The big green sign could once be seen by drivers exiting turn one at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Image: eBay)
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 was envisioned by Kemmons Wilson in 1952, after encountering poor lodging choices during a family vacation, and 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. The last reminder of the traditional incarnation of Holiday Inn in the Circle City is now a pile of rubble on US 31 immediately south of the I-465 interchange.
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.
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.
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 Out of date by this point, they are no longer able to meet requirements of the franchiser, and most go into a period of rapid decline.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?
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
Actually, accommodations of a sort remain within Speedway proper at the Dollar Inn, located just across Crawfordsville Road from the old Holiday Inn site.
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.
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.
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, …
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.
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.
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.
My mother was a cocktail waitress at the Speedway location and later a bartender in the late 60’s, early 70’s. Supposedly, she was the first woman bartender in the state (not sure if I could confirm that but it certainly seems feasible given the time period). During May, many of the drivers, owners, crew, etc stayed there and frequented the bar. My mom got to know a lot of them very well. She loved the Unsers, Granatellis (especially Vince), and Mario Andretti. She was not a fan of AJ – that’s putting it mildly. He’d drink a scotch and coke (ew!) and leave her a dime tip. She brought home lots of memorabilia for me signed by the drivers- I SO wish I had taken better care of that stuff and saved it. Some of that stuff would be worth a ton now.
Does anyone remember the name of the bar in the Holiday Inn, the one by the Speedway exit? Thanks!
I worked at two of our local Holiday Inns. Spent one summer as a lifeguard at the North Meridian location. (They had a round swimming pool in front). Does anyone know that address or what is there now?
I then worked all of my high school summers at Holiday Inn South. Started in the restaurant then worked my way up to the switchboard and front desk agent. After college at IU, I continued with them, transferring to the Holiday Inn Hollywood, which was built as the showplace property for the company. It was a 30 story building on Hollywood Blvd. With a revolving restaurant on top.
As far as I know, my family never stayed there, but my sisters and I saw Amy Grant there in 1978. She wasn’t 18 yet, cuz it was in the summer of 78, right before my 18th birthday. It is such a sweet memory, It’s sad to see that such a beautiful place had to be demolished
I was just sent this by a friend- thanks for posting. I sure wish I’d visited the lounges at all the Indy locations! They sure didn’t last long.
The last one I stayed at was a former Holiday Inn in Panama City, Panama, about 12 years ago. Nothing had changed, I thought I was back in Speedway in the 70s!
Newfields just released some nostalgic postcards, and “The Fabulous Holiday Inn East” was one of them!
I don’t really count the airport location- not a “classic” holiday inn. But I did eat at the wonderful French restaurant there a couple times. Speaking of dining, the Speedway location was the only nice restaurant in town when I was growing up. Things sure have changed!
I forgot to mention, some scenes from the 1969 Paul Newman film “Winning” were filmed at the HI by I-465 in Speedway. My mom and I, along with a friend of hers, drove by and took pictures. The location where the characters were staying in the film was actually the Speedway Motel at IMS, but I’m not sure if any interior scenes were filmed there- probably just exterior.