At Your Leisure: A Lost Roadside Beacon

Written by on April 17, 2015 in At Your Leisure - 7 Comments
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For anyone who may have grown up from the sixties through the eighties, childhood trips often meant a stopover at one of the many Holiday Inn hotels located across the country. The chain, envisioned by Kemmons Wilson in 1952, after encountering poor lodging choices during a family vacation, essentially created the standardized hotel chain concept prevalent today. Until 1982, travelers could look for the giant green neon signs and be assured of consistency in  accommodations and services.  Although the brand still exists under the international conglomerate IHG, it bears little resemblance to the original concept. Drivers may recently have noticed a pile of rubble on US 31 immediately south of the I-465 interchange. This is the last reminder of Holiday Inn in the Circle City in its traditional incarnation.

The big, green sign could once be seen by drivers exiting turn one at The Indianapolis Motor Speedway

The big green sign could once be seen by drivers exiting turn one at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (courtesy ebay)

The first Holiday Inn to open in Indianapolis went up across from the main gate of the area’s biggest attraction, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Opening in 1960, the hotel featured a Jetsonian look with large mushroom shaped canopies at the entrance. Opening prior to any area interstate highways, the hotel provided the only real lodging options outside of downtown. As a result, the property was always jammed with celebrities and race car drivers during the month of May.

The round lobby and restaurant building made the east side location unique.

The round lobby and restaurant building made the east side location unique (courtesy ebay)

Based on the success of this initial location, others soon followed. In 1962, a downtown hotel opened at 500 West Washington Street at the confluence of nearly every major highway passing through the city. That same year, a location featuring a distinct round office and restaurant building opened on Pendleton Pike at Shadeland Avenue. An airport location would soon follow on High School Road.  In 1965, the south location near US 31 and Thompson Road opened, along with a second Speedway location near Interstate 465. This, along with the converted Meridian Motor Inn in the midtown area, gave the chain seven locations in the city by 1967

This 1971 advertisement shows 8 locations including the newly constructed I 70 East hotel, now a Ramada (Courtesy Indiana State Library)

This 1971 advertisement shows 8 locations, including the newly constructed I-70 East hotel, now a Ramada (Courtesy Indiana State Library)

So, what happened? The modern hotel industry that Holiday Inn helped create isn’t designed for any kind of longevity. Once buildings are depreciated and money is made, properties are often sold. Out of date by this point, they are no longer able to meet requirements of the franchisor, and most go into a period of rapid decline. The 16th Street location went through a series of absentee owners and was operating as the “Classic Motor Inn” by 1975. Perhaps an appearance on the television show “Cops” prompted the Speedway to buy the property in 2004, and turn it into race day parking. The east location became known as the Swiss Chalet by 1978. Operating later as the U.S.A. Inn, it gained the attention of the city for all of the wrong reasons and was demolished in 2005.  The downtown location was essentially replaced in 1986 with the opening of Union Station. The Eiteljorg Museum has sat on the site since 1989. The other Speedway location began operating as a Motel 6 in 1990, until it too was razed in 2013, leaving that town without any overnight accommodations. The south side location eventually became known as the Cavaliers Resort after stints as a Quality Inn and Ramada Inn. The property became an awful place to stay, based on reviews still posted online, and just recently met the wrecking ball after being abandoned for more than two years. The airport location does live on after being rebuilt in the 70’s, and now operates as the more upscale Crowne Plaza.

What are some of your favorite memories of staying or dining at this once dominate institution?

The rotunda of the Indiana State Capitol can be seen in the distance of this early sixties shot of the downtown Holiday Inn

The rotunda of the Indiana State Capitol can be seen in the distance of this early Sixties shot of the downtown Holiday Inn (courtesy Amazon)

Printed Sources:

Indianapolis Star March 25, 1962

Indianapolis Star May 7, 1962

Indianapolis News June 5, 1962

Indianapolis Star March 9, 1965

Indianapolis Star February 10, 2004

Polk Indianapolis City Directory, 1967, 1979, 1990


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About the Author

An avid runner who enjoys daily jaunts throughout Indy's historic neighborhoods, Jeff deeply appreciates the detail and workmanship of old architecture. So much so, that he lives downtown in a restored historic building. He also works downtown as a manager of a not-for-profit that promotes globalization throughout Central Indiana. In a past life, Jeff worked in the hospitality industry and may one day pen a book about the ridiculous things people do while staying in hotels. Stay tuned.

7 Comments on "At Your Leisure: A Lost Roadside Beacon"

  1. John April 17, 2015 at 8:15 am · Reply

    Actually, accommodations of a sort remain within Speedway proper at the Dollar Inn, located just across Crawfordsville Road from the old Holiday Inn site.

    • Jeff Kamm April 22, 2015 at 5:19 pm · Reply

      Technically the Dollar Inn resides in a little square of Indianapolis, outside of Speedway town limits. Speedway has been targeting “problem” hotel and apartment properties for redevelopment over the years, and based on a mistaken visit to the lounge when living on the west side, the Dollar Inn would fall in to that category. I’m fairly certain their existence is based solely off this technicality.

      • John April 29, 2015 at 6:09 am · Reply

        Thanks, Jeff, for the correction on the location of the Dollar Inn. The property owner behind the Dollar Inn has recently taken down the woods between the new exit and the storage units next to Goodwill. Although nothing certain has come out yet on what the owner will build there, the rumor mill indicates it eventually will include demo of the Dollar Inn.

  2. Basil Berchekas Jr April 17, 2015 at 12:22 pm · Reply

    Stayed at the one at US 31 and I 465 (no issues with it); had a few drinks at the Airport location and Huntsville, Alabama (good service at both places); and have stayed at Holiday inns in Nashville, Kansas City, Birmingham, Little Rock and North Little Rock, Saint Louis; all good services at the time, …

  3. John Hale April 18, 2015 at 5:01 am · Reply

    Speedway does have one overnight accommodation left in the Dollar Inn, located on Crawfordsville Road by the Denny’s, near the old Holiday Inn location. The entire Holiday Inn (and Red Roof Inn) location is now the grassy area in the middle of the new Crawfordsville Road exit.

  4. William Bussell April 18, 2015 at 4:14 pm · Reply

    The old former Holiday by the Speedway was foreign owned at the end. It was featured on an episode of COPS involving residents. Not good. A restaurant in the building was tasty, but public restroom plumbing was third-world cobbled together pieces that I could not dream of in a nightmare. Cheers.

  5. Marcus Nauman April 28, 2015 at 10:52 am · Reply

    Very nice article.

    The stupendous great sign, the classic William Bond architecture, and Kemmons Wilson’s trailblazing innovations in hospitality propelled Holiday Inn to the top lodging industry in the 1950s. It was a successful formula that was emulated by many other hotel chains.
    Sadly, the once popular motor hotel with stylish exterior corridors, elegant courtyards, outdoor swimming pools, and fabulous neon signs has been rendered virtually extinct as the more profitable ‘shoebox’ architecture with claustrophobic interior corridors and the boring, nondescript back-lit sign has become the industry standard.
    For anyone interested, we have a Facebook group (totally nonprofit and not associated with IHG) dedicated to the memory of the iconic Holiday Inn Great Sign that includes hundreds photos and postcards posted by members.

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