The rooms were booked before the beds were put together. Banquets were scheduled before the hiring of the cooks. The conventions were reserved before the purchase of the tables.
The Cascade Holiday Inn was a success even before it opened in 1971.
Fifty years ago, Akron officials hailed the 20-story hotel at 20 W. Mill St. as the cornerstone of downtown revitalization. It was a major piece of the puzzle of the Cascade Urban Renewal Project, which included the 24-story Akron Center and the seven-story building known as 3 Cascade Plaza.
To the west was a giant moat where houses had been demolished to make way for the Akron Innerbelt and to the north was a vast empty lot, the Super Block, where downtown stores had been razed for future office buildings.
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“When that is done, I think Cascade Plaza can compare favorably to what any other city in the United States has done with its downtown core,” Akron Mayor John Ballard said in 1970. .
Technically, the Holiday Inn was an 18 story construction project. Two lower floors had already been built as part of the Cascade five-level underground parking garage, which opened in 1968. Over 400 of the garage’s 2,150 parking spaces were reserved for the hotel.
The Ruhlin Construction Co. built the $ 6.6 million (approximately $ 43.5 million today) hotel for John W. Galbreath Co., the Columbus developer of Cascade Plaza.
“It was well planned,” noted William Ruhlin, president of Ruhlin Construction. “The hotel will fit together with the office buildings and shops and the parking lot.”
The 306-room hotel was a joint venture with brothers Michael, Joseph and Gus Gallucci, who owned the Holiday Inn franchise in Akron.
“There really is no limit to what we can do here, and downtown Akron is a great place,” said Michael Gallucci.
The brothers already owned seven hotels in Ohio, including the oddly named Downtown Holiday Inn, a 225-room apartment building on Grant Street near Akron University. For obvious reasons, the hotel was renamed Grant Street Holiday Inn and later became Gallucci Hall, a student dormitory, after the university acquired it in 1982.
Businessman Kemmons Wilson opened the first Holiday Inn in Memphis in 1952 after encountering less than desirable accommodation during a family trip to Washington, DC.
Construction began in June 1970 on the Akron Hotel, which was funded by a construction loan from a consortium of seven lending institutions led by the First National Bank of Ohio.
Reading the writing on the wall, the 395-room Mayflower Hotel, Akron’s former storefront, closed in May 1971 almost five months before the Holiday Inn opened.
William Bond Jr. and Associates, the Memphis firm that designed all of the Holiday Inn’s, was the architect of the Akron building. The plans called for a rectangular concrete and glass structure that Ruhlin described as “a baby United Nations building.”
The hotel takes shape
The Mill Street level consisted of the main lobby, lounge bar, gift shop, hair salon, and parking garage entrances.
The focal point of the hall was a 66-inch-diameter crystal chandelier, shipped from San Francisco. Interior designer Bob Brosche noted that “each piece of crystal could be used separately as a very good imitation diamond.”
According to Holiday Inn promotional material, the lobby is quite plush.
“Crushed velvet chairs in shades of green and off-white give an air of aristocracy with lavish Edwardian accents,” the hotel boasts. “The whole scene is enveloped in a mix of blue, green and plum, patterned on high pile carpet.”
Three color schemes were chosen – gold and brown, orange and green and blue – alternating every three floors.
The second floor had a laundry room, storage areas, offices and more entrances to the parking lot.
The third floor, at plaza level, housed a 250-seat restaurant, a ballroom and smaller banquet halls. The main dining room, which included a piano bar, was known as Governor’s Square. The Cascade Holiday Inn has drawn chef Richard Auerbach away from the Four Seasons in New York City to oversee the cooking.
The rooms were located on the fourth to the 18th floor. The carpeted bedrooms have been furnished in Edwardian and contemporary styles and equipped with air conditioning and color TVs. The 18th floor had two presidential suites.
The 19th floor contained the Cascade Club, a social organization made up of business leaders, and featured a grill, private dining room, and library.
The 20th floor had a swimming pool and a helipad for business trips.
“This property is, without a doubt, the best establishment the hospitality industry can offer by today’s standards,” noted Michael Gallucci in October 1971. “You, the people of Akron, will be proud too than us of this particular holiday. Inn. My only wish is to be able to personally greet you all when you come to visit this property. “
Ready or Not
The building wasn’t quite ready, but it still opened this month for the annual Grand Chapter convention of the Royal Arch Masons of Ohio. The 150 hotel employees rushed to greet the 1,000 guests.
Carpenters, painters and electricians were busy at work. Cables hung from the ceiling and lights hung from the walls. A pump had to be replaced to get hot water upstairs. One of the floors lacked furniture. The toasters and coffee makers had the wrong pins. Someone forgot to post a sign above the men’s restroom.
The masons didn’t care. They knew they were lucky to have a hotel after the Mayflower closed.
“Everything is going very well,” High High Priest Charles E. Canfield of Medina told the Beacon Journal. “I haven’t heard any real complaints. We are prepared to bear some inconvenience.
During the first weeks of operation, guests included three celebrities: astronaut Charles “Pete” Conrad, the third man to walk on the moon; Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens, the American hero of the 1936 games in Berlin; and actor Chester Lauck, who played Lum Edwards in the radio comedy “Lum and Abner”.
Prior to the grand opening, the Cascade Holiday Inn had already booked 18 conventions, 58 grand dinners, 20 grand lunches and seven dance parties.
Gallucci said it would probably be 20 years before his family saw a return on the multi-million dollar investment.
“But if bookings continue like this, there should be no problem,” Gallucci said.
No one was happier than chain founder Kemmons Wilson. In a letter to the city, he wrote: “We are pleased to extend our best wishes for the success not only of the Holiday Inn Cascade Plaza, but also for the continued success of the city of Akron.
For 20 years, the hotel has hosted thousands of receptions, conferences, competitions, seminars, banquets, conventions, balls and meetings.
But it then lost its Holiday Inn franchise in 1991. It continued under the Cascade Plaza Hotel name before developer David Brennan ran a partnership to buy the 296-room building for $ 900,000 in December 1993.
In 1995, it began a $ 7.5 million conversion into a Ramada Plaza hotel, which reopened in 1996 after a complete renovation.
In 1998 it became the Radisson Hotel Akron City Center. A decade later it was renamed Akron City Center Hotel.
Texas businessman Jack Saheid took over the 243-room property in 2011. The hotel struggled for years before closing in the winter of 2016-2017.
In May 2017, its content was liquidated. Beds, tables, chairs, rugs, drapes, lamps, chandeliers – everything had to go.
Developer Joel Testa offered to turn the empty building into residential units. In 2018, he renamed the resort Ascend, which the Downtown Akron Partnership said would include 146 modern units, luxury lofts, and a rooftop bar.
The COVID-19 pandemic put an end to the project. Plans to lease units by spring 2021 have been postponed.
Instead, the people of Akron were treated to a light show.
Pennsylvania artist Ian Brill installed nearly 20,000 LED lights on the 19th floor of the old hotel. Commissioned by Curated Storefront, the “Band” exhibition is an “immersive light installation” made up of light boxes, acrylic panels and corrugated plastic.
Brill said the twinkling lights are meant “to reflect our unified concerns about things beyond our control, while encouraging us to celebrate the beauty and the freedoms that are both present and within reach.”
Curated Storefront said the exhibit will light up the skies every night until the hotel’s transformation begins into a residential space.
Fifty years after the building was constructed, the Testa Cos. offers a glimpse into the future.
“Live in luxury”
“Information for Ascend is coming soon.”
Mark J. Price can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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