Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Holiday Inn - The World's Innkeeper

The "Great Sign" combines with a rooftop sign to form a powerful image, 1972.

Rarely has a commercial icon been so appropriately named as “The Great Sign” of Holiday Inn. It was “great” in multiple senses of the word. Great in size - the standard version stood a titanic five stories tall and sixteen feet wide. Great in impact – striking green, orange and yellow colors by day, a blaze of multicolored neon tubing and chasing lights by night. Great in presence – a fixture at over 1,200 Holiday Inns the world over by 1970. And a great part of childhood memories for so many of us.

For us, Holiday Inns played a part in key events and everyday moments alike. We stayed there on vacation trips or on the way to visit family. For large gatherings – weddings, anniversaries, etc., we put up out-of-town family members there. We celebrated graduations, engagements and other milestones with dinner at the local Holiday Inn restaurant. And of course, our Dads got their shop towels there.
...and it was pretty appealing during the day as well. 1963.

The story of Holiday Inn’s origin has been told over and over to the point of becoming a part of American folklore: It was the summer of 1951. A Memphis businessman drove his family halfway across the country on a sightseeing vacation trip to Washington DC. The accommodations along the way were substandard at best – dilapidated motor courts, broken-down motels and the like. These places were dirty, uncomfortable, poorly maintained and offered no conveniences – no food service, no air-conditioning, no phone, pools or pets, no cigarettes. Worst of all, they charged extra per person – and he and his wife had five kids! Upon their return home, he dreamed up an idea for a new type of accommodation that would right all of the aforementioned wrongs. Plans were drawn up, financing was secured, and the first Holiday Inn opened up about a year later. The rest, as they say, was history.
I wonder who changed the rolls on that player piano.1961.

By any standard, Kemmons Wilson was a successful man - long before his family’s fateful vacation trip and the resultant idea for Holiday Inn ever came about. He was the true embodiment of an entrepreneur, with boundless energy, curiosity and decisiveness, qualities that made him a millionaire at a young age. Born in 1913 in Osceola, Arkansas, and losing his father months later, Wilson and his resourceful mother, Ruby “Doll” Wilson, who installed a lifelong sense of self-confidence in her son, moved 55 miles away to Memphis before his first birthday. Wilson got his first “job” as a baby, when an image of his smiling face was used in advertisements for the local Sunbeam bread baker. A series of part-time jobs led to his first business venture before the age of twenty – he bought a popcorn machine for fifty bucks and convinced an area movie theatre operator to let him sell popcorn to the theatre patrons. When Wilson’s concession stand began to net twice as much as the theatre itself, the manager tossed him out, with little choice but to sell the machine for what he originally paid for it.

Wilson stayed in the amusements business, using the proceeds from the sale of the popcorn machine to buy a small group of used pinball machines, placing them in various local establishments, reinvesting the profits to continually add more machines. Within two years, he had saved enough money to try his hand at another venture – home building. Building his first house in 1933, Wilson was able to borrow enough against it to build more homes, and by the eve of Pearl Harbor he had assembled impressive holdings in apartment buildings and theatres (holding fast to the popcorn concessions, of course) as well. He also picked up the area selling rights for Wurlitzer jukeboxes, and soon built up their highest sales volume in the entire country. Wurlitzer dispatched a special representative to Memphis to present Wilson an award for top sales performance – up-and-coming bandleader Lawrence Welk. A few years afterward, Welk would be given a national television show, and in time all America would become familiar with his "A-one, an-a-two" song count-offs and the famous “bubble machine”.An early 60's Holiday Inn room. The TV set is a Philco Predicta. Reportedly, they didn't work very well, but they looked fantastic.

After the U.S. was plunged into World War II, Wilson, who was already an experienced pilot, joined the U.S. Air Transport Command, flying transport missions over the treacherous Himalayan route from India to China. Not wanting to burden his new wife, Dorothy, and his mother with debt should the worst happen, Wilson sold off his business interests for $250,000 prior to leaving the country. While in the service he made an acquaintance that led to one of his few business flops. An Army buddy of his owned the Orange Crush distributorship in Chicago and his enthusiasm convinced Wilson to buy the Memphis Orange Crush bottling company, which had done well during the sugar-rationed war years, when he got back home. Once sugar supplies returned to normal and soft drinks were in plentiful supply again, however, Memphians expressed their overwhelming preference for Coca-Cola, rendering Wilson’s $100,000 investment a bomb. (Reminds me of a conversation I had years ago with a work friend from Connecticut where we somehow got on the subject of soft drinks. He said “It’s like this - Pepsi is a Yankee drink. Coke is a Reb drink. There ya go.” I’m not sure it’s that simple, but I admired the way he had this squared away in his own mind.)

In any event, Wilson’s construction career kicked back into high gear, and it wasn’t long before he became one of the most celebrated businessmen in Memphis. And then came the fateful summer 1951 vacation trip, referred to above. Immediately upon returning home, Wilson set about conceptualizing his new “hotel court” idea in great detail, “siz(ing) up the ideal (room) dimensions for efficiency and comfort”, according to Wilson’s 1994 autobiography “Half Luck and Half Brains”. Interestingly, the dimensions Wilson arrived at, 12 by 18 feet, became an industry standard that remained in place for decades. Once his brainstorming was complete Wilson called upon Eddie Bluestein, a draftsman he frequently hired, to formalize his ideas in blueprint form. As it turned out, Bluestein’s contribution would be far greater than a mere clean-up of Wilson’s already well-thought out plans. The evening Bluestein drew up the plans, the 1941 film Holiday Inn, starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, happened to be airing on television. (I’ve loved that flick since I was a kid. To this day, we never fail to watch it at Christmastime.) Bluestein watched as he worked, and on a lark he wrote the name “Holiday Inn” on the finished drawing. Wilson loved it.An early Holiday Inn front desk. The Mickey Mantle/Roger Maris cover of the Life magazine on the rack dates this to 1961.

A steaming Saturday afternoon in August (is there any other kind in Memphis?) of 1952 saw the grand opening of the world’s first Holiday Inn, on Summer Avenue (U.S. Highway 70), the main road leading into Memphis from the east. Among the dignitaries scheduled to be present was Frank Tobey, the mayor of Memphis, who would cut the ceremonial ribbon. As luck would have it, the mayor showed up late, and Dorothy Wilson convinced her husband to let their kids perform the honors instead. The press photo of that moment – the five Wilson kids all dressed up and lined up by age, about to cut the ribbon while the very first Great Sign looms in the background – stands today as an iconic American image.

Within just over a year, Holiday Inns were opened on the other three main thoroughfares into Memphis, on U.S. Highways 51 South, 61 North and 51 North. It was a fitting first example of one of Wilson’s key strategies for Holiday Inn – to build on the edge of a city, on every major route into town, on the right side of the street to catch inbound travelers. “So you couldn’t come into town with passing one of my places”, he later put it.

From the beginning, Wilson set a goal to develop a national chain of motels. 400 units would be the ideal number, he told his wife and others in early conversations, based on locating the motels at “day’s drive” intervals across the Lower 48. He soon realized the need for help to accomplish this goal, from both a financial and a management standpoint. In late 1953, Wilson called on an acquaintance of his, a fellow Memphis area builder named Wallace E. Johnson, “the biggest thinking man I knew” as Wilson later described him in 1971 Saturday Evening Post profile, who specialized in homes for middle and lower income families. Nearly twelve years older and possessed of a lower-key demeanor than the ebullient Wilson, Johnson rose from similar hardscrabble origins to become one of the nation’s top homebuilders by the early fifties.The Chicken Dinner was a Holiday Inn staple in the 60's, as was "Cheddar Apple Pie". The Holiday Inn Directories were close at hand.

Johnson’s understanding of the role of showmanship and bold moves mirrored Wilson’s own. Years earlier, he’d had 5000 cardboard signs printed up that read “Let Wallace E. Johnson Build Your Home On This Lot” and proceeded to put the signs up on vacant lots all over town, irrespective of the lots’ ownership. The publicity was worth its weight in gold, and more than a few stunned property owners proved willing to let Johnson build on their lots on a spec basis. Wilson realized that Johnson’s financial acumen and his strong ties within the National Home Builders Association (an eagerly-anticipated potential source of Holiday Inn franchisees) would be invaluable to Holiday Inn’s future, so he arranged to visit Johnson at home one evening, where he laid out his dreams and plans for the company. Impressed by Wilson’s thoroughness, enthusiasm and the Holiday Inn idea itself, Johnson was in – the start of a 25-year long partnership and a company that would impact the world.

Wilson and Johnson hoped, and had every reason to expect, that the Home Builders Association would yield an ideal pool of franchising candidates for their fledgling chain, but it proved to be slow going. Many members were well-heeled, respected in their local communities and had good access to construction financing. Understandably, the two men went all out in promoting their new venture within the organization – they had an elaborate model built of a Holiday Inn prototype and set it up at the nationally-renowned Home Show in Chicago. They invited a nationwide group of them to Memphis for a VIP presentation of the Holiday Inn program. Sixty-five builders attended, but amazingly there were only four takers. Despite Wilson and Johnson’s marketing efforts and their ridiculously low franchise costs - a $500 initial fee and a seven-cent per night fee (five-cent royalty and two-cent advertising co-op charge) per room – only a relative handful of their fellow home builders ever bought in. Eventually, it was obvious that they would have to widen their efforts.

