William Becker, 85, the cofounder of Motel 6, the innovative low-budget motel chain launched in Santa Barbara, Calif., in the early 1960s, has died.
The former chairman of the board of the Stockmen's Bank, based in Kingman, Ariz., Mr. Becker died of a heart attack April 2 in a Kingman hospital, his son, Tod Becker, said.
Mr. Becker and Motel 6 cofounder Paul Greene were Santa Barbara building contractors when they decided to build motels offering bargain-price rooms.
Mr. Becker had been inspired by a cross-country car trip from Santa Barbara to his family's ancestral farm in Greenwich, N.Y., in the summer of 1960.
"Staying in motels across the country, you paid a high price and got poor lodging conditions," Tod Becker recalled on Friday. "He thought, 'Why not build a nice motel offering clean rooms at a budget price?' "
Mr. Becker and Greene initially planned on charging $4 a room per night - an amount that, with high occupancy, would cover building costs, land leases, mortgages, managers' salaries and maid service - but they quickly determined that figure was too low.
They considered $5 per night before settling on the $6 per night that gave them their motels' name. The first Motel 6, a 54-unit complex in Santa Barbara, opened in 1962.
"When we entered the business, we had the advantage of not knowing anything about it, so we weren't burdened by preconceived notions," Mr. Becker later told the Wall Street Journal.
But they did have a background in building low-cost tract homes in the Lompoc area. By building their motels with their own crews and equipment, they estimated they saved 50 percent in initial construction costs, according to a 1967 Newsweek magazine story.
Determined to keep costs as low as possible, Mr. Becker and Greene eliminated dressers in the rooms, replaced closets with clothes racks, and built shower stalls with rounded edges rather than corners to reduce cleaning time.
They also used wash-and-wear sheets on the beds, traded traditional paper-wrapped drinking glasses for Styrofoam cups, and mounted coin-operated TVs on the walls (25 cents for six hours of viewing).
By 1967, Motel 6 had 31 locations in California and four other Western states, and, in August that year, boasted an impressive 89 percent occupancy rate, which was higher than the national average.
Born in Pasadena on May 18, 1921, Mr. Becker moved with his family to Santa Barbara in 1934. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he worked in a painting contracting business with his father and his brother, Don.
He went into partnership with Greene in the late 1950s.
After selling Motel 6 in 1968 - today there are more than 880 Motel 6s in the United States and Canada - Mr. Becker and Greene continued to work with the company before retiring in 1973.
Mr. Becker had purchased a cattle ranch east of Kingman in 1970, and he moved there in 1978.
In addition to his son and his brother, Mr. Becker is survived by his stepdaughter, Joann Sharp; eight grandchildren; and nine great grandchildren.