Thunderbird Motel

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The Thunderbird Motel was an Indian-themed motel that was built in 1962 along Interstate 494 and 24th Ave. in Bloomington, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. It is an example of post-war Americana. The hotel is a part of the Ramada franchise. The original Thunderbird Hotel no longer exists.


The motel was built at a time of rapid expansion in this area of south metropolitan Minneapolis. Interstate 494 had just been constructed, and the area was growing. With the construction of Metropolitan Stadium in 1955, and the moving of the Washington Senators to Minnesota by Calvin Griffith in 1961, the motel was primed to handle city business, airport travelers, and suburban business. In late 2005, the hotel was purchased by Ramada. On March 22, 2016, the city of Bloomington, MN purchased the hotel and made plans to demolish the existing building in favor of upcoming expansions to the neighboring Mall of America. [1] As of September 2016 the hotel building was undergoing demolition.

Early competition[edit]

The motel competed primarily with the Holiday Inn, with its famous Great Sign, which was erected in 1961 at the intersection of Interstate 494 and 34th Ave. S, one mile (1.6 km) east of the Thunderbird. It stands to this day, although significantly altered.

The Thunderbird also competed with the Howard Johnson motel and restaurant, which was the first of its kind in Minnesota, built in 1963 at the corner of Interstate 494 and Mn 100, five miles (8 km) west of the Thunderbird. It, unfortunately, was demolished in the year 2000.


The exterior of the Thunderbird was notable for its post-war architecture, including faux stone, tall white columns, and colorful brick. The exterior featured several examples of the Thunderbird logo, most notably on its famous sign, which had stood since its opening. It featured two arrows criss-crossing the sign, with the logo at the top and the marquee below. Standing adjacent to the sign and just as tall was a synthetic totem pole, with many characters and levels. Both signs stood facing Interstate 494. The exterior also featured a giant fiberglass statue of an Indian, hand raised in salute. There was also a smaller metallic Indian statue and a cannon. The grounds of the motel also had a unique outdoor pool featuring the motel logo; it was surrounded by the motel. Both statues were removed in the early spring of 2006, and as of November 2006 the exterior signs bore the Mall of America logo in place of the old Thunderbird logo.


The inside of the motel featured many common architectural trends of the 1960s, with a suspended ceiling, can lighting, and faux stone. The motel featured numerous genuine and artificial Indian artifacts, and unique light fixtures that looked like teepees but actually acted as lights. The many artifacts included a stuffed wolf, tomahawks, and pictures. The motel had many amenities, such as the Bow and Arrow Coffee Shop, the Totem Pole Dining Room, and the Pow-Wow Cocktail Lounge, as well as an indoor pool.

The motel also featured "The Hall of Tribes", a mini-museum in the motel with rooms of the museum dedicated to different tribes. Some tribes represented included the Winnebago, the Miami, and the Dakota.

Convention Center[edit]

The Thunderbird featured a 32,000 sq ft (3,000 m2) convention center which included three large halls which at times could be divided into smaller rooms by the way of automatic and manual airwalls. Each of the individual rooms were named after Native American tribes. For example, the largest room ("Hall of Tribes") included rooms named Chippewa, Cherokee, Navajo and Pawnee. Another banquet hall could be divided into the "East Menomonie", "West Menomonie" and Miami rooms (the combination of which makes up "The 3 'M's"). The third banquet hall could be split into three rooms named Shoshone, Winnebago and Yakima.

As a historic landmark[edit]

The Thunderbird represented a carefree time after the war, when young families were in search of fun and entertainment. The Thunderbird was an example of a retro, independently owned motel that featured the amenities expected at the time and carried on to its closing in 2016 with few changes to the feel of the motel.


  • According to the 1964 Minnesota Twins program, the Thunderbird Motel is "Just a Home run From Metropolitan Stadium", and featured Dick Clausen at the piano and organ.
  • The hotel is referenced by former Minnesotans, The Hold Steady on their album, "Separation Sunday" in the song, "Stevie Nix." The song contains the lyrics, "...and the carpet at the Thunderbird has a burn for every cowboy that got fenced in."
  • "Bloomington Thunderbird" is the name of a song by Minneapolis-based electro/improv group Goodday, Montag.
  • Thunderbird Motel is also a Los Angeles-based rock and roll band:
  • The Midwest Comic Book Association had its FallCon comic convention there through the late 1980s and most of the 1990s.
  • The movie "Thin Ice" includes a scene filmed at the Thunderbird Motel

See also[edit]


Coordinates: 44°51′38″N 93°14′27″W / 44.8606923°N 93.2407491°W / 44.8606923; -93.2407491