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Harold T. Purvis

TORRANCE, EDGAR LEE (1893–1971). Edgar Lee Torrance, early motel developer, the son of Robert Blake and Jeannette E. S. (Dixon) Torrance, was born on September 13, 1893, at Elk, Texas. He attended Douglas Select School and Toby's Business College in Waco and became a bookkeeper. As early as 1913, at a time when the automobile business was in its infancy, he began buying and selling used cars, a business he began full time in 1918 and continued until 1933. During this period, in collaboration with Waco Judge D. W. Bartlett, he started to build an apartment but decided instead to cater to the growing need for accommodations along the nation's expanded highway system. He developed the idea of a clean, well-maintained, well-organized, comfortable, and respectable motel unit with strictly enforced, stringent rules of propriety and was probably the first person in Texas to put this concept into practical application on a widespread basis. Using a modified white stucco version of the front of the Alamo in San Antonio as a facade, he built the first Alamo Plaza Hotel Courts, which opened in 1929 on Elm Street in East Waco. This innovation of a standard design was an immediate success, which proved profitable even in the Great Depression years that followed. After dissolving his partnership with Judge Bartlett, Torrance built another Alamo Plaza Hotel Courts at Tyler, which he opened in 1931, and then branched out into various Southern states to build what was among the first chain of motels in this country. Some of these he built in partnership with his son-in-law, W. Howard Lee of Houston. He pioneered many of the improvements in arrangements and services, which the vast network of motel chains that later came into existence adopted, and in 1936 was one of the first to put telephones in guest rooms. In time, Torrance owned seven motels in five southern states under the name Alamo Plaza. Others used the name as well; of the twenty-four eventually using the name in ten states, eleven were Torrance's. In addition to his motels, Torrance had farm and ranch interests and operated the Lee Torrance Stables in Waco, where he raised prize-winning Tennessee walking horses and served as a horse-show judge. Torrance married Ruth McGrady on May 27, 1913, and had one daughter. Torrance was an active Republican, Methodist, and Mason who was engaged in a variety of philanthropic, civic, and religious activities. He died in Waco on June 8, 1971.

American Motel Magazine, November 1953. Motel/Motor Inn Journal, August 1971. Waco News-Tribune, June 9, 1971.

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Harold T. Purvis, "TORRANCE, EDGAR LEE," accessed May 26, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fto38.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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