Throwback Thursday – History of Holiday Inn

As the holiday season approaches, Throwback Thursday is putting a new spin on it. Sixty-seven years ago the world’s first Holiday Inn opened in Memphis, Tennessee. Bowling Green has been home to several versions of one of the world’s most famous hotel chains since the 1960s.

Mr. Kemmons Wilson was the mastermind behind the Holiday Inn hotel brand. With five children, traveling was expensive. He wanted to offer affordable lodging within a day’s driving distance of anywhere across the country. Wilson’s architect was inspired by the 1942 Irving Berlin musical starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire and named the hotel “Holiday Inn.”

By 1968, there were over one thousand Holiday Inns open across the country. Kentucky was home to several, including locations in Paducah, Owensboro, Louisville, Bowling Green, Cave City, Glasgow, Richmond, Corbin, and Frankfort.

Bowling Green’s Holiday Inn Mid-Town was once on the bypass. The two-story drive up motel featured a large courtyard and swimming pool. Guest rooms had air-conditioning and free television. Nearby was the Holidome indoor recreation center whose heyday was in the mid-1970s and 80s. Advertised as a night in the tropics with a disco lounge, elegant restaurant, sidewalk café and health spa, the area’s biggest bands performed at the Holidome and disco dance contests were common. 

There was also a Holiday Inn on Scottsville Road just off I-65. It had a kid’s playground and cocktail lounge, along with special WKU-themed meeting space. It was demolished in the early 1990s, as the Holiday Inn University Plaza was built in 1995. The modern University Plaza is attached to the Sloan Convention Center. It has over 200 guest rooms, a large atrium and the indoor Hartland Café.