightly lit office, then parked in front of their individual unit with its own exterior door. Motels such as the Village Inn were nothing more than a modernization of the auto camp concept. The only difference was that the units were now attached in one rectangular building, and the exterior architecture was usually postwar modern. This type of motel design, which came into vogue in the 1950s, began to fall out of favor by the early 1980s.
So the Village Inn represents an extremely brief slice of hotel history, albeit updated as a 21st century facility. Guests who recognize this and gear their expectations accordingly are in for a wonderful experience. Those expecting a more traditional park lodge atmosphere are bound to be disappointed.
A half century after construction, the Village Inn exudes a certain mid-century charm.
Remember that the traditional National Park Lodge -- such as Lake McDonald Lodge down the road -- were built at a time when guests arrived by boat or by horse. The average stay was at least a week, so the hotel had to provide sitting areas and dining facilities to make the guest feel at home. It was expected that very little time would be spent in the sleeping rooms, so they were accordingly small. Other day-to-day services, such as laundry, diversions, snacks, basic supplies, notions, even the post office -- were available at the lodge.
With the advent of the motor hotel, the average stay became a single night. Like the grand hotels, the room in a motel was little more than a place to sleep and bathe. Because most vacated at daybreak, there was no need to offer day-to-day services. Motorists would procure those on the highways as needed.
With no dining facilities on the premises, guests sought out the reasonable fare at Eddie's Cafe in Apgar. It's still a favorite, more than half a century later.
Thus the motel was a simple, spartan lodging. A front office to pay the fare, a place to park, and a door of your own. More advanced motel managers might provide ice, so that the do-it-yourself tourist could mix up a refreshment prior to retiring. A swingset might be offered for the kids, although as competition increased this might grow to include a pool and perhaps a game room.
It was into this environment that the Mackins new "motel" arrived. When first opened, the Mackins affiliated with the Best Western chain, so that travelers could count on a certain level of quality. This insignia vanished when the building was sold to the National Park Service.
At the time it was sold, the modern lines of Apgar's fit nicely into the Park Service "Mission 66" plan. As that era vanished, so too did the appeal of the boxy building. The Village Inn became a sort of redheaded stepchild. Nobody wanted it, but with a scarcity of beds, there was no way to be rid of it.
Time marched inexorably onward, and The Village Inn aged nicely. Eventually enough time passed that the mid-century monstrosity began to assume a tiny bit of vintage quaintness. This has grown over time, and as of this writing, it provides just enough charm to make it all work.