The Home Builders’ group yielded one major plus, however. In late 1955, William B. Walton, the staff attorney for the group’s Memphis chapter, was persuaded to leave a comfortable job there on the strength of the Holiday Inn dream (and very little in the way of salary initially), joining the company the following January. The addition of Walton completed a management trio that would prove to be formidable indeed – Wilson the builder, ever scouting out new locations and pushing the frontiers, Johnson the financial liaison and sage advisor and Walton the operations man, responsible for developing and maintaining the Holiday Inn experience. Among the first things they did was to hire two salesmen and put them on the road to push the company’s franchise plan, with “job number one” being to get in front of any and all qualified franchising candidates. Interestingly, as Johnson noted in his autobiography Together We Build, when they doubled the franchise fee to a thousand dollars, “it was easier to find purchasers at that price”. As Holiday Inn grew, the fees went up significantly from there.Typical early Holiday Inn restaurants. Perhaps the "Space Age" isn't the best way to describe the 1960's. The "Sconce Age" might be better.

By the summer of 1957 there were 25 Holiday Inns, seven company-owned and eighteen franchised units. On August 20th of that year, in order to facilitate expansion and to help relieve the tremendous personal financial burden on Wilson and Johnson, Holiday Inns, Inc. held its first public stock offering. It was a smashing success, and was soon followed by a second one that was equally successful. By the end of the 1950’s Holiday Inn was well on its way to becoming a national brand, and the development opportunities were flowing in heavily. In order to take full advantage of those opportunities, which coincided with unprecedented growth of the economy and the explosion of the American roadside culture (in which Holiday Inn would play a seminal role), huge amounts of borrowed capital were needed. Later on, when President Eisenhower convened a meeting of business leaders in Virginia, Wilson attended and was able to make contacts with investors that eventually resulted in another $4.5 million in capital investment, which certainly helped. By the end of 1962, five years after the initial stock offering, there were over 300 Holiday Inns operating and nearly 180 more in the construction or planning stage.
Charleston, South Carolina, Mid 1960's.

The next couple of years saw two events that played an unequaled part in fueling Holiday Inn’s rocket-ride to the top. In 1963, Holiday Inn struck a long-term agreement with Gulf Oil Corporation, a petroleum giant with a near-national reach at the time. For some time the company had been interested in setting up a joint venture with an oil firm. The benefits were self-evident – the Holiday Inn locations “on major highways, catering to the traveling public, would be strategic locations for service stations”, Johnson noted in his book. They’d even tried it once before with another company (that Johnson declined to name) whereby Holiday Inn would receive royalties on each gallon of gas sold, once thirty of their stations had been co-located with Holiday Inns. “But we never did get the required thirty”, Johnson wrote.An early Holiday Inn/Gulf combination. At one point, Holiday Inn actually published a book featuring pithy sayings from the Great Sign marquee boards.

The Gulf agreement supplied a much-needed financial bonanza for Holiday Inn. Under it, Gulf agreed to loan the company $6 million outright and to buy five percent of Holiday Inns, Inc. preferred stock to the tune of $15 million. They also agreed to provide a 100 percent guarantee on Holiday Inns’ mortgage loans up to $25 million. On top of that, Wilson, in his never-ending quest for prime property for new Holiday Inns, was frequently able to sell the corner portion of the new properties for 25 percent of the total land cost to Gulf for construction of a new service station. As a result, hundreds upon hundreds of Gulf stations opened up next to new Holiday Inns throughout the 60’s and 70’s - a big win for the oil company, given the high quality of the locations. Most importantly, from a customer’s viewpoint at least, the Gulf Travel Card could now be used to pay for rooms and meals at Holiday Inns. The first arrangement of its kind, it was significant in an era when American Express, Diners Club and Carte Blanche cards were generally carried only by executives or upper-income families and bank cards (the forerunners of MasterCard and Visa) were in their infancy. Many Americans had gas cards, though, and sales went through the roof. Within a few years, Gulf cardholders were racking up more than $100 million dollars a year in charges at Holiday Inns. Eventually the design of the card itself was modified to depict a Holiday Inn.The Holidex control center in Memphis, circa 1965. Somehow I find this comforting.

The second major catalyst came with the launch of the “Holidex” computerized reservation system. By the early 60’s, most of the largest American companies were wildly enthusiastic customers of IBM, Burroughs or one of their competitors, and huge mainframe computer systems were popping up like mushrooms. Early on, most of these systems dealt strictly with accounting functions, but the frontiers were expanding rapidly. In 1964 a keenly interested Kemmons Wilson hired an IBM consultant to look into ways to connect and keep track of Holiday Inn’s increasingly far-flung empire. “At first, negotiations were stormy”, Wilson’s book states, with IBM reluctant at first to develop a custom system for Holiday Inn, then agreeing to do it at too high a cost. Wilson walked away and threatened to take the project to a competitor, spurring a visit by IBM’s legendary chairman, Thomas F. Watson, Jr., to Holiday Inn’s Memphis offices. An 8 million-dollar price tag was agreed upon (personally guaranteed by Wilson and Johnson in those still-fledgling days), and the following year, the Holidex system, employing two IBM System/360 mainframes in Memphis and a terminal at every single Holiday Inn front desk, became a reality.

With the Holidex system, inn operators had “instant knowledge of room listings open in any other Inn”, as Holiday Inn Magazine (“The Magazine for Travelers”) put it in 1965, and could make reservations for their customers at any of the company’s (then) “72,000 rooms in 608 locations” as a free courtesy service. Prior to that time, customers who lived outside major cities had to place a long-distance call to the specific hotel they were interested in to reserve a room. At that time, when even a quick long distance call could easily cost two or three bucks ($10-12 in today’s dollars) and 800 numbers were still a few years away, the appeal was obvious. Holiday Inn had double-jumped the competition, and from then on the company was besieged with franchise applicants, as Wilson says in his book – “from the day we got (Holidex), it was no longer a matter of selling franchises, it was a matter of taking orders for them. They stood in line waiting to get a Holiday Inn franchise…because nobody else had anything like it”.Somewhere in California, next to "the freeway".

And the growth came, like wildfire, with Wilson, Johnson and Walton spending much of their time surveying America’s various sprawling metropolises (metropoli?) by air, usually with Wilson himself at the Cessna’s controls. A particular obsession of Wilson’s, understandably, was Southern California, that wonderland of growth, and it reached the point where he was spending “two or three months a year” there scouting sites. Ultimately he assigned an assistant to track down the landowners near every single freeway interchange in the greater Los Angeles area. (For those of you unfamiliar with the area, they really are called “freeways” there. In other parts of the country we would say “Interstate 10” or “I-10”, but in L.A. it’s “The 10 Freeway.” Now when you visit there, you can impress the heck out of people - with my compliments.)

At the same time, Holiday Inn began to introduce additional hotel formats as a means of broadening their appeal. The company’s mainstay, as mentioned in their 1964 annual report, was the “dependable two-story highway side Holiday Inn” on the edge of town, but according to Johnson, they now realized “the need for at least one downtown Inn in big cities and are trying to fill it”. They began to fill it in a big way with high-rise hotels – an 18-story, 600-room hotel in Manhattan (440 West 57th Street), for starters, that opened on November 12, 1963 and was nearly twice the size of their largest existing unit, a Dallas location.Late 60's view of the Holiday Inn-Lake Shore Drive in downtown Chicago. The blue-peaked building in back of it is the American Furniture Mart. The John Hancock Center is under construction in the distance.

Two years to the day later, a 33-story Holiday Inn, complete with a top floor revolving restaurant (offering diners a striking panoramic tour of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan over the course of an hour) opened on Lake Shore Drive. This magnificent hotel was a point of pride for Holiday Inn for many years after opening, and could ostensibly be considered the company’s “flagship” at the time. I remember this one well, because it was next door to the historic American Furniture Mart building, which housed plush showrooms for all of the major furniture manufacturers, including the one my Dad worked for. Twice a year, retail chain furniture buyers and designers would converge there for the Midwest Furniture Show, but it was open year round. His office was there until the late 70’s, and he would often take my brother and I downtown on Saturdays to catch up on some work. We were usually the only ones there and had the run of the place - sitting in all the new recliners, drawing up org charts on Dad’s company letterhead (“No, I’m the president!”), and the like. Of course, when we had lunch at the Holiday Inn there it was in the main floor restaurant instead of the revolving one up top. Still felt like a big deal, though.A little Holiday Inn next to a little Gulf station. This sort of cuteness doesn't occur today.

High rise hotels would become a vital part of the Holiday Inn mix, but the company explored the other end of the spectrum as well. A limited service concept first called “Holiday Inn Compact” was launched as “Holiday Inn Jr.” in 1963. These were intended “to attract the economy-minded traveler” and at only 32 rooms in size would be ideal for “hospital parking lots, congested downtown areas and similar sites where space is at a premium”. The Holiday Inn Jr.’s had no pool, and a small coffee shop took the place of the standard restaurant and bar. Only a handful of these were ever built, and the company wouldn’t revisit the limited service idea until much later. But take a look at the Holiday Inn Jr. photo – is that cuteness personified, or what? (Maybe the phrase should be “cuteness objectified”, but I think you know what I’m trying to say.)Architectural renderings of early high-rise Holiday Inns from the firm of W.W. Bond.

For many of us, the enduring image of Holiday Inn is somewhere between the two extremes mentioned above – a medium-sized, four to six-story hotel flanked by the “Great Sign”, on whose marquee board might be congratulations to a newly-married local couple or one celebrating their 50th anniversary, or a welcome message to some group or organization arriving in town for a special event. Aside from the signs, the Inn exteriors reflected a distinctive image – brick and ornamental “screen block” on typical Inns, precast concrete slab on the high-rise behemoths. Much of the credit for the Holiday Inn “look” can be credited to W.W. (Bill) Bond Jr., their preferred architect. Memphis-born and Notre Dame-educated, Bond, like his most important client Kemmons Wilson, worked at a furious pace and was early to adopt computer technology, using it to develop a database of standardized designs for the multitude of Holiday Inns being built at the time. “Why draw things such as a standard roof expansion joint over and over again?” he told Holiday Inn Magazine in the mid-60’s.A very nice lobby from the mid-1960's.

