Holiday inn

Holiday Inn in Raleigh known for its character, its strangeness

In its day, the Raleigh Holiday Inn on Hillsborough Street had a rooftop pool, a 20th-floor lounge, and an in-house pianist nicknamed Will Silver, who wore sparkly shirts and sang Howling Wolf songs.

When it opened in 1969, the Holiday Inn topped the list of tallest buildings in Raleigh, retaining its title for eight years.

“The most lavish pleasure dome ever decreed here,” raved The News & Observer at the time, gushing over the Maine lobster on its menu, the racing stripes on its white vinyl tile and the “all wall wall” inside.

But long since its heyday, the Holiday Inn lives on with its thumb-sore roundness, a beige cylinder bouncing off its sleek rectangular neighbors. Locals seasoned enough to have seen Southern Culture on the Skids will recall that the band played on the 20th floor, which makes it likely that fried chicken was thrown there.

Even those who snub it – one architect called it a “terrible travesty” – harbor a fondness for its misplaced nature. It’s the prom jacket that Raleigh never threw away.

And now that its final days are approaching – the developers ironically plan to replace the Holiday Inn with a luxury hotel – nostalgia for the quirky cylinder is reaching a new high. His likeness already appears on a T-shirt at House of Swank.

“Love it or hate it, this building sits high on the Raleigh skyline, quietly reminding us that things can and have been done differently,” said Ian Dunn, a state archivist who also sits on the city ​​historic preservation commission. “The demolition of this architectural and cultural landmark will not only be a loss for the present citizens of Raleigh, but also for future citizens as they reminisce about the fantasy of Raleigh.”

A photo of the Holiday Inn, 320 Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, circa 1974. Mark Hubbard Photograph Collection, State Archives of North Carolina

Cylindrical shelter

About two dozen round holiday inns were built across the country, some of them with rotating upper floors. Although Raleigh offered a floor-to-ceiling view uninterrupted by any obstructions, its roof remained in place.

And for decades it served as the backdrop for special days – now vaguely remembered on social media with news of the hotel’s demise.

Broughton High School graduates reveled inside its rooms, watching the sunrise from the top floor.

The teens snuck to the pool, stole a Holiday Inn towel, then went back swimming all summer, wrapping their ill-gotten memories around their shoulders to look like guests.

Generations spent the night before their first job interviews downtown. And when the ice storms hit, Raleigh took a cylindrical shelter.

The Dodd-Hinsdale House is seen in the foreground as workers construct the Holiday Inn on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, North Carolina on July 31, 1969. News & Observer Folder Photo

Barbara Buescher recalled her family fleeing there around 2002 when a storm knocked out the power, sneaking in a yelping cuckoo clock and a pet box turtle.

“Terrified of being discovered,” she said. “Times of fun.”

Hundreds of other weddings performed there, often walking a few blocks from the United Methodist Church on Edenton Street.

“People waved at us and honked their horns as the twenty or so of us in the wedding procession walked over there,” Jennifer Pope Edwards recalled of the time in 1998. “It was about the only place in town to have a wedding in Aug. Most places were either outdoors or expensive.

At best seeing

The memory effusion comes even as much of Raleigh acknowledges that the Holiday Inn looked garish and tacky at best in its most honest assessment.

Thomas Barrie, professor of architecture at NC State University, described it as “altered”.

The Holiday Inn pulls away from the street rather than settling on the sidewalk with storefronts to grab the attention of pedestrians — the modern approach.

It borders a dirt parking lot, and its circular ramp to access the parking spaces is visible from the street, showing that its designers have made giant concessions to the automobile.

A 2012 News & Observer file photo of the Clarion Hotel, right, on Hillsborough Street in downtown Raleigh before it was renovated and converted into a Holiday Inn. Robert Willette

But Hillsborough Street – Raleigh’s main thoroughfare before downtown revitalization – has seen a collection of flawed and beloved landmarks fall to the wrecking ball in favor of shinier replacements that look barren by comparison because no one still love them.

by Sadlack. The Inn of the Velvet Coat. Brewery.

Fans of the Holiday Inn shudder to imagine the same luxury considerations tearing down Dorton Arena, just as much a relic.

“The Holiday Inn building is iconic in its own way, in part because it’s a survivor,” Barrie said. “The loss of collective memory that is embodied or materialized in the environment is something that we really need to be aware of and to be careful about.”

Or put another way, when Raleigh’s memories run out of a piece to crash into for the night, they just move on, getting smaller the further they go.

A 1998 view of the Holiday Inn in Raleigh, North Carolina, viewed from South Saunders St. News & Observer Folder Photo

This story was originally published February 17, 2022 11:19 a.m.

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Josh Shaffer is a general-assignment reporter on the lookout for “talkers,” which are stories you might discuss over a water cooler. He has worked for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.

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