Indoor pools, recreation facilities and even business centers.
Those are common amenities at many hotels today, but it wasn’t too long ago that they were considered luxuries. One of the first hotel chains in the country to bring those comforts and conveniences to the masses was Holiday Inn.
Beginning in the 1970s, Holiday Inn was looking to reinvent their hotels and further cater to traveling families and business clientele.
Enter the Holiday Inn Holidome: a climate-controlled indoor space that housed everything from tiki bars to shuffleboard. Instead of traveling across the country to a tropical destination, vacationers had to look no further than their own backyard.
It was a minivacation for the family, but it was also a great place to hold business events, said writer and producer Ross Walton, a historian for the University of Southern Mississippi Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage.
The large, open space also made a great venue for class reunions and proms. The ability to hold these types of events transformed Holiday Inn into a destination instead of another hotel for travelers to rest their heads for the night.
A solution for swimming pools
One of the first inspirations for the Holidome came out of necessity, said George Falls, who was a vice president at Holiday Inn from 1960 to 1980.
“Swimming pools are just useless, particularly in the North, nine months out of the year or more,” Falls said.
A Holiday Inn in North Dakota built one of the first Holidomes to solve that problem, though it wasn’t called a Holidome until Holiday Inn later adopted the idea at their other hotels. With a large covered space to hold a pool and other amenities, locals could now enjoy swimming in a pool year-round.
Although the Holidomes were popular in colder states, Walton said Holiday Inn’s most popular Holidomes were in Florida.
“There’s nothing worse than taking your kids on vacation in Florida and it rains for the whole week,” Walton said. “This is a bit of vacation insurance for a lot of people.”
In the 1970s, Holidomes began sprouting up all around the country. This particular project allowed the franchisee owners a lot of creative freedom, which quickly turned into a competition.
“They were competing with each other to see who could have bragging rights for the biggest Holidome or the most elaborate production,” Walton said.
One such franchisee owner was DeWitt Hardin in White River Junction, Vermont. He opened his Holiday Inn in 1971 and later constructed a Holidome for it, which was completed in 1978.
Unlike the tropical oasis many of the