Holiday Inns were noted for their interior designs as well, which became increasingly eclectic as the 1960’s progressed. In their earliest years, most of the company’s decorating was handled by none other than Ruby “Doll” Wilson, Kemmons Wilson’s mother, who held the title of Vice President of Design. Eventually, the job of “chief interior decorator” went to Tom Wells, a graduate of the University of Alabama and the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York City. Wells had done the interior designs for a franchised Holiday Inn in Montgomery, Alabama, and Wilson fell in love with his work. Wells would go on to decorate nearly 500 Holiday Inns, becoming highly influential in the industry. Wilson’s book cites an article by a Memphis reporter that outlined Wells’ modus operandi and philosophy – “(Wells) mixes all styles and periods and colors…using one or two predominant colors and then bringing in all the jewel tones”. “There’s too much matching in decorating”, Wells told the reporter. “We never match anything.”

By the early 1960’s, the inns themselves were merely the center of a wide-ranging empire. In fact, one would be hard pressed to come up with a better example of “vertical integration” (when a company makes most things it uses or sells itself rather than buying them from outside sources) than Holiday Inn in that era. They made their own tables. They made their own lamps. They made their own hot dogs and note pads and stamps.

(They didn’t make their own stamps. I was just trying to write like Dr. Seuss there and needed a rhyme. Sorry.) They did make just about everything else, though. A longtime Holiday Inn executive was quoted in Wilson’s book – “if it took wood to build something, Kemmons wanted to own the forest.” For Wilson himself, it was a matter of control and the economy of scale – “And back then, we were building so many Holiday Inns, it was really worthwhile. We could get that stuff out when we wanted it. We saved an awful, awful lot of money.”

Examples were Holiday Woodcraft, makers of “custom counters and display cases”, Johnson Furniture - “stereo and television cabinets, living-room and dining-room suites”, Modern Plastics – “lamps and shipping containers”, Bianco Manufacturing – “all types of commercial seating”, Master Kraft Manufacturing – “facilities for refrigeration units” (?!), Inn Keepers Supply Company – room furnishings and cleaning chemicals (Maybe these were the origin of the “Holiday Inn scent”. Does anyone other than me remember that? It was clean but very distinctive. The sense of smell is a very powerful memory trigger.),Holiday Press – forms, stationery, Holiday Inn directories, Holiday Inn Magazine , and “a national business in commercial printing” according to Johnson’s book, General Data Corporation – Holidex and other computer-based systems, and General Innkeeping Acceptance Corporation to finance it all.The carpet department at the Instutional Mart of America. Holiday Inn owned the carpet mill as well.

To display these wares, Holiday Inn built a two-story, 300,000 square foot showroom named the Institutional Mart of America adjacent to their new corporate headquarters in Memphis. Time Magazine described a typical offering – “One popular item is a “$25,000 Club Escadrille bar, complete with World War I flying décor, wing emblems, portraits of Rickenbacker and Von Richtofen, and a muted sound track of planes landing and taking off.” (This kind of thing was big in the late 60’s-early 70’s, trust me.) Although the primary purpose of the IMA was to supply hotel furnishings to Holiday Inn franchisees, who flocked there en masse, they had no qualms whatsoever about selling to competitors. “A dollar made that way is worth just as much as a dollar made renting a motel room”, Wallace Johnson said in his book. The Time article cites a billionaire hotelier who “paid (Holiday Inn) a $250,000 consulting fee for help in planning his princess Hotel in Acapulco. ‘We saved him millions’, boasted Wilson.”With awesome packaging like this, I'd eat the stuff every day!

There was an aviation subsidiary called HI-Air that “sold small planes, operated a repair station and provided aircraft storage, leasing and rental (even today the Wilsons are big players in the general aviation business), a record company, of all things (featuring “Larry and the Accommodations” among their artists), a late-night easy listening radio program, “The Dolly Holiday Show”, broadcast on stations all over the country (“Dolly Holiday” in real life was long-time radio personality and vocalist Dotty Abbott.), and then my personal favorites, the food divisions – The Nat Buring Packing Company, which made “King Cotton” brand bacon and hot dogs but also sold them under the Holiday Inn name. (With the Great Sign on the package, who would care about nitrites?) There was also a candy division, which also featured the Great Sign on its packaging. (No nitrites, but maybe a few trans fats. Hey, this was the sixties. These weren’t harmful back then.)The famed "Coffee Host". Personally, I think these would go with any decor.

And then there was Coffee Host - gigantic, wall-mounted ancestors of the Keurig “K-cup”machines, where guests “could enjoy a delightful 4-ounce cup of coffee at any time of the day.” Not only were these available in many Holiday Inn rooms, but folks could buy the machines for home use! (Of course at 4 ounces each, I’d be enjoying about 37 delightful cups a day, but…)Holiday Inn shows off their new acquisition, Continental Trailways, early 70's.

In 1969, Holiday Inn acquired their largest division outside of the Inns themselves. This was Tco Industries, owners of Continental Trailways, at 2,500 buses the second-largest motor coach company, behind market leader Greyhound. Also included was Delta Steamship Lines, a fleet of 11 cruise ships. As Wallace Johnson said, Holiday Inn now “offer(ed) a service in the accommodation-transportation field that is without equal.”The Gulf station at Holiday City, mid-60's. The Great Sign and the corporate offices are in the background.

As impressive as this collection of enterprises was, the massive corporate center that housed them was equally so. Just seven miles from the original Holiday Inn headquarters (a ramshackle plumbing shed next to Wallace Johnson’s office), it was light years away by any other standard. Spanning an 80-acre tract along Lamar Avenue (U.S. Highway 78) in Memphis and populated by over 2,500 employees at its peak, “Holiday City” was a marvel to behold. Among other structures in the complex were the Holiday Inn world headquarters, four stories tall and faced with Italian marble, a state-of-the-art Holiday Inn hotel (where the service was impeccable, as one would expect), and a gleaming prototype Gulf station, pictured above in a mid-sixties advertising photo. The centerpiece of Holiday City was the aforementioned Institutional Mart of America building, and in front of that was a cylindrical, space-age building with floor-to-ceiling glass – the home of General Data Corporation, the subsidiary in charge of Holidex. Not coincidentally, there were drive-up branches of the National Bank of Commerce and the 1st National Bank of Memphis (later called First Tennessee Bank), two of Holiday Inn’s key lenders, on the property. Across the street were some of the manufacturing divisions referred to earlier."Don't you know we're riding on the Marrakech (Holiday Inn) Express?" With apologies to Crosby, Stills and Nash.

The “Great Sign” was rapidly becoming an international icon as well, with Inns “in places as varied as Greece and Swaziland, Switzerland, and Hong Kong, Morocco and Nassau”, according to a 1972 Time Magazine article. There was already a substantial presence in Canada, of course, and in (West)Germany and the UK. Plans were also underway to build the first Holiday Inns behind the Iron Curtain, with a venture to locate 36 inns in Eastern Europe.A late 1960's Holiday Inn room. The TV is far less interesting then the Predicta, but at least it's color!

One thing that stands out in reading Holiday Inn’s early press, and throughout the 60’s and 70’s there was a ton of it, was the company’s faith-based program, something that would be hard to imagine in an international, publicly held company today. A November, 1970 New York Times article mentioned the chain’s practice of having hotel maids leave the Gideon Bibles out on the dresser, opened, as opposed to inside a drawer. In 1967, Wilson hired Methodist minister W.A. Nance to oversee a program where a local “on call” chaplain was assigned to each Holiday Inn, ready to counsel a despairing Holiday Inn guest by phone should the need arise. In a 1977 Saturday Evening Post article, Wilson said the program had received over 100,000 calls and that “3,000 potential suicides” were averted. I’m intrigued by the “open Bible” aspect, and wonder which verse it was opened to – John 3:16? Maybe just a random verse, or one specified by the company or of the maid’s choosing.

By the early 70’s, of course, the Holiday Inn story was widely known, being featured in lengthy articles in a wide variety of publications including the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, Look, The Saturday Evening Post, Newsweek and others. Most notable of these was a glowing 5,000 word profile in the June 12, 1972 issue of Time magazine, whose cover featured a striking pop-art image of Kemmons Wilson’s beaming face with the Great Sign in the background.An early Holidome. Shuffleboard is wildly underrated, don't you think?

This era also saw a new Holiday Inn innovation. Just as the Filet-O-Fish, Big Mac and Egg McMuffin sandwiches were developed by McDonald’s franchisees, so this was developed by the Holiday Inn franchisees in Wichita, Kansas. Years earlier, the Wichita owners had built a standard Holiday Inn of the day – Two-story, U-shaped, with a pool in the center of the “U”. One day they phoned Kemmons Wilson to tell him about “the improvements they had made to their hotel”. His interest piqued, Wilson flew there the next day, and saw that they “had covered the space between the two story buildings and, by doing this, created an indoor swimming pool and 20,000 square feet more space which really made the hotel outstanding”. Called a “leisure dome” at first, the “Holidome” as it was soon called, quickly became the standard for new and remodeled Inns. Wilson pronounced it a “near miracle”. They were the perfect settings for late-night mayhem on band trips and youth group outings. (Not that I would know, of course…)Waikiki Beach, late 1960's. The largest Holiday Inn in the system at the time it opened.

Not long afterward, however, the landscape changed drastically for Holiday Inn, as it did for American business as a whole. The oil crisis of late 1973, which badly damaged the travel industry, hit Holiday Inn particularly hard. In 1974, according to Wilson’s book, Holiday Inn’s profits dropped by 30 percent and the company’s stock was hammered, falling from $56.00 to $4.25 per share. This spurred Wilson to make some big changes, installing new top management. Bill Walton was elevated to Vice Chairman and assigned the new responsibility of representing Holiday Inn (and the tourism industry as a whole) as a “roving ambassador and industry watchdog” in an effort to underscore the importance of the industry to the U.S. economy. Wilson brought in Roy Winegardner, a native of Cincinnati and one of Holiday Inn’s longest-tenured and most successful franchisees, to run the company. Winegardner brought his protégé Michael Rose (who years later would succeed Winegardner as chairman) on board as they “set about reorganizing and streamlining Holiday Inn over the next several years”, Wilson’s book states.The Holiday Inn inspection team stands aside their fleet of 1968 Chevy Impalas. "Remember to keep those jackets buttoned, men!"

