Hunting Holidomes: Knoxville’s Baymont Inn & Suites

A few years ago, my friend Ben mentioned to me how much fun he thought tracking down old Holiday Inn Holidomes would be. I agreed! Unfortunately, they’re thinning out around these parts. On Monday, my dormant interest woke up in full force when I stumbled across an old Holidome masquerading as the Baymont Inn & Suites in northwestern Knoxville, Tennessee- or so I thought.

I spent the week after Christmas on vacation in Edisto Island with my parents and my six-year-old niece. It was my first time back to the island in nearly a decade. I took some pictures of what I found interesting on the trip and I’ll write about them periodically. This is part one of the loose series.

Holiday Inn got its start when a guy named Kemmons Wilson found himself unhappy with the accommodations he experienced during a family trip to Washington, D.C. After he returned to Memphis, Wilson met up with an architect named Eddie Bluestein who jokingly named their concept for a superior motel after the classic musical Holiday Inn. The name stuck, and the chain grew rapidly: by 1968, there were a thousand Holiday Inns across the country.

Muncie’s Holiday Inn originally featured an L-shaped layout. Unfortunately, it never became a Holidome.

To stay ahead of its competitors, Holiday Inn implemented a policy that mandated its franchised properties to be remodeled every twenty years1. Many featured U- or L-shaped layouts with blocks of exterior-facing rooms that surrounded a central swimming pool. With that design in mind, two franchisees from Kansas City -Edwin Linquist and Bob Brock- invented a cost-effective way of renovating their properties to meet the corporate standard: they simply enclosed the pool and turned its surrounds into an interior courtyard full of amusements. The Holidome was born. 

An old postcard showing the inside of the Holidome in Denver, Colorado.

It cost about $1 million to convert a regular Holiday Inn into a Holidome2. In addition to the pool, a Holidome’s enclosed atrium typically contained a putting green, a miniature golf course, shuffleboard courts, ping-pong tables, arcade games, and playgrounds. The Holidome was the Great Wolf Lodge of the 1970s and 80s!

This Holiday Inn advertisement from March 9, 1987 mentions the Holidome in Cookeville, Tennessee, near where I stayed the night on Monday.

I actually grew up during the tail end of the Holidome phenomenon and I’ve been to two in my life: the first was in Richmond, Indiana. My dad and stepmom took my brother and me there for a weekend stay when we were five or six, and we ate McNuggets and fries before we ran down to the pool. I associate the greasy scent of McDonald’s’ with chlorine to this day! A few years later, my mom and stepdad took our entire family of seven for an overnight stay at the old Holidome in Fort Wayne on our way to Pokagon State Park. Holidomes were a lot of fun!

The upper-left of this postcard shows the interior pool of the Holidome in Hannibal, Missouri.

Though the Holidome was a revolutionary concept, it fizzled out by the late 1990s. For one thing, it was easier for families to travel longer distances by the dawn of the new millennium than it had been in the 1970s. Because of that, vacations evolved to become more than a simple weekend stop at a wayside motel. Furthermore, the domes themselves were expensive to maintain- the humidity of the pool often wreaked havoc with the interiors of the rooms that opened out to the atriums! I’d imagine that mold, mildew, and humidity all became problematic for franchisees, and eventually Holidomes began to disappear. Many motels were de-domed, but more were sold off to continue life as independent hotels.

Here’s the hallway and staircase looking towards outside.

Thanks to Wyndham Rewards points, my family stopped at Knoxville’s Baymont Inn & Suites on our way from Muncie to Edisto Island, South Carolina on the day after Christmas. Although I was convinced that the place was an old Holidome from the second I stepped inside, I applied a version of my schoolhouse test to make sure before I jumped to any conclusions. The place just looked like a Holidome: for starters, the side doors to the hotel led to concrete hallways with metal stairways that rose to access the rooms on the building’s second floor balcony. You’d expect to see that kind of stuff on the outside of an older motel, not the inside of a modern one.

The inner courtyard of the Baymont Inn & Suites in Knoxville.

After I got to my room, I opened the curtains and took this photo. It’s obvious that the enclosed atrium was added after the hotel had first been built since the vertical beams that support the peaked roof aren’t integral to the balcony structure. Despite the catchy name, few Holidomes actually featured rounded enclosures.

Room 130 at the Knoxville Baymont Inn & Suites.

The courtyard wasn’t heated, but the pool was. It was chilly out there! Here’s my room, if you’re interested. It was fine- it’s a room that looked to have received some upgrades in the recent past. A glimpse of the atrium is visible through the window. My room was about eighty feet away from the pool, and I quickly realized how uninviting that loud and echoey arrangement must have been to vacationing parents who had to drive to a Holidome from any significant distance.

The pool concourse features paths of textured cement flooring along with smooth areas that were likely once landscaped.

The Baymont Inn’s courtyard and pool were several steps higher than the concourse that traveled around it. Areas of smooth and textured cement, as seen in the photo above, implied areas that were once covered with landscaping. Still, after following the protocol of my schoolhouse test, I was dead certain that my room for the night looked out at an old Holidome. Even as I sat down to being researching it, the hotel passed a few other fact-based tests similar to those I explored in the second level of my schoolhouse test.

A 1985 aerial image of the North Park Inn, courtesy of Knox County’s GIS department. The Catfish Cabin restaurant is at the bottom right of the image.

