George Washington Motor Lodges: Would George have slept here?

If you’ve spent any time in Pennsylvania, you know that we’re practically tripping over places where George Washington allegedly slept. So it’s probably fitting that one of the first chains of motor lodges in the Philadelphia region was named after the Father of Our Country. During the 1970s, whenever we’d drive past the George Washington Motor Lodge along Route 1 in Trevose, it was easy to imagine the Brady Bunch overnighting there on their way to Philadelphia.

George Washington Motor Lodge in Trevose. Image courtesy of Card Cow.

The George Washington Motor Lodges were part of a real estate empire owned by Philadelphia’s Hankin family. The four Hankin brothers and their elder sister got their start in 1940 when they pooled their money to purchase a farm in Horsham. That started a real estate spending spree that continued until at one time the Hankins owned much of the land in Willow Grove, including Willow Grove Park.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, the Hankin clan staked their claim on travelers motoring along the newly opened Delaware River Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. In fact, the Hankin family played quite a game of Monopoly, building GW Lodges near several Pennsylvania Turnpike exits, including Norristown (aka Plymouth Meeting), Valley Forge (aka King of Prussia), Philadelphia (aka Trevose) and Willow Grove.  Another GW Lodge also sprouted in Allentown. 

GW Lodge in Allentown. Image courtesy of Card Cow.

When the GW Lodges opened, they offered the most modern accommodations of the era.  Motorists could easily spy the lodging near the turnpike exit, and soon avail themselves of luxuries like indoor and outdoor pools, individually controlled heating and air conditioning, TV and hi fi and cocktail lounges.

Indoor pool at the Valley Forge GW Lodge. Image courtesy of Card Cow.

The Willow Grove GW Lodge, which opened in 1963, included a convention center. The King of Prussia GW Lodge, which opened in 1958, hosted everyone from honeymooners, to baseball-card conventioneers to General Electric Co. employees. The lounge of the Allentown GW Lodge regularly hosted dance parties.

The GW Lodges prospered, and the savvy real estate decisions of the Hankin family yielded a real estate empire valued at $72 million by 1977. But the five siblings of the Hankin family began to quarrel and eventually became embroiled in an epic years-long squabble. Litigation ultimately ended in the court-ordered liquidation of the family’s real estate holdings. In 1982, Tollman-Hundley Inns Ltd. purchased the GW Lodges, as well as two former Howard Johnson’s Inns, from the Hankins for $19 million.

It's a pool party at the Valley Forge GW Lodge. Image courtesy of Card Cow.

By this time, the GW lodges had grown a bit stale since little had been done to help them evolve with the times. Although Tollman-Hundley undertook token efforts to spruce up the GW Lodges, its purchase of the Days Inn chain led to severe money troubles by the late 1980s. Things quickly went downhill since by then nobody wanted to stay in a place that looked like it housed Bobby Brady (no offense, Bobby!), especially with newer hotel kids on the block like Marriott Courtyards.

Unfortunately, the lodges were unable to climb out of their downward spiral. By 1991, the GW Lodges in Trevose and Willow Grove were housing homeless families for $117 a week. And by 1993, the last of the GW Lodges closed, leaving behind only memories of another mid-century roadside icon.

Images of days gone by at the Trevose GW Lodge. Image courtesy of Card Cow.

Did you ever check in to the George Washington Motor Lodge? What do you remember about your family's motor trips in the 1960s? Personal Chronicles would love to hear more about your travel chronicles.


  1. This is interesting. I worked for a company called Brookshire Hotels in the early 90's. One of our contracts was managing these properties after the banks took them back. Real estate values took a downturn during that time. I stayed in the Norristown property and even have have a room key fob from room 304. It appeared that in their time they were pretty nice. I recall the Red Cross rooms and seeing hibachi's in the parking lots. I assume they have all been razed and replaced with something else.

  2. I was a Assistant GM and General Manager of the GW Willow Grove,from 1979 to 1983. We held many large conventions and hosted Perry Como,on numerous occasions and Former President Gerald Ford. It was a great place to work.

  3. I was a AGM And GM of the GW Willow Grove. We hosted many large conventions and hosted Perry Como and President Gerald R Ford as well.

  4. The GW Willow Grove also had two two room suites for special guests, a 10,000 sq foot Convention Hall, The Cherry Tree Restaurant,which a stained glass cherry tree and Lounge and windows in the floor through could look down into the indoor pool. It also had an outdoor pool. The lounge featured live entertainment from time to time.

  5. There was also one of these at the Downingtown exit of the PA Turnpike. (Not actually AT the exit, but where the Tpk crossed over PA 100.)

    It was torn down years ago, and about 8 years ago a new hotel built in its place.

  6. Did the GW Motor Lodge in Trevose on Rte 1 have a restaurant? I think my sister’s sweet 16 was held there in 1964

  7. Tended bar in the Willow Grove GW in 1977 first bar gig.

  8. One of my first jobs in Plymouth Meeting.

  9. Was there a GW motor lodge that had a restaurant with a section of plexiglass (?) floor with a view of the indoor pool below? I was about 6 or 7 in ‘62/63. I recall being both intrigued but also concerned that my underwear would be visible to the swimmers below. LOL

    1. I was about the same age when my family and I stayed at the one in valley forge. It was so cool!

  10. Yes the GW Willow Grove had plexiglass through which you could see the indoor pool below.

  11. I stayed at the one near Liberty bell Racetrack in the late 70s. Had a great time...

  12. Believe it or not in the 1980's the GW in K of P was where the local workers compensation hearings were held. We were in just an over-sized room not a convention room. Very cramped and not practical.

  13. There were GW lodges in Allentown,King of Prussia,Plymouth Meeting,Trevose and Willow Grove.

  14. The owners also had two former Howard Johnsons motels,Willow Grove and Horsham.

  15. After graduating from Ursinus College with an AB in German in the spring of 1971, I spent the summer working for the Plymouth Meeting GW Lodge, before entering Princeton Theological Seminary for my M. Div. (1975) This was one of the swankiest motels around. Bobby played an organ in the lounge three nights per week, while I was a waiter. Male servers dressed in bright-red waist jackets, buttoned in the center, and sported long-sleeved white shirts and black ties. As patrons entered the dining room, which overlooked the sweeping exits ramps of Interchange #25 of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, our elegant hostess Lorraine greeted guests in a variegated gown and ushered them over to my table. There, we seated each member individually, unfolded the red linen napkins and draped them gently in their laps, inverted the large crystal goblets and proceeded to use tongs to pick up ice cubes and fill their glasses with ice water from large chromed pitchers. Fresh turtle soup was served daily, along with red or rose wine. After dining, we even brushed the crumbs into a basket and disposed of them. I really had a blast with the staff in those months before entering seminary. And somehow, I always managed to espy the junior Mr. Hankin's copper-colored magnificent 1971 Buick Riviera as he raced into work, trying to catch folks off-guard. (Baruch HaShem--he never did. I might add that the Hankin empire at its zenith owned (it was rumored) five gold courses, two bowling alleys, plus the Bank of Old York Road and the Bank of King of Prussia--and perhaps even other enterprises. I had always wondered what happened to this part of Americana, as when I returned to Yankeeland from Dixie for my 50th high school reunion, I discovered, to my chagrin, there was nothing left. Thanks for the memories!