President Richard M. Nixon slept here.

This month, the University of Akron board of trustees awarded an $810,600 contract to Complete Demolition Services of Louisville, Kentucky, to raze Gallucci Hall on Grant Street off East Exchange Street.

Although a date hasn't been set, company officials expect to begin tearing down the residence hall in July. It will be a spectacular, noisy demise for a building that opened with great fanfare more than 50 years ago.

Many students probably aren’t aware that the five-story hall began as the Downtown Holiday Inn, a 225-room hotel that was constructed on a 5-acre section of the Grant-Washington urban renewal area. The city demolished 100 acres of old homes to make way for a commercial and industrial complex that officials touted as “the beginning of tomorrow.”

The national hotel chain bought the property for $240,000 in 1966. Northeast Ohio brothers Mike, Joe and Gus Gallucci, who had a franchise to construct and operate all Holiday Inns in Summit and Medina counties, began work on a $3 million building ($23 million today) at 200 E. Exchange St.

“I really wanted this franchise,” Mike Gallucci told the Beacon Journal. “The handwriting on the wall told me the Holiday Inn system was going to go over big. And I was right. Do you know there’s a new Holiday Inn opening every 72 hours — more than 1,000 of them already and getting bigger every day.”

Instead of a ribbon, Mayor John Ballard and the Gallucci brothers snipped a giant rubber band at the grand opening Oct. 7, 1967. Ballard and Elvira Gallucci, the developers’ mother, christened the building with a champagne bottle.

Decked out in Mediterranean décor, the hotel offered a 500-seat banquet room, 250-seat dining room and 95-seat cocktail lounge.

“The reason we located the inn here is to meet the great demand for facilities for travelers and salesmen coming into Akron for a few days,” manager Dan Albright explained.

The Downtown Holiday Inn served as the setting for thousands of conferences, seminars, banquets, receptions, dances, conventions, shows, luncheons, reunions and meetings. When the building opened, reservations had already been confirmed for 225 banquets. Conventions were booked three years ahead.

 

Special guest

The hotel had many memorable moments.

President Nixon stayed overnight July 30, 1971, before attending the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremony in Canton. As Nixon’s entourage prepared to take up 80 rooms, Secret Service agents and U.S. Army demolitions experts searched the hotel for bombs. The hotel spent $5,000 to redecorate a fifth-floor, three-room suite for the president.

The next morning, Nixon rode in a motorcade to have breakfast at Beacon Journal Editor John S. Knight’s apartment on Portage Path. Meanwhile, a Beacon photographer took a picture of Nixon’s unmade bed.

The Downtown Holiday Inn was the setting for testimonial dinners for Akron chief librarian R. Russell Munn, Sen. Oliver Ocasek, Akron Fire Chief Gerald F. Vernotzy, Akron Municipal Airport Manager Bain “Shorty” Fulton and United Fund Executive Director Daniel A. Hester.

It was the home of many galas, including the Orchid Ball, the President’s Ball, the Cotton Ball, the Parish Ball, the White Violets Ball, the Mistletoe Ball, the Barristers’ Ball and the Veterans Appreciation Ball.

Pro golfer Lee Trevino held a news conference there in 1968, proclaiming: “I like Akron just fine. In fact, I may move here — if I win the World Series of Golf!”

Dick Weber, Bill Allen, Don Glover and dozens of other pro bowlers attended a PBA dinner banquet for the Firestone Tournament of Champions in 1969. “I’ll never forget these days in Akron,” eventual winner Jim Godman said.

Ohio Gov. James Rhodes spoke at a breakfast, criticizing federal programs that aimed to cure urban problems. “You cannot clean up the cities unless you standardize the welfare system in the federal government,” he said.

Babu Vaghasia, 25, a University of Akron student from India, was reading the book “Crime in America” in 1972 when two gunmen held up the desk clerk and took his wallet.

Jackie Urbanek of Parma Heights was crowned Miss Ohio when the beauty pageant was held in 1974. Reigning Miss Black America Twanna Kilgore and Avon makeup artist Jennifer Martin presented “The Avon Beauty Experience” in 1977.

The Ohio State Coroners Association held its annual convention. North American model railroad enthusiasts gathered for Interail. Polsky’s held a fashion promenade. Evelyn James sponsored “the most diversified wig and hair seminar ever presented.”

Companies held open houses for amazing, revolutionary products: “Let us introduce you to a new world of lasting relief from the disability of rupture.” “Rejoice. The Litton ABS 1281 Magnetic Ledger Computer is here.” “Women! Small feet — search no more.”

Dance instructors Art Kalmer and Judy Erb presented the “Holiday Hustle” in 1975, demonstrating “various techniques of the hustle, a disco dance.”

Walter B. Gibson, who under the pen name Maxwell Grant authored 283 novels about “The Shadow,” was the guest of honor at Pulpcon 5 in 1976.

The Holiday Inn held a bedding sale in 1977 in which 300 sets of used mattresses and box springs were sold for $25 per set in the parking lot. Maybe one was Nixon's.

 

Another hotel

In 1970, the Gallucci brothers announced plans for a $6.6 million, 18-story, 306-room Holiday Inn at Cascade Plaza, bringing two Holiday Inns to downtown. And that was one too many. The original was renamed the Grant Street Holiday Inn.

The University of Akron acquired the $5.5 million property from Michael Gallucci in 1982 for use as a student dormitory. It was a $3 million gift with a $2.5 million mortgage to be paid over 18 years, and the building was renamed Gallucci Hall in his honor.

In the 1980s, the dorm housed more than 450 students, initially all men (including most Zips football players), before welcoming female students, too.

The Crystal Room, the former dining room of the hotel, served as a training ground for students in UA’s hospitality management program. Thousands of feasts were served at banquets and meetings over the decades.

In 2007, the Crystal Room lost its visibility when the Exchange Street Residence Hall was built, hiding Gallucci from view.

And soon no one will see the building. The university has agreed to raze the ex-hotel to make room for green space on campus.

To borrow a phrase from 1960s urban renewal, it’s the beginning of another tomorrow.

 

Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or mprice@thebeaconjournal.com.