The next few years would see the departure of all three of Holiday Inn’s founding figures. In 1977 Wallace Johnson retired, leaving his corporate position to devote full time to Christian ministry. He passed away in 1988 at the age of 86. Bill Walton resigned in 1981 over the company’s decision to acquire the Harrah’s casino interests, and would later become chairman of Park Inns International, a limited service hotel chain. The founder, Kemmons Wilson, stayed on as Holiday Inn chairman until 1979. That year, Wilson found himself outvoted by his board for the first time when they decided to go ahead with the acquisition of Perkins, a 340-unit chain of family restaurants, against Wilson’s strong misgivings. (“We didn’t know anything about the restaurant business, and we had never made any money off restaurants”, Wilson said. They later dumped the restaurant chain.) No longer able to control his board, and acknowledging to a friend that “...it just isn’t fun anymore. It’s time to move on”, Wilson resigned. It was the end of a great era, one fortunately captured in excellent autobiographies by all three men, Wilson’s Half Luck and Half Brains, Johnson’s Together We Build and Walton’s Inn Keeper.
Two versions of the larger metropolitan Holiday Inn - the "round" hotel (location unknown, but several were built) and a conventional version in Oakland, California, near the Bay Bridge.

The leadership transition at Holiday Inn was hardly unique in the annals of American business. The mantle had been passed from the founding generation – the entrepreneurs, the visionaries – to professional managers. Mike Rose, who succeeded Roy Winegardner as chairman in 1983, is quoted in Wilson’s book – “Kemmons could do things I could never do…On the other hand, there comes a point in a company’s development where it needs a less entrepreneurial style of managing and more of a systems approach as it gets bigger and bigger. And I think with Holiday Inn, that was the time where people like myself were brought in to add more value to the company.”Near the Atlanta Airport, early 1970's.

And at the end of 1982, they began to come down...the Great Signs, that is, replaced by conventional internally lit rectangular signs atop wide, black columns. The multi-colors of the neon star gave way to an orange and gold symbolic version, and the trademark “Holiday Inn” script logo was updated and softened – the snappy downstroke of the “y”, for example, replaced with a nice, safe curve. There were ‘good reasons’ for this, of course, as cited in a lamenting October 1982 article by Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene – for one thing, they cost 35 grand apiece to build and $6000 a year to operate, whereas the new ones would be far more economical. Also, public taste was apparently becoming more sophisticated - “Holiday Inns has commissioned research that shows its customers now consider the old signs – the ‘Great Signs’ – to be tacky. Tacky and cheap and old-fashioned.” the article goes on to say. (I’d like to have a little talk with these particular survey respondents.) I didn’t happen to read the Greene article or any others that may have appeared on the subject at the time, and from my perspective the Great Signs disappeared in a flash – here one day, gone the next. Like the Baltimore Colts. In any event, the signs were completely gone within a couple of years, and with them a significant piece of Holiday Inn’s identity and an American roadside icon. Kemmons Wilson, who almost never criticized his successors, summed it up best: “It was a hell of a mistake.”
Shining bright at night, circa 1972.

In August 1989, Holiday Corporation (as it was now known) shocked the business world by selling off its flagship brand, Holiday Inn (and the upscale Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza), to British conglomerate Bass PLC, the famous brewer, which also held extensive real estate holdings. Bass would later change its name to InterContinental Hotels Group after one of its upscale brands. Bass paid Holiday Inn shareholders $125 million in stock and assumed $2.1 billion in debt, which would render Holiday “a vastly smaller but healthier company that will concentrate on gambling”, reported The New York Times. The “gambling” referred to here was the chain of Harrah’s casinos acquired in 1978, a deal initiated when Kemmons Wilson was still chairman. Interestingly, the Times article failed to mention the company’s exploding Hampton Inn chain, a limited service chain launched in 1984 that had grown to 300 hotels (there are over 1,700 now), and the Embassy Suites chain. Holiday Corp. management, led by Mike Rose, decided to invest in the new brand rather than undertake the massive chainwide renovations it would take to keep Holiday Inn on top. The new entity was renamed Promus Hotel Corporation. In 1999 Promus, which had picked up the DoubleTree hotel brand along the way, was acquired by Hilton. And for the first time, none of these enterprises would be based in Memphis.

The “remnants of the empire”, the former Holiday City complex along Memphis’ Lamar Avenue, can still be seen, if you know what to look for. The Holiday Inn hotel there has long been boarded up. The Italian marble-faced original headquarters building later became the home of Catherines women’s stores and now sits empty behind a chain link fence, as does the grand Institutional Mart of America, which later became the main headquarters building. The Gulf station still operates as an independent tire shop, and now bears little resemblance to the beauty pictured above. The furniture factories across the street now house other businesses, but hotel note pads are still printed up in the old Holiday Press building, under different ownership. Most of the thousands of drivers who travel that now desolate, desperate strip of road each day haven’t a clue that one of America’s (and the world’s) most vital, vibrant corporate centers once sat there - a place where dreams were hatched.

But Kemmons Wilson had long since moved on. A true “happy warrior”, he remained active as ever after his retirement from Holiday Inn. In early 1980’s he developed one of America’s most successful timeshare ventures, the massive Orange Lake Resort in Kissimmee, Florida, near the gates of Walt Disney World. In the late 80’s and early 90’s he developed a new chain of hotels under his own name – the Wilson Inn and Wilson World properties, with locations in the Mid-South, Florida and Texas. At the time I was frequently in Memphis on business and stayed there numerous times. They were fun, with elegant wall murals in the dining rooms that evoked those of the earlier Holiday Inns, and each hotel featured an old-time popcorn cart - a hat tip to Wilson’s first business of many decades earlier. He continued to maintain a multitude of other ventures in the Memphis area as well – office parks, distribution centers, snack food and printing companies, among others. On February 12, 2003, Kemmons Wilson, a giant of American business who impacted our everyday lives in a way that few could, passed away at the age of 90.

In 2007, InterContinental instituted a re-launch of the Holiday Inn brand – a new logo design, combined with a more aggressive weed-out/ update of older hotels and a stepped-up new building program. The new look represents a final break with the classic Holiday Inn graphic image, to the dismay of some, but it does seem to have been fairly well received by the traveling public. And in recent years, the Wilson family ties to Holiday Inn have been strengthened. Their Orange Lake Resort complex is now marketed under the name “Holiday Inn Club Vacations”, and they also own and operate a number of Holiday Inn hotels, including a new showplace near the Wolfchase Galleria Mall, just a few miles from the site of the original 1952 Holiday Inn. At the grand opening in July 2009, the Wilsons reenacted their famous ribbon-cutting of yore. I visited the hotel recently, and it’s something else – the lobby and ballroom walls throughout are lined with huge, stunning framed black-and-white photos depicting great moments in Holiday Inn history, and the famous Kemmons Wilson/Great Sign Time magazine cover has been recreated as a glass waterfall backdrop. Forget Graceland - this is the must-see next time you’re in Memphis!
Not Rolling Meadows, but Des Plaines will do, right? A fine use of screen block, late 1960’s.

Despite the many Holiday Inns we stayed at on trips, the one that stands out in my memory above all was close to home. I certainly couldn’t say for sure whether it was designed by Bond or decorated by Wells, but the chances are likely as not. It was and is located in Rolling Meadows, a northwest suburb of Chicago, on Algonquin Road near Illinois Route 53, and it opened in 1968. Unfortunately, I don’t have a have a photo of it to show you. The Inn’s restaurant-lounge was called “The Black Fox”, symbolized by a cartoon fox mascot, standing tall, with a top hat, tails, a cane and an “I’ve got the world on a string” look on his face. My grandparents (proud Holiday Inn stockholders, they were) stayed there once or twice on trips to visit us, and when we ate there I can remember the excitement I felt – “Wow, here we are, having lunch at the Black Fox! Is this cool or what?” (It doesn’t take a lot to excite a 7-year old.) The Rolling Meadows location had the good fortune of being just a mile or two from the future site of Woodfield Mall and the plethora of office buildings it spawned , and in the late 70’s the Inn was expanded, doubling the amount of rooms in order to handle the increased business. Many years later I attended a Dun and Bradstreet seminar there, with lunch served in the Inn’s restaurant, and the memories brought a knowing grin to my face. My co-worker was probably thinking “The heck’s up with Dave?” while I was thinking “Wow, here we are, having lunch at the Black Fox! Is this cool or what?” It doesn’t take a lot to excite a 27-year old. Or a 47-year old, for that matter.

If you have Holiday Inn memories of your own and would like to share them here, we'd love to read them!

The photos above are from various Holiday Inn publications of the 60’s and 70’s, the one below is a detail from an early 60’s postcard.And remember, friends – here at Pleasant Family Shopping, our posts are always Sanitized for Your Protection!

77 comments:

  1. Outstanding coverage of a modern travel icon! Thanks for your work!!! Bob in Wisconsin

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  2. I've NEVER read another history of a hotel chain before with so much detail. Absolutely amazing!!

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  3. It's funny that you mention the specific scent of Holiday Inn. From my own travels as a kid in the 1970s, I always remember one of the distinctions between Holiday Inn and Howard Johnson is that each had its own distinctive smell.

    (And I'd love it if you could do such a good writeup on HoJo as well....)

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  4. Kudos for an extraordinary post that just kept getting better and better.

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  5. WOW. I had a few Holiday Inn locators from the early 2000s, but this is impressive!

    Some things of note:

    I miss the "asterik", I think their latest logo design is even worse.

