The Hammer Motel on the Lincoln Highway in Kearney, Nebraska, was famous for its sign topped by a giant hammer and three supporting poles made to look like big nails. Named for the Hammer family, it served travelers for decades before being demolished in 1995 for parking.
Postcards from Flickr friend Allen/Roadsidepictures.
Piecing together the story from various sources, John and Nina Hammer were married in 1935, then moved from Omaha to Kearney in 1938. John served in WWII and in 1947 they built the motel along Watson Blvd/24th St/US 30 West. A 1952 listing in the city’s Polk’s Directory also lists Fred and Belle Hammer as owners. Signs show it was a Best Western member, and matchbooks advertise that it was part of the Friendship Inn chain.
The family sold the motel in 1962 and it closed in 1987. The adjacent University of Nebraska at Kearney then acquired it for student housing known as Hammer Hall or Hammer Apartments or just “The Hammer.” School literature described it as “a unique living opportunity for the approximately 50 upperclass residents of this remodeled hotel facility. Each convenience-style apartment has a private entrance, living room and bathroom. A variety of room sizes, laundry and kitchen facilities, front desk services, and ‘front-door’ parking are some of the significant advantages of the facility.” But in 1995, it was razed to create additional campus parking – see blue box below for what I believe is the site.
A 2003 newsletter article explained that the Hammers were longtime supporters of the university, and that a $27,000 gift from son Fred E. Hammer to the University of Nebraska Foundation would landscape the lot. His donation also provided for “benches, tables and columns reminiscent of the columns that marked the entrance to the old Hammer Motel” to make the parking lot “a place for students to gather.” There was also to be a plaque mounted on one of the columns commemorating the motel as a historic Kearney site. “The parking lot will still be functional,” Hammer said, “but now it will be pretty as well.”
Nothing remains of the motel except the basic shape of the site, some postcards, and the parking area now known as Lot 27.
What happened to that wonderful Hammer sign? Was it demolished? Too bad the American Sign Museum or somebody couldn’t have obtained it.
It’s at the Archway Monument out over the Interstate now.
It closed in 1987 – not that long ago but there was a LOT LESS awareness and appreciation of roadside architecture and culture. SCA was only 10 years old – no other group that we know of today existed yet, and of course, no internet. Actually, this was a period when, try as I might, I could not even find SCA to join it, despite mentions in some roadside books and articles. So the sign surely went to the scrapyard in pieces.
Oh, that news just break my heart as that sign has to be one of the best I have seen around. The bigger they are usually the better.
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They’ve just built a replica / tribute to this sign: