Palm trees and neon signs: Retro motels enjoy a renaissanceThe Mysa Hotel in Palm Beach. Photo: Trent Mitchell

Retro motels enjoy a renaissance on the Gold Coast

Remember childhood holidays at the Gold Coast, spent cruising the palm-lined streets in search of a motel with a glowing vacancy sign? It was a time when a kidney-shaped swimming pool and rattling in-room air conditioning was considered a luxury.

Now, the Gold Coast’s retro hotels and motels are enjoying a renaissance, allowing holidaymakers to recreate those old-school holiday vibes, but with all the modern conveniences.

The Mysa Motel at Palm Beach, formerly the Palm Trees Motel, is the latest to be transformed from daggy to vintage chic, with its boutique offering of only seven rooms providing a luxurious and sustainable stay that the big hotels just can’t match.

Local Gold Coast couple Eliza and Jason Raine have lovingly restored the ’80s blonde-brick building over a period of two years, keeping the original facade and using recycled items from the existing motel and other local properties.

Owners Eliza and Jason Raine did much of the Mysa Hotel renovations on their own.
Owners Eliza and Jason Raine did much of the Mysa Hotel renovations on their own.

“Our carport and courtyards feature recycled vintage breeze blocks, and our carport roof is made from recycled hardwood salvaged from the original motel,” Mr Raine explained. “Up-cycling was at the fore of what we wanted to do here at Mysa, and how we wanted to reinvent ourselves as an icon, with as minimal impact as possible.”

That desire for minimal impact has meant the couple have installed water tanks – to maintain the garden, magnesium pool and toilets – and 64 rooftop solar panels to power the complex.

Mr Raine, a tiler of 20 years, said he and Eliza did a lot of the building and interior work themselves, but also used local tradespeople and designers when needed. These included local, award-winning photographer Trent Mitchell, whose nostalgic prints of quintessential Gold Coast scenes adorn the rooms’ walls.

But the crowning piece is no doubt the Mysa Motel’s towering neon sign, which was created by the same long-running local business that produced most of the Gold Coast’s glitzy neon signs from the 1960s onwards.

A little further south in Coolangatta, it’s not so much the signage as the building’s fairy-floss pink colour that catches tourists’ attention at The Pink Hotel.

In 2018, three local couples and a few side investors bought the 1950s property, previously the Ocean View Motel, and flipped it over a period of six months.

Pretty in pink: The Pink Hotel in Coolangatta  was renovated by locals in 2018.
Pretty in pink: The Pink Hotel in Coolangatta was renovated by locals in 2018.

Co-owner Freya Frenzel said the locals were thrilled to learn that the run-down property would be refurbished and not demolished to make way for another high-rise.

“We wanted to keep a little slice of Coolie,” Ms Frenzel said. “It’s like the pink beating heart of Coolangatta. It’s a big adventure the second you step foot in here.”

The 17-room hotel features plenty of retro touches including record players (with a vinyl library available for borrowing in reception), and even a pinball machine in the hotel’s artist suite.

And in true 1950s beach hotel style, there are no lifts and a thigh-burning walk up the stairs to the rooftop bar reveals a stunning vista over the Pacific Ocean. It’s the type of place you can imagine guests sipping a pina colada while devouring a prawn cocktail.

Ms Frenzel said the co-owners, who all grew up in the area, did most of the makeover work themselves, uncovering gems such as herringbone ceilings that had previously been covered up with horsehair plaster.

They also replaced a “fortress of palm trees” at the entrance with on-trend recycled breeze blocks.

La Costa Motel feels like a "stay with your favourite aunty".
La Costa Motel feels like a "stay with your favourite aunty".

Continuing with the theme of mid-century makeovers, on the Gold Coast Diane and John Cartmill have transformed a 1950s airport motel into a charming 10-room lodging called La Costa Motel.

Situated just 60 steps from Bilinga Beach, the motel’s colourful umbrellas and vintage bicycles available for hire, as well as the all-inclusive breakfast baskets and beach towels, make it feel like a home away from home.

“All you need to bring is your pyjamas and toothbrush,” Ms Cartmill said. “I always say that it is like coming to stay with your favourite aunty.”

The husband-and-wife duo both grew up in the area, but it was after travelling extensively that they decided to turn the property they had owned for 20 years into a retro-themed motel.

“We thought about knocking it down, but in the end, we kept the structure and renovated it ourselves,” Ms Cartmill said. “We even found vintage Women’s Weekly and Woman’s Day magazines in the walls, being used as insulation.

“We have since framed them and they form some of the artwork in our rooms.”

Ms Cartmill said many of her guests were repeat customers, and sometimes whole families or gatherings of friends would book out every room.

Unsurprisingly, all three locations are also in demand by Instagrammers and big-name labels wanting to use the unique aesthetic for photoshoots and advertisements.

“We get two to three photoshoots booked in every week,” said Mr Raine. “We feel like we’re the launching pad in the area … our guests come and then realise what is in Palm Beach, with the new restaurants, cafes, and the beach being so close. A lot of them are unaware of how much the area has changed and how good it all is now.”

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