    I remember passing by a few "Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort"s in the 1990s, with their orange-yellow sign. Those were neat, especially if the vista (the beach!) was nice.

    There was also a Holiday Inn Select off of 59 in Houston in a very brutalist 70s design (HI has owned it for years, apparently), but recently it converted to InterContinental (another one of their brand).

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  6. What an incredible post. With all the "retro" going on in the world, I can't see how they could justify NOT bringing back the logo...oh well.

    My question is this: When did they stop having the restaurants specializing in "Holiday Inn" food? I see old ads (I collect old magazines) and think that I would definitely stay in their hotel if they still offered all the features they used to.

    Do you know why they stopped?

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  7. Fantastic post--great research!

    I miss the old signs, they were truly landmarks. I bet there are a few of them left out there somewhere, just waiting to be restored.

    It reminds me a bit of The Hotel DeAnza in San Jose--once a luxury hotel, it became a transient hotel before being shuttered. When it was being restored, The Diving Lady, painted on the side of the building (to promote its indoor pool) was going to be painted over. Locals went into an uproar, even though the pool was long gone. So, the remodeled and repainted the hotel and The Diving Lady is still there on the side (http://tinyurl.com/44u4hbd)

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  8. Marvelous piece, as usual...my only problem is that we have to wait so long for them.


    And yes, I caught your Roger Miller reference. And in return, I offer the words of Jimmy Buffett:


    Heard about the old-time sailor men
    They'd eat the same food again and again
    Brown beer and bread they say could raise the dead
    Well, it reminds me of the menu at a Holiday Inn

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  9. When you get my last psst, please change the line to "Warm beer and bread", thank you.

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  10. I love the late 1970s commercials that featured the slogan/jingle "Holiday Inn is Number One in People Pleasing." It brings back such nostalgic memories.

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  11. Wow! And the funny thing is, I still remember the big Holiday Inn signs so well from my absolute earliest childhood days, that I could've sworn that our local Holiday Inn from where I lived up until 2008 (Canton, Ohio) still had theirs when I left! Perhaps not!

    And the way I see it? Coke is preferred in "red states," and Pepsi in "blue states," though this may be somewhat oversimplified.

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  12. Dave, I love reading your articles. They are always informative, interesting, and entertaining. I grew up a mile or two from a Holiday Inn when I used to live in NJ. I have always loved the great sign and I still have some matchbooks with the great sign logo. As a commercial art student in the 80s I used the great sign logo on one of my projects. When we moved to Florida in the beginning of 1982 I have a vivid memory of staying overnight in the Carolinas at one of their motels. I guess the sign I saw there was taken down not too long after our stay. I think they should reinstall some of the old signs at certain locations. I believe the nostalgia would work as a good marketing tool in some places. They would definitely fit in on I-Drive in Orlando, Las Vegas, or Wildwood NJ (where they refer to that over-the-top style as "Doo Wop" architecture). Keep up the good work.

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  13. I remember Playskool 30 to 35 years ago came out with a Holiday Inn playset complete with two-story building, their trademark 'Great Sign' with interchangeable message cards, and something that resembled a board game board that featured their outdoor pool. The people were square-shaped and could also be used with Playskool's other playset, McDonald's. I still have the playset in ideal condition.

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  14. The Holiday Inn is such an iconic American brand! Seems there aren't many hotels under the name anymore, unless you count those "Holiday Inn Expresses" that are ubiquitous. Traveling in my childhood, Holiday Inns seemed to be everywhere. I always liked the old signs. My family rarely stayed at Holiday Inns, opting for more down-market lodging alternatives, but I thought when we did stay at one that it was a real treat.

    There was one Holiday Inn I could have done without, built in the early 80s in downtown Springfield, Missouri. The developer took out several Victorian houses and, to me, landmarks, like a 1920s/1930s era Firestone, to put it in. I hated walking past the place (I lived next to it in college) because I thought it looked like something out of the Eastern Bloc, all beige and concrete and glass. I'd still rather have the old buildings back, as well as all those trees that were taken out, too!

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  15. Wow, I've been waiting several weeks for a new 'PFS' blog & it was totally worth it, thanks for the great morning read!

    Growing up in the 1970s, my family's summer vacations were always long car trips south (Virginia Beach, South Carolina, Florida) and my Dad always insisted we spend the first night in one of the cheaper roadside motels (what, no pool? But it's only 11pm!) So pulling into a Holiday Inn (for us kids) was when the real vacation started. Well, I'm embarrassed to say our linen closet usually had a couple of those white towels with the big green & white 'Holiday Inn' stripe down the center--oops... :)

    Thanks again for the awesome piece here, Dave!!

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  16. We used to stay at eitehr the Howard Johnson's or Holiday Inn at Lake of the Ozarks when my family went in the 70's & 80's - Both were great examples of the chain but the HI was very different - more like a resort - tucked into a forrest with odd waterfalls and colored lights hidden in the trees that lit the place up at night - had a restaraunt that overlooked the lake , and 2 pools - one half in and half out in the woods - so cool!

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  17. Glad to see you back and better than ever after a little hiatus! This is a wonderful piece not only stated but illustrated too showing the disaster Holiday Inn has become today... Keep the updates coming!
    P.S. the Holiday Inn listed as being located in Oakland is actually in the nearby town of Emeryville. The hotel has since been rebranded in the following order first (after Holiday Inn) Crowne Plaza, then Holiday Inn Express, now the hotel is branded as a Hilton Garden Inn.

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  18. Their current signs are abominations of design. I wouldn't put my family in one of those based on the signs for fear that a bunch of drunk regional sales managers would barf on them. And I don't even have a family!

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  19. Having worked for Holiday Inns in the 1970's to the 1990's I especially enjoyed this walk down memory lane. I worked for the largest franchise holder of Holiday Inns in America, American Motor Inns out of Roanoke, Virginia. I have seen so many of these pictures and have a few of my own that I would be happy to donate if needed. I especially remember the "Holidex". I was a grand piece of equipment that took up half of the front desk area with it's massive size. But I also remember if you were on the phone when a reservation happened to come over the wire, you could not hear a thing anyone said to you, it was SO LOUD! Anyway, thank you so sharing such a wonderful piece of history!

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  20. Wow - found your blog looking for other retro fun stuff and am I glad I did - the images and info are priceless! BTW I worked at a Holiday Inn Red Carpet Lounge in the late 70s in college, wore the cocktail waitress 'uniforms' and hung out with the entertainment - a married couple with a piano and the name The Rainbow Connection.

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  21. Sitting at the reference desk, eagerly anticipating a reference question about the Holiday Inn from a library patron

    I never knew Holiday Inn had such a rich history or made their own bacon or pioneered so many things in the hotel industry. However, most importantly, they made their own bacon!!! :-D The vimtage pics of the inside decor look amazing and not kitschy at all for its time. In a way the design seems so sophisticated and timeless, even on down to the restaurants.

    Unfortunately, I don't have any personal experience with Holiday Inns. Sure, we did roadtrips with my parents and my husband and I just did one last month but never had the pleasure of being in one. Closest thing to an inn I have ever done in terms of chain hotels is a Days Inn. Somehow, I don't think it is quite the same.

    it is ashame that Holiday Inn had to change and adapt their business model. Seems to me since the awesome roadside signs disappeared that signaled the end of an era. Did they really get rid of every last one of them?

    One of my favorite urban exploring websites is Lost Indiana and years ago I recalled reading a very interesting entry about an old Holiday Inn long abandoned located in Gary. Here is the link with pictures and all http://www.lostindiana.net/Lost_Indiana/Lost_Indiana__Holiday_Inn.html

    Warning to those who love Holiday Inn nostalgia, the current photos do not paint a pretty picture.

    Also an Ebay link to one of those holiday Inn playskool playsets with the cute old roadsign sign. http://www.ebay.com/itm/VINTAGE-Playskool-HOLIDAY-INN-Hotel-LOADED-Super-Nice-/390344544728?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item5ae25911d8

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  22. Excellent post! Do you know exactly where that Des Plaines Holiday Inn was located? I'm there right now, right next to the current Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express, and it would be interesting to learn where it used to be.

    It also occurs to me that one could easily make one of the old Great Signs using modern LED technology; they could be made to look just like the old neon signs but would cost significantly less to operate.

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  23. Didi, I'm sure the years they were making plenty of bacon at the Holiday Inn, if you know what mean (and I think you do).

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  24. Holiday Inn is part of my teen years, my dad enjoyed them so much this was our roadside inn for trips in California and Florida.

    Even today, my corporate travel agent experience pays off to sell this legendary chain.

    We have a lot here in Canada, mostly Toronto and Montreal. I recommend it most of the time.

    Cheers to you from Canada (yep, the one who still owns the flickr photo site of "Steinberg's" !

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  25. This is an incredible post: one of many, but certainly a standout. Holiday Inn is one of my favorite brands and I really appreciated your history of them.

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  26. Those two shuttle vans in the second photo are rear engined Corvair Greenbriers, made only from 1961-65. Where was this photo taken? It would be interesting to find out whether this was just one hotel's purchase or was there a company fleet. Not many people (outside of Corvair enthusiasts) remember Greenbriers today, but they were much lower and sleeker than VW vans or early Econolines -- in many ways they were precursors of the modern minivan.

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  27. I've never wrote a blog but I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night.

    Seriously, what a fantastic post about H.I.

    I've never read an article about hotel history with such interest, that is if I've ever read an article about hotel history.

    I guess you really touched the old nostalgia buttons on this one....it was fantastic and held my interest to the very end.

    It's been a while for a new post but well worth the wait....bravo...keep up the good work!!!!!

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  28. We got our bath towels there too! And our Bible!

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  29. This was an amazing read. It is not the sort of thing I would normally read, but your narrative style and the depth of your research kept my attention.

    We have a (and I have stayed inside of the) round Holiday Inn behind a gas station off the access road of I-35 in Austin, I have to wonder if the one you pictured is ours.

