Beyond the Holidome: Remembering Holiday Inn's humid, moldy, fabulous indoor mini-resorts

On the great comedy/theme park podcast "Podcast the Ride" this week, the featured subject is Holidomes. In the 1970's, some U-shaped Holiday Inn motels covered the center swimming pool courtyard with a roof and made indoor recreational spaces with such amenities as putting greens, tiki bars, shuffleboard courts, and pool tables.

This particular episode is behind a paywall (it's a "Second Gate" episode), so I'm sworn to secrecy regarding its premium content, and will only reveal in this post information on Holidomes that I gathered from publicly available sources.

Holidomes got their start in the 1970s because Holiday Inns in more northern climates could only get use out of their swimming pools a few months out of the year. Also, writer and historian Ross Walson notes that franchisees, many of whom started their motels in the 1950s, were under contractual obligation to renovate or renew their properties every twenty years. Link to an article in The Globe and Mail here.

The solution was simple. "A lot of the franchise owners had U-shaped buildings with a pool in the middle, and two partners in Kansas City who had Holiday Inns, Robert Brock and Edwin Linquist, came up with the idea of enclosing the courtyard," Mr. Walton says.

"[Holidomes] came at a perfect time for the hotel industry, during the energy crisis," he adds. Fuel prices shot up dramatically after the Arab oil embargo of 1973 and during the Iranian revolution of 1979.

"There were fuel shortages, and people who wanted a getaway had to stay closer to home," Mr. Walton says.

Holidomes started sprouting up all over America.

I'm a '70s kid whose family went on road trips, and I'm shocked that I don't think I ever stayed at a Holidome. I would have absolutely loved them.

Alas, the glory days of Holidomes were not to last. By the mid-1980s, Holidomes were starting their decline. One problem was that they were expensive to properly maintain, and unpleasant if not properly maintained. The humidity from the pools would damage the ceiling. The courtyard-facing rooms could get damp and stuffy. Link to an article in Miles to Memories here.

Well they were expensive, very expensive.  The maintenance costs were brutal.  The pool would create moisture throughout the Holidome area and mold and decay would be an issue. I have to imagine they just didn't have the filtration systems like we do for indoor pools to keep up with it. Other problems would be the chemical smell of the pool seeping throughout the hotel because it was in an open air space. The design was also usually unaesthetically pleasing, looking like a pole barn roof thrown up around a motel.

Also, travelers' habits and tastes began to change. The Globe and Mail:

"Leisure travel now is much more global. At one time you'd get in your car to go somewhere, but then we saw the rise of discount airlines and packages, and people started to travel farther afield," Dr. McKellar says.

People still want to hop in their cars and enjoy a little fantasy fun on their road trips, but their tastes have evolved since the Holidome days, says John Belknap, co-owner of Penny's Motel in Thornbury, Ont.

And while the covered structures were expensive to maintain, they were cheap to demolish.

But clearly this story of the ruination of a glorious American institution can't just be about humidity and cheap gas; the story needs a villain. A single person who personifies unrepentant greed and how it destroys the fun and good cheer that have always brought Americans together.

Insuring Holidomes also became more and more costly, Mr. Walton adds, and the Holiday Inn chain started to rethink its marketing after changes in corporate ownership and a failed hostile takeover bid in the 1980s by a developer named Donald Trump.

So the demise of the Holidome was hastened by not just a Donald Trump money-grab, but a failed Donald Trump money-grab. Sounds familiar.