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Motels On South 27th Street Are A Reminder Of Yesteryear

Over the years, several questions submitted to WUWM's series, Bubbler Talk, have asked: Why are there so many motels on S. 27th Street?

If you’ve ever driven down South 27 Street in Franklin, Wis., you know there are a lot of motels there. El Rancho, the Knotty Pine, Sunrise, Modern 41, Embassy, the Oakwood and the list goes on and on. My count: 10 within a 2-mile drive, which takes about three minutes.

Over the years, lots of people have written toBubbler Talkasking about those motels. The most recent question came from a guy named Don Gloo:

“Hi Bubbler Talk! I was just wondering why are there so many mom and pop motels on the stretch of s 27 Street in Franklin between Ryan and Drexel? Why are they there and how do they survive?”

It’s a stretch road that Don says he drives quite often from his home in Wind Point to Lowes.

Now to answer the first part of Don’s question — why are there so many motels? — we have to transport back in time. Back to before the days of the interstate system.

READ: The Construction Of Milwaukee's Freeways: An Asset For Some, Detrimental For Others

"This used to be old Highway 41," says Vaso Dragicevic. For the past 30-plus years, he’s owned Traveler's Motel on South 27th Street.

Credit Alesandra Tejeda
The telltale motel sign out front of Vaso Dragicevic's place reads “Traveler's Motel—All the Comforts of Home.” It also advertises cable TV and high-speed internet.

Highway 41 used to be the main thoroughfare between Chicago and Milwaukee and beyond. People needed places to stay while on the road so you saw the development of motels, lots of them.

But these days, with the popularity of well-known hotel chains and the advent of home-sharing websites like Airbnb, who’s keeping these motels in business? Vaso says between March and Thanksgiving, 15 of his 24 rooms are reserved every week, Monday-Friday, by people working on road construction jobs or at the Oak Creek Power Plant.  

The nightly rate at Traveler's Motel is about $40. He doesn’t do hourly rentals. Vaso says some of his customers have been coming there for as long as he’s owned the place.

Credit Google Maps
South 27th Street in Franklin used to be Highway 41. Since people needed places to stay while on the road, motels started being developed — like the Traveler's Motel, located where the red pin drop is.

“The people who come around and look for these motels ... work Monday through Friday just like we all do. They are three, four hours away from here and they find this a little bit reasonable for them to put bread and butter on the table when they come home to the kids and wife on the weekends. This is their home,” Vaso says.

Vaso says he understands that motels often get a bad rap. Some people associate them with drugs and prostitution but Vaso says don’t believe the rumors or at least realize that not all motels are bad.

“When people talk, you can’t close people’s mouth. People always can talk but you want to listen to the people, you want to see the facts. You want to see the people that use the places, the people that come and visit the places, then they can tell you the truth,” Vaso says.

Credit Alesandra Tejeda
Vaso and his wife have vegetable and flower gardens behind their home on the premises.

While Vaso and his wife have put money into their motel, including a complete reconstruction, he says some people have not — and it shows.

He and his wife live on the premises, and raised their two children there. It’s now a place where their grandchildren spend a lot of time. Four bikes are stored against a wall near the patio table and chairs overlooking the vegetable and flower gardens. Out front, there’s a basketball hoop and trampoline. 

The alderman for the district says that while police do keep an eye out on the motels, none of them bring trouble to area.

So, the next time you find yourself avoiding a motel based upon a preconceived notion, Vaso says: don’t. Ring the doorbell and ask to have a look at a room and then decide.

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LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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