    It has, of course, changed considerably since that photo was taken. You can see it here: http://www.wingedmammal.com/action_photos_1998/holiday_inn_tower.jpg

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    1. Kionon- I believe it is the one on Lady Bird Lake in Austin.

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  30. Oh, and regards to the "Junior", it kind of reminds me of a crazy thing I saw about five years ago en route to Baton Rouge (I think it was in Orange, TX) or whereabouts: a combination gas station-restaurant-hotel! Restaurant/gas is nothing new, but it's a little weird going through Denny's patrons, then passing an elevator and a hotel laundry room on the way to the restrooms...

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  31. There was also a round HI in the resort town of Kenora, Ontario. It was right on the waterfront, and looked out on Lake of the Woods. The building is still there and still operates as a hotel, but it hasn't been an HI in decades.

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  32. PS3D...there is nothing weird about any connection between Denny's and gas.

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  33. A great informative read. I'll bet Holiday Inn manufactured (or at least distributed) the ghastly shag rugs that were especially typical of their hotels in the 70s--in garish"earth tones".

    The current management has done a good job of upgrading the Holiday Inn properties, based on the ones I have visited, although they have, sadly, dumbed down the actual InterContinental chain.

    The original signs were iconic and had they not cheapened the brand during their expansion into other formats, it would be great to see them bring it back as a legacy.

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  34. Loved staying at Holiday Inns. My first was at Navarre Beach, FL, on a trip to New Orleans and Plains, GA, in June of 1977. A later hurricane destroyed that Holidome; only a concrete slab is left. We also stayed at excellent HIs in Columbus, GA, Vicksburg, MS. Beaumont, TX, and Dallas. It was, looking back, a Holiday Inn tour, although not intentionally.

    For those of you who love the older iterations, then, you probably won't like this; all Holiday Inn lobbies will be outfitted to look mostly like this beginning in 2013:

    Innovation Design: Holiday Inn 2013.

    The description from the always fascinating Core77 architectural design website:

    "Continuum in conjunction with ai3 recently redesigned Holiday Inn's main lobby into a "social hub." Taking the best elements from cafés, bars and other social atmospheres, the new look really moves away from that Pitbull song and towards something a bit more Apple-meets-your-favorite-chic-local-restaurant. Holiday Inn is expected to outfit their hotels with the new space in 2013. The most interesting part of the story, though, is what happened behind the scenes: Continuum took over a warehouse and used 800 foam core sheets to construct a life-sized prototype of the lobby."

    Something tells me the new Holiday Inns won't find many fans among your readers, Dave. Thanks, as always for a wonderful and fascinating look at the cultural icons of our childhoods.

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  35. @ Paul: Nope, Denny's and gas is pretty common. Gas and a hotel however...

    I wonder when Dave will reply to all our comments, or does he even do that anymore?

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  36. Bob – Thanks very much, I appreciate it!

    Portland via Japan – The Holiday Inn story is a fascinating one, and deserves to be told in detail – so glad that you liked it!

    Kaszeta – Good to know I’m not the only one who remembers the scent. As far as HoJo goes (unintentional rhyme there), I loved those as well, and though we stayed at the hotels a few times, I’m much more familiar with the restaurants. There are only a handful of those left!

    There’s already a fantastic site about HoJo, which can be found at this link:

    http://www.highwayhost.org/Orangeroof/index.htm

    Frank – I appreciate that greatly. I’m glad it held your interest!

    Pseudo3D – Thanks!

    I remember those cool-looking “Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort” signs as well, although I must say I’m a fan of beach resorts in general! ;)

    The Houston hotel you mention reminds me of the huge Holiday Inn Briley Parkway in Nashville, that I remember as a kid visiting Opryland – it wasn’t exactly of the Brutalist style, but it was typical 70’s heavy concrete/boxiness with the classic logo signage. When we lived in Nashville in the early 90’s it had become a Holiday Inn Select, and more recently has been painted in two-tone and updated with the current Holiday Inn signage.

    Barbara – Thanks so much. I guess they felt they needed a change, and rather than further water-down or modify the classic logo, they scrapped it altogether.

    As far as “Holiday Inn food” goes, I’m guessing that has been left up to the individual hotels for years. I would imagine any centralized commissaries were closed down in the 80’s after the company founders’ successors began to sell off the Holiday Inn empire. Their restaurants had many loyal fans, including my wife’s aunt and uncle, who travel by RV frequently, and as recently as 5 or 6 years ago insisted that the only decent, consistent roadfood out there came from Holiday Inn buffets. (With senior discounts before 5pm!) ;)

    Chris – Thanks! The signs truly were landmarks. The only restored one I’ve seen is at the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan, and that one isn’t a full-size version. I suspect the overwhelming majority of them were scrapped, as they were far too big to store or display in the places you typically see nostalgic old signs, like a T.G.I. Fridays wall!

    Good for the San Jose residents in saving the “Diving Lady” sign!

    Paul – Thanks very much. Hoping to pick up the pace here soon.

    Glad you picked up on the “King of the Road” line, sorry I didn’t have a Bangor, Maine Holiday Inn pic to accompany it! Roger Miller’s folksy manner tended to draw attention away from his true genius. He left us way too soon. Didn’t know about the Buffett lyric! Neil Diamond and Elton John also name-checked Holiday Inn in songs back in the day.

    Geoff – I love late 70’s commercials in general – thanks for reminding us of that one!

    Anonymous 1 – That would be amazing (and newsworthy) if the Canton Holiday Inn still had a Great Sign as late as 2008!

    I like your “political theory” regarding Coke and Pepsi – at the very least, the colors match the packaging! ;)

    Mat – Thanks for those kind words. I totally agree with your point about using nostalgic marketing in certain places. Orlando’s International Drive, as you cite, would be an ideal choice. The Great Sign would be right at home there among all the neon. I’m always amazed at how companies fail to exploit “the power of kitsch”! :)

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  37. Higgy04 – Those Holiday Inn playsets are a perennial Ebay item and always seem to fetch good prices. I would have been enthralled with a toy like that, but they came out about 10 years after my time. Don’t think one would look half bad in my office now!

    Mike – Thanks for your update from the always-interesting Springfield area! Holiday Inns (and Expresses) abound, but icons are in short supply everywhere these days. I’m not a fan of the post 1970’s designs either, by and large.

    DougM – Thanks for hanging in there and waiting, and for the encouragement. It’s greatly appreciated! Sounds like your Dad played it perfectly – saving a few bucks on the first night when it was too late to use the pool anyway, and giving you and your siblings something to look forward with the “step up” to Holiday Inn!

    And those towels were just begging to be taken home… :)

    Anonymous 2 - Seems like several hotel chains put their best forward when it came to the Lake of the Ozarks area. I haven’t been there personally, but everything I’ve heard about it is nice. Thanks!

    Charles – Thanks very much, I appreciate that! Thanks also for the clarification on the actual location and the recent history of the “Oakland” Holiday Inn.

    Armpit Studios – “Drunk Regional Sales Managers” – heh! I think those have always been around, although if anything, they’re less common today. Tighter company rules, you know! :)

    Sandi – Great to hear from you, and I’m glad to know this brought back some good memories from your days of working there. I’ll certainly take you up on your offer of the photos! I agree, the Holiday Inn “golden age” was a wonderful piece of Americana. Interesting notes on the Holidex as well! Thanks again.

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  38. Ms. Hartman – Thanks, and you have a great site there as well! I will add it to my links section.

    Your “Red Carpet Lounge” story is priceless itself! I’m picturing a guy with Elvis sideburns and his wife with thigh-length hair, singing the best of The Hues Corporation, Orleans and the Starland Vocal Band. May be a little Manhattan Transfer thrown in for good measure! ;)

    Didi – Glad to provide this supplement to Proquest and JSTOR! :)

    I love the 60’s and 70’s interiors, and from the pictures (and my distant memories) they definitely were among the best of their time. As far as I know, not a single Great Sign survives at an actual Holiday inn location.

    Very interesting page on the Gary Holiday Inn, a truly sad relic! Before I looked at it I assumed it was the downtown Gary location which was much larger (5-6 floors, I believe) and also sits vacant. That Holiday Inn closed down just a few years after opening, and given Gary’s rapidly declining fortunes in the late 60’s, probably never should have been opened in the first place.

    Greg – I’m not sure where that Des Plaines Holiday Inn was located. Maybe someone can help us here.
    You make a great point that modern LED sign technology would make the Great Signs easy to duplicate and far cheaper to operate. Even before the advent of this technology, Kemmons Wilson felt they could have modified the design “with more neon and less bulbs” to streamline costs.

    And thanks very much!

    Claude – Great to hear from you, and I enjoy checking in on the “Ghost of Steinberg’s” every so often to see what’s new!

    Canada was always a great market for Holiday Inns, and I have good memories of one we stayed at in the Toronto area years back!

    Steve – Once again, thanks so much for your kind words and encouragement. It’s one of my favorite brands as well and I tried to do justice to it.

    FJP912 – I assumed that that vans were Chevrolet products, but never knew the Corvair name was ever used on anything but cars. I looked up the Corvair Greenbriers upon reading your comment. Fascinating!
    I don’t know this hotel location and would assume that each hotel was responsible for purchasing their own vans and having them painted up in the company colors, but Kemmons Wilson was a master negotiator, so you never know!

    Slick - …amazing what the right hotel will do for you! ;)

    And thanks very much!

    Anonymous 3 - Yes, Holiday Inns were a great source for bath towels and Bibles! ;)

    Kincon – Thanks for the wonderful compliment. I’m glad you liked this!

    It looks like they built an entire new building new to the round Holiday Inn as a means of expansion. Guess there’s really no way to expand a round building but up, and that’s not easy!

    Thanks again!