Well, it turned out that there was indeed a Holiday Inn at Central Avenue Pike just off of I-75 in northwestern Knoxville. It just wasn’t here. Here’s what I eventually figured out about the property, which began as the North Park Inn. A $2.5 million project, the hotel opened on April 29, 1982 at 6712 Central Avenue Pike. At the time, 132 rooms were ready for occupancy, while another ninety-six were under construction and scheduled to open later in the year. William C. Martin was the architect and general partner of the 10-member group that owned the motel, but he was also involved in the development of Merchants Plaza, a 112-unit motel located nearby (Motel, 1982).

The former Catfish Cabin restaurant is now home to a church daycare.

Many motels of the era featured an onsite restaurant, and the North Park Inn was no different. Next door, the Catfish Cabin opened up in a structure designed to look like a rustic lodge. A southern-styled eatery with six franchised locations4, Catfish Cabin’s menu featured flame-grilled steaks, lobster, seafood platters, frog legs, and the eponymous fish.

In 1983, the North Park Inn joined the Econo-Travel Motor Hotel Corporation and was rebranded as an Econo Lodge. At that point, the hotel featured 132 rooms, a swimming pool, meeting rooms, and a game room. Econo-Travel operated 180 motels in twenty-six states that year, and it appears as though the motel was branded as both Econo Lodge and Travelodge at different points during the 1980s5.

A 1995 aerial image of the motel as Quality Inn shows that the courtyard around the pool had been enclosed. Image courtesy of the Knox County GIS department.

In 1988, the motel ceased to be an Econo Lodge when it was purchased by new owners who dubbed it Knoxville Manor6. In 1993, the property was sold again to Clause Jasper and Frances Yow, who doubled the size of the inn. The expansion made the structure the largest motel on I-75 between Kentucky and Georgia, and part of the renovation included enclosing the courtyard. That’s what gave the place its beguiling Holidome effect.

One final shot of the courtyard at the non-Holidome.

In 1993, the Quality Inn’s amenities included four banquet rooms that sat up to 3,450 people, a 10,000 square foot courtyard surrounding the pool, the heated pool itself, a restaurant, and designated walking areas. At the time, the restaurant featured a Friday night seafood buffet that cost $10.50 for two, and barbecue on Saturdays7 in addition to a lunch buffet in the courtyard itself.

This ad for the Quality Inn North’s enclosed courtyard -and buffet- ran in the November 19, 1993 edition of the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

In 2016 or 2017, the old North Park Inn was purchased and rebranded as Baymont Inn & Suites by Wyndham. As I mentioned, a Holiday Inn did exist just down the road from the Baymont Inn & Suites. It complicated my research, but unfortunately, I learned that the Baymont Inn was never a Holidome- it was just an imitation, a Johnny-come-lately to the indoor recreation center scene.

The front entrance and atrium of the Knoxville’s Baymont Inn & Suites, which was not a Holidome.

As of my stay on Monday, the property’s lineage is as follows: North Park Inn>Econo Lodge/Travelodge>Knoxville Manor>Quality Inn>Baymont Inn. So much for being an old Holidome. At least I tried. Maybe next time!

Sources Cited
1 Israelson, D. (2022, September 20). The Holidome was a one-stop vacation destination. Why couldn’t it keep up with the times? The Globe and Mail. Web. Retrieved December 26, 2022.
2 (See footnote 1).
3 Motel Weclomes Its First Guests (1982, April 30). The Knoxville News-Sentinel. p. 4.
4 New Catfish Cabin Restaurant on Central Ave. Pike has York Comfort by Don Scruggs. (1982, May 11). The Knoxville News-Sentinel. p. 15.
5 Motel Joins Chain (1983, May 30). The Knoxville News-Sentinel. p. 23.
6 Victory Quest Teleproductions (1988, September 10). The Knoxville News-Sentinel. p. 30.
7 Quality Inn-North loaded with variety of features (1993, July 21). The Knoxville News-Sentinel. p. 62. Courtyard buffet.

4 thoughts on “Hunting Holidomes: Knoxville’s Baymont Inn & Suites

  1. Someone I went to high school managed a Holidome many years ago.

    There was a Holidome just off I’65 on SR 46 in Columbus, IN. It was razed in 2018. 20 years ago I worked for Anthem, the insurer, in the Medicare division. We had an office in Castleton an one in Louisville. When we had management meetings (I was a manager), we did them at the Columbus Holidome because it was centrally located.

    Even though the space was starting its decline and looked rough around the edges, it was still fairly nice. It was supposed to be like an old time American village inside, except it was dank and smelled of chlorine because of the pool.

    This blog post has photos from the inside:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember encountering that online when I was researching these a couple of years ago. That website was awesome! I love the old mall too. I think several Holidomes had over-the-top theming like that. One in Perrysburg, near Toledo, had a French Quarter theme.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. At law school graduation, one friend’s mother held a party at the Holidome at 86th and Michigan Road in Indianapolis. That’s the only time I was ever in one of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s the one that morphed into that enormous indoor waterpark in its later years. When I was in high school, our band stayed at the Drury Inn across the road for the ISSMA competition at the RCA dome. Wish we would have stayed there instead! I used to stop in at the costco nearby when I was in the area after the place had closed but before it was torn down. I wished I’d had the chance to go in!

      Liked by 1 person

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