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  39. Anonymous 4 – Holiday Inn was fond of this design and built quite a few them over a brief period of years. Sounds like they weren’t only to be found in the U.S. Thanks for that bit of info!

    Anonymous 5 – They’re still trying to sell that complex. Unfortunately it’s no longer a part of town where one would want to lease “Class A” office space, even though the building itself has potential.

    Anonymous 6 – Thank you. It’s a pretty safe bet they made those shag rugs!

    I’ve never stayed in an InterContinental hotel, although the one I remember the best – next to Tribune Tower on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue (in the stretch they call the “Magnificent Mile”) looked extremely nice.

    AirBeagle – That “Holiday Inn tour” must’ve been fun, especially given the year it took place! It would have been interesting to visit Plains at the time, what with presidential history in the making and all!

    As a frequent traveler, I actually really like the new Holiday Inn concepts I saw in your great link. Comfort and convenience are a big deal (although a Great Sign out from would be even better!), and the “social hub” speaks to our times. In a slightly-quasi-related vein, two of our local Starbucks have chucked several of their small tables and installed these huge boardroom-like conference tables. In the first week or so, people awkwardly avoided them, but now every time I walk in there I see every seat taken up by strangers, working at their computers, striking up occasional conversations. An interesting phenomenon that recalls the old diner counters in a weird way.

    But back to your point, I agree, it’s doubtful the new Holiday Inns will be the subject of nostalgic blog posts 30 years hence. :)

    And thanks for your very kind comments!

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  40. My mother worked in the big Holiday Inn in Des Moines back in the seventies. It had a revolving restaurant on the top floor which offered a great view of the city.
    http://cdn.wego.com/gazo/23/b4edf7fbec99c544757072cd650ddcea70a22a04/1323342_J.jpg

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  41. Otto, that was one of my favorite sites to see as we'd drive into Des Moines when I was a kid to visit my aunt & uncle. I imagined it spinning around really fast.

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  42. It was also one of my favorite sights.

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  43. Nice article. Holiday Inn and Howard Johnson's both bought Philco Predictas at bulk rates because Philco couldn't give them away. I do believe the Predicta's service life with these chains was short because they were in constant need of repair. I believe mine was such a set. I think HI and HJ got wise and replaced Predictas when small color portables became available.

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  44. Correction: Bass plc actually was renamed into Six Continents after they sold off their brewing business to Interbrew (now InBev). Six Continents (I have a few of the 6C-era directories) then broke up into two distinct companies: InterContinental Hotel Group (the hotel/soft drink side of 6C) and Mitchells & Butlers (the restaurant-pub side of 6C).

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  45. You know, I think I've been in a "Holidome", even though it wasn't a Holiday Inn. I was in a Clarion (well, it's a Clarion now) in Waco in 2008 that had motel-like rooms facing inwards toward an indoor pool (the pool was awesome, BTW). I'm wondering because a former HI in town converted to a Clarion later also.

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  46. Kemmons Wilson was also involved in WHER - the first (and only, I believe) all-girl radio station in the nation, based out of one of the Memphis Holiday Inns!

    NPR did a great feature on it a few years back. If you google it, you will find it.

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  47. The Charleston one you show, is still in use as a dorm for the College of Charleston. Also, Charleston is home to one of the round tower ones, that is still a Holiday Inn, it is cool!

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  48. Getting n late on this, but what an incredible post!

    From the mid-late '60s tot he late '70s, places like Holiday Inn were an integral part of my family's vacation plans. Living in Atlantic canada, we would usually head to New England for a car trip in the summer, and the first stop was often Bangor, Maine. There was both a HI and a HoJo at the same exit (Odlin RD., I believe) off I-95 and we would usually stay at one or the other. The HI was newer, but my folks tended to prefer the HoJo there because they liked the outside doorways they had as opposed to the hotel-style interior hallways of the HI. But over the years we stayed in both places, and in other towns we stayed at HI quite often, especially ones that they had visited and liked on earlier trips.

    Bangor was a busy place then, with an Air Force base near the hotels and it had lots of activity during the Vietnam war years. Military planes would be roaring overhead much of the day. I remember watching fighter jets taking off in the distance and being really impressed.

    That first night we would take out one of the oil company road maps and plan our next days route. Often the destination depended on the availability of good places to stay, and we would use the hotel directories found in the rooms to determine our options. Sometimes dad would use the reservation service to reserve a room for the next night in the next town, which removed a lot of the stress about knowing you had a good place to stay.

    The commentary about the restaurants was interesting. My folks never liked the HI restaurants. I think they had a meal in one early on that they didn't enjoy, and after that they tended to avoid the restos. By contrast, they loved the HoJo restaurants, as did I.

    Your comments on the smell really hit home. They had two distinct smells - the one you describe, and the other one that I remember from back then is the smell of tobacco smoke. Everyone smoked back then it seemed, and being from Canada, the more pungent, almost cigar-like smell of American cigarettes was very distinctive to me. Although today it is a bad thing, back then it was just different and I always associate that smell with some of those places we stayed.

    Aside from the attractions you mentioned, I loved the fact that most HIs had not only color TV but also had most of the channels from 2 to 13 filled! Coming from a town with only 2 channels this was a real treat. Plus in the summertime most had A/C, something we didn't have at home. I loved getting the room as cold as possible on a hot summer day, something my folks didn't appreciate!

    Thanks for this, Dave. It brought back some very fond memories.

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  49. Otto – The revolving restaurant looks very similar in design to the Chicago Lake Shore Drive location, although the hotels themselves were very different (33 stories as opposed to what looks like 12 or so). Both classics!

    Armpit Studios – The site was a sight to see! ;) I think as kids we all probably would have disappointed at the relatively slow actual rotation speed vs. our imagination!

    D. May – That would make sense. The Predictas sure had a great futuristic design. My understanding is that many vintage TV collectors aren’t overly concerned as to whether the old sets work or not, so Predictas are valuable today in any condition. The replacement sets no doubt worked out much better for the hotel chains.

    Pseudo3D – Thanks for the correction and additional detail!

    Anonymous – Kemmons Wilson was an enterprising guy, for sure. He definitely understood the value of good publicity! Thanks for bringing up that interesting fact.

    Jarrett – Very cool. I really like the gigantic sign pictured on top of the Charleston Holiday Inn, and although that’s no doubt long gone, it’s good to know the building is being put to good use!

    Greg – Thanks for your kind words and for sharing those great memories! What a fun description of your family’s typical vacations.

    Also, I’m glad to hear someone else remembers the unique scent!

    I was fonder of the HoJo restaurants because of the way they reached out to kids, with their 28 flavors of ice cream and the famous “HoJo Birthday Club”. Fun times.

    And I’m totally with you on the air conditioning thing – I could freeze anyone out! ;)

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  50. What a wonderful reminder of my younger days when my family nearly always stayed at a Holiday Inn! I remember staying at one in Kentucky in the late '50s and being fascinated with the way the lights moved on the Great Sign at night. You knew whay you were getting at a Holiday Inn from the rooms to the restaurant (I loved the fried chicken, too!).

    My wife and I even spent our wedding night at the Holiday Inn in Grenada, Mississippi, in 1982. I was even able to arrange a head of time for a vase of roses in the room, something I doubt you could do these days.

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  51. Paul - So glad this brought back some good memories for you. Thanks!

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  52. Greg Beaulieu--the reason all the channels on the hotel TV were occupied is because it hooked up to REALLY basic cable. In fact, in those days there were laws banning cable/pay television from the big cities and their suburbs. Cable TV started out in the rural areas to pull in distant stations, and even ignoring the regulations, few saw any other future in it then.

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  53. This is how I remember Holiday Inn, especially the one at I-264 and Bardstown Road in Louisville, KY. What a shame all that glorious neon is gone now with modern boring bland signage.

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  54. I just want to thank you for this tremendous article about Holiday Inn history. The images were great as well. It is just horrible that IHG wiped away the last vestige of an American icon with the new branding. I am a loyal Holiday Inn customer. I have talked to guests and employees who agree with me. The irony is that the new interiors have bits of imagery scattered through them with the brand heritage.

    Where's my Great Sign?! And where's my colonial innkeeper?! Well, my URL takes you to flickr where I have a number of galleries devoted to the "great sign." Keeping it alive there! Thanks again for your work on Holiday Inn at PFS.

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  55. Paul – My earliest recollections of cable tv are from the early 70’s, from vacations where my family stayed at motels (other than Holiday Inn). In particular I remember a little beachfront place near Clearwater, Florida that had a sign outside saying “We feature TelePrompTer Cable TV” or something like that. At the time I thought “Looks like same ol’ TV to me!” ;)

    IUChad – I agree, modern signage is incredibly boring by comparison. The more time passes, the more fortunate I feel having seen the “golden age”, or at least part of it, firsthand.

    Tim – Thanks so much, glad you liked this! And you’ve got a great set of galleries there – wonderful Holiday Inn pics! (I’m also a huge fan of Delta Air Lines’ historic image. Used to fly them all the time.)

    I too find it interesting that HI is incorporating bits of history in their newer interiors. They need to spread some of that to the outside! ;)

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  56. What a fascinating article about Holiday Inn! I remember the sign in front of ours on "the strip" in Shamokin Dam, PA!

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  57. Anonymous Coke & Pepsi...interesting point, but while Atlanta-based Coca-Cola became a part of Southern culture before the world's, Pepsi-Cola was created in North Carolina.

    Anonymous WHER...there were also stations in New York and Chicago that had all-female air staffs. The New York crew included the beloved doyenne of the TV series WHAT'S MY LINE, Arlene Francis, while Chicago had Yvonne Daniels, one of the first female African-American DJs, who later had a stint at the city's legendary Top 40 station, WLS. She passed on at an early age, and the city honored her by dedicating a portion of a major thoroughfare in her name.

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  58. 2/3/12
    RobGems.ca Wrote:
    Loved your artcle on Holliday Inn,just as good as many of your articles. I miss the "Great Sign" too. In Michigan, they were a part of my childhood as anyones' in Memphis will recall of that expensive, but grand sign. The last "Great Sign" I saw was the Troy, Michigan Holliday Inn by 1-75 and Rochester Road by the diversion into Stephenson Highway. It finally came down in 1982;now it's been replaced by a Marroit's Hotel site. There was a circular-cylinder shaped Holliday Inn in Michigan as well; It was off of Telegraph Rd. (U.S. 24) near the cutoff of the I-296 Intersection in Southfield. Last I looked, it was still there, without the "Great Sign" sadly. I don't remember if they had a Gulf station by it in the early 70's, but today It's now a Sunoco station. Gulf oil has gone from Michigan around 1991,replaced by B. P. or Marathon stations. As for the record label based off of Holliday Inn's hotel chain, here's this interesting tidbit you probably already know from record collector blogs: The label was started in 1963, and survived until about 1969.Late in it's near 7-year life, they brought in A well-known record producer from Memphis who already was world-famous for having Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis on his label roster. After Sam Phillips (how'd you guess?) sold out his interests of Sun Records to SSS/Plantation Records boss Shelby Singleton in Janurary 1969, Phillips briefly ran the promotional end of the sevices for Holliday Inn Records, but it didn't last long. Whithin a year later, the label went under, never producing more than regional selling records,and never breaking into Billboard's Top 100 charts. The Label issued about 21 45 R.P.M. singles by the decades' end, each one a collector's item by record collectors. (The label never had distinguished "name" artists like Presley/Cash,etc., but did issue some interesting Rockabilly and R&B discs. My favorite one was "Rip It Up Potato Chip" (yes, that was it's title)by local Memphis rocker Kenny Lund issued in 1964. Phillips would eventually go back into re-issuing the Sun empire's discs with Shelby Singleton well into the 1990's. Sam Phillips died in 2008, Shelby Singleton died in 2010. Today, the Sun label is owned by Rhino Records, who was purchased by Warner Brothers in 2004, and has liecesing agreements with Charly/Ace Records (in Europe),Sony/BMG (for Cash & Presley's re-issues.)

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  59. Fantastic and very comprehensive! Always liked the look of those 60's and 70's era Holiday Inn's that had their own restaurant in them! So very Americana. When I saw the food products with the Holiday Inn labels I nearly fell over too! Good stuff.

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  60. I went to a Holiday Inn just last this past Saturday for a wedding. It made me pretty sad that first off, the ugly logo, but also the breakfast sold wasn't very great...I'm sure it was better in the old days.

    In exploring Galveston after the wedding, I noticed a "Holiday Inn Resort" and was disgusted if this was the old SunSpree Resorts, but down the road was a real "Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort" hotel and was delighted. Old logos, too! I wish that logos didn't have to go away...Holiday Inn, Jack in the Box, JCPenney, and more...

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  61. The round Holiday Inn looks like the former Saddle Brook, NJ location. It is currently an abandoned building.

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  62. Like so any others, I have vivid memories of Holiday Inn back when the "Great Signs" were everywhere, and an overnight stay at a HI was a treat after a long day on the road. I guess all of the original, "exterior-entry" locations have been purged from the HI ranks? Thanks so much for this welcome trip down memory lane!

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  63. I can vividly remember being in a Holiday Inn in Lancaster PA in August 1974. After a full day a HersheyPark and traveling around Pennsylvania Dutch country, we gathered around the TV after dinner ... and saw President Nixon give his resignation speech. Also remember staying in a very noisy [and round] ex-Holiday Inn at the intersection of Sunset Blvd. and the 405 freeway in Los Angeles much later in life.

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  64. Motivated by tons of memories of my family’s stays in original Holiday Inns while growing up in the ‘60s, I often search the web for stories and memorabilia. Recently, while looking for very hard-to-find info about the Holiday Inn Jr. concept, I happened upon this fantastic essay.

    During our many road trips, my favorite time of day was when my father would say, “it’s getting late, let’s find a Holiday Inn.” Knowing that I’d soon be gazing upon The Great Sign, then adding to my growing collection of soap bars, fly swatters, shoeshine cloths, directories, stationery, pens, postcards and more, simply made my day. If it had a logo on it, I just had to have it.

    Oddly enough, I never took a towel.

    I remember the “Holiday Inn Scent” well. My strongest recollections are from when I’d return to our room after a dip in the pool on a hot, humid day. Being hit by a blast of delightfully cold air and that unique scent was a welcome and familiar assault on the senses that I won’t soon forget.

    Among other more distinct memories is that of the piped-in music played in the rooms, lobbies and restaurants at many properties. The cheerfully upbeat, yet unfamiliar songs sounded as if they were all performed by the same small band, chock full of flutes and muted horns playing in a style vaguely reminiscent of Lawrence Welk. I can’t remember ever hearing the tunes anywhere else, and would love to know if they were produced by a Muzak-type supplier or perhaps by Holiday Inn itself. I’d be beside myself to find the tapes show up on eBay.

    Though we checked into perhaps a dozen or more of those “dependable two-story” properties all over the country, my most vivid memories are of stays in Carbondale, Illinois during two different summers.

    A 1962 visit found my parents looking out the window of our second floor room toward the lobby, saying, “I think I saw him!” and “do you think Gracie is here too?” George Burns was appearing at the DuQuoin State Fair that year, and my folks were itching to get a glimpse of him.

    In 1966, at age ten, my father and I were staying at the same HI during one of his business trips. While my father worked during the day, I hung out with Cliff, one of the young bellhops. To my delight, the marquee needed to be changed, and I beamed from ear to ear at being asked to help carry out the red letters, which were nearly as big as I was.

    I also had some celebrity encounters during that 1966 stay.

    Brenda Lee was appearing at the fair that year, and Cliff swooned at the assignment of delivering a message to her suite. I had never heard of the singer, but understanding that she was someone famous made me feel privileged just to tag along. Miss Lee must have wondered why the bellhop had a ten-year-old in tow.

    The next day, a local television station conducted poolside interviews with several stars that were appearing at that year’s fair. Though I did not know who Brenda Lee or George Kirby were, there was a comedienne that I did recognize, so out I went to watch with curiosity and delight. Afterward, I asked the funny lady to autograph one of those Great Sign postcards with the Innkeeper and black background. Oh, how I wish I had never lost that card. On the back she had drawn a cartoon of a woman with really wild hairdo, and signed below with “Hi, Bruce! – Phyllis Diller.”

    Above all, the unforgettable Great Sign stood out for me as a symbol of good times by day, and a shining, reassuring beacon of security by night. In the blackness that that shrouded many of the not-yet-fully developed interchange areas at night, the whine of the tires on 18-wheelers plodding on through the dark was a mournful, haunting sound. But “fear not,” the Great Sign always said to me, “for my radiance will envelop you in all that is warm, comfortable and familiar.” And fun.

    And what I wouldn’t give to live it all again.

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  65. Thank you for this article.
    Last night as I was driving down the freeway, I spotted a Holiday Inn. I thought about that great, inviting sign from the days of my youth, now replaced by a sterile, plastic, green "H" backlit by flourescent bulbs.

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  66. Re: the picture of the round Holiday Inn (location unknown)looks like the Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake)location in Austin, TX. It's still there, although since the photo was taken it has been enlarged.

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  67. Thank you! I worked for Holiday Inns in 2 locations from 1972-1984 and absolutely loved the business. I really miss the great sign. Best of all in your collection you have a picture of Holidex Control...the (then) space-age concept come true...I can even remember the slogan..."Holidex is even better at night...make you reservations now" placard at the front desk.

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    1. Thanks, so glad you liked this! It's always fun to hear from folks who worked there back in the day. I love the Holidex photo as well...in today's world, it's easy to forget just how advanced Holidex was for its time.

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  68. I never knew until I read this that Gulf Oil and Holiday Inn had a deal. Now all those old Gulf TV commercials that featured Holiday Inns make sense.

    Unlike a few other motel chains that had fast food chains or cafeteria chains associated with them, Holiday Inns never really did. Howard Johnson's is both inn and place to have ice cream for example.

    Your blog brings back memories of things that fired my child's imagination to the point that my usually unobservant father even noticed. I was really fascinated by motels, Interstate Highways, service station chains, restaurant chains, and other things that served the motorist and traveler. Too bad some venture capitalist did not throw money at me or I would have designed a company like Holiday Inns. Their loss.

    Back in those days,everything seemed possible: NASA was headed to the moon, Look magazine had optimistic articles, people I loved were alive and well (even the old people, such as my grandparents, seemed healthier then), everything was shiny and new (and not covered with grime from air pollution) and even TV commercials were upbeat. I still remember the jingle from the Figurines commercials.

    One can hope for less slasher movies, less vampire movies, less gloom and (paradoxically) less doom if we listen to the prophets warning us to clean up the environment and reverse climate change. If we clean up the Earth and let private enterprise take us into space, those halcyon days could be back. And, oddly enough, this is exactly what my child's mind was saying all along.

    Great blog !!!
    Thank you and God bless you.

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  69. The location of the "round one" in your photo is on I-35 at Town Lake in Austin, Texas. The HI is still operating today and the Gulf station is now a Chevron.

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  70. Awesome memories! To quote Edith & Archie Bunker: "Those Were The Days"!!!

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  71. The image of the round Holiday Inn with the gas station next to it may very well be the Camden Plaza Hotel at 114 Richey St, Pasadena TX.

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  72. I wish they'd bring back the original neon sign, which would be considered "retro" now.

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  73. Great article!

    You can see more images and discussion of the Holiday Inn Great Sign in my Facebook group: The Great Sign.

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/TheGreatSign/

    Anyone interested is welcome to join.

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  74. I don't know if I'm talking to an empty room, but I'll ask anyway. Can you tell me the location of the Holiday Inn Jr. picture above? Thanks.

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