Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The End of Suburban Cincinnati's Alpine Chalets


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Originally envisioned as an alpine lodge to complement the nearby amusement park, the Kings Island Inn and Resort attracted the likes of the Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch. In its later years, it changed with the times and fell from its role as part of a "Midwestern Disney World." In the coming days, it's headed for demolition.

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UPDATE: While finalized development plans have yet to materialize, a followup article was published in February 2015 featuring photographs made inside the resort prior to its demolition. 

This past sunday, Kings Island Amusement Park closed for the 2014 season. The Kings Island Resort and Conference Center across the street closed for good. The digital marquee by the highway displayed a message of gratitude to an employee who had worked there for 42 years and as I walked across the lot, a car pulled up to me. In the sedan was the hotel's General Manager who somberly confirmed what I had heard the other day: the hotel was in fact closing.

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- The resort's front entrance.


He had just finished locking the place up and filled me in. Essentially, the facility had gotten to a point where it badly needed refurbishment. Cheap construction and carpet had caused serious mold problems and the cost to renovate had become too high. He, nor the workers who came by later, seemed to have a clear idea of what was taking the resort's place. The only thing they knew was that eventually a liquidation auction would happen and the building's would be razed. What could come to the property next, no one seemed to know.

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The resort itself was a bit of an anomaly. Price wise, the cost of a room per night was situated well below established names like Holiday Inn and Marriott, but above the discount brands like Super 8 and Microtel. Reviewers from Hotels.com, Tripadvisor and Priceline all seemed to agree that the hotel generally deserved "2.5/5 stars," the common theme being that it was "outdated." Nevertheless, sprinkled in amongst the mediocre and overly negative reviews were a few positive ones, mainly coming from loyal customers who seemed to visit every summer.

What made this lodging destination unique though was its history and its billing as a "resort." As I walked around the property you could tell what the original intent was. This place was once an oasis, something truly different and upscale compared to the average roadside hotel/motel experience. In its later years though, it seemed to have become more like a Motel 6. Not that there's anything wrong with Motel 6, but I wouldn't exactly call Motel 6 a "resort."

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The property's "resort" moniker hails back to its inception in the late 60's. Cincinnati's famed Coney Island Amusement Park on the banks of the Ohio River was landlocked and flood prone. It had been purchased by Taft Broadcasting in 1968. By 1970, Taft broke ground on their replacement for Coney Island: Kings Island, situated along Interstate 71 in the town of Kings Mills, OH. In the early 70's, regional/seasonal amusement parks were springing up all across the United States. Many of them, Kings Island included, were vastly different from the "Six Flags style" corporate themed packages of rides and entertainment you find today. Back then, the big idea was to emulate Disney's "vacation destination" ideals in quality and execution. Kings Island's existence didn't begin just as an amusement park, but was intended to be a massive entertainment complex. The properties initially included the amusement park, a campground, two Jack Nicklaus designed golf courses, the College Football Hall of Fame and the Kings Island Inn.

All of these things were born under the management and ownership of Taft Broadcasting. The Inn opened with 117 rooms in May, 1972. Themed to an alpine resort, it borrowed architectural themes indicative of Swiss, Italian and German architecture - some of which was still visible when the place closed. By October of that year, ground was broken to expand the Inn's facility up to 300 rooms.

- A 1979 brochure touts: "Hong Kong Phooey invites you to relax amid the Alpine enchantment at our 300 room Kings Island Inn. Enjoy both indoor and outdoor pools, a game room, tennis courts and miniature golf." Image from KICentral.com.


At the time of its construction, the resort was really the only game in town. Early 70's Mason/Kings Mills wasn't anywhere near the suburban powerhouse it is now and featured very few lodging options. Kings Island itself was promoted and marketed more as a tourist destination/getaway rather than a regional entertainment option, so the idea of offering a full resort fit right in. The Inn was truly once a proud part of the Kings Island brand, so much so that it was featured in two prominent television shows filmed at the park in the early years.

The first was the Partridge Family's "I Left My Heart in Cincinnati" episode.

- The Partridge Family places an order with the poolside wait staff at the Kings Island Inn in 1972.
The episode followed the family to the amusement park, where the plot is that they've been hired to perform for the week. However, a good portion of the episode takes place at the Kings Island Inn where Keith Partridge tries to awkwardly win over the affection of the park's PR lady with corny 70's dialogue. The whole episode is available on YouTube here.

EDIT:
After publishing this article, commenter "chiggerspook" noted that the main playing the waiter in the episode mentioned above is legendary Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench:

The second time Kings Island and its resort were featured in television was the next summer when The Brady Bunch filmed their episode "The Cincinnati Kids."

- The Kings Island Inn featured during the opening credits of an episode of 'The Brady Bunch.'


The Brady's spend most of the episode over at the park where they try to salvage the dad's business trip, but the Inn is featured in a few shots. In 2001, Nick-At-Nite debuted a series entitled "Pop-Up Brady." The series took classic episodes of the show, but would have interesting factoids "pop up" on screen. In one of the scenes featuring the Kings Island Inn, the factoid stated that the actors were dissatisfied with their stay at the resort particularly due to "spiders in the bathtub."
The whole episode doesn't appear to be online, but a highlight reel of the "pop-up" version can be seen here.

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- The Great Wolf Lodge (opened in 2006) and Kings Island Amusement Park seen across the street.


As mentioned before, The Kings Island Inn operated under a common ownership with the nearby amusement park and other attractions. By the 1980's though, things started to change. KICentral.com offers an excellent, detailed history of the park, but here's the gist of the story:

At the end of the park's 1983 season, a management group within Taft Broadcasting purchased two-third's of Taft's interest in Kings Island and its sister parks. Their new partnership was dubbed the Kings Entertainment Company (KECO). KECO along with its Taft parent company were eventually purchased by Cincinnati business tycoon Carl Lindner in 1987. Lindner controlled KECO until July 31, 1992 when he sold Kings Island, its campground and KECO's other parks to Paramount Communications. Lindner retained the adjoining properties across the highway where his namesake tennis arena now stands. The College Football Hall of Fame was closed (a story for a different day), the golf courses sold to new owners and the Kings Island Inn was liquidated.

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- A courtyard between chalets.


I haven't found any sources indicating who eventually purchased the Inn and reopened it, but at some point it came to be known as the Kings Island Resort and Conference Center. Oddly enough, neither the park's Paramount/Viacom or current Cedar Fair ownership seemed to take issue with the hotel using the "Kings Island" name, despite the resort now being owned by a separate entity.

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- Pedestrian bridge connecting the chalets with the indoor pool.


The photographs I took for this article were made on the afternoon of November 2, 2014. The resort's final guests had checked out that morning. In many ways, the buildings and property still reeked of their 1970's design.

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- Entrance to the indoor pool.


Through the years the resort had managed to hold on to some of the amenities from its inception, some of which couldn't be found at nearby competing hotels.

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- The resort's indoor pool.
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- The resort boasted two tennis courts.
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- Basketball hoop and pond overlooking the nearby suburban landscape.
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- Playground located in a courtyard of the chalets.


The outdoor pool seemed to have been closed towards the end of summer and hadn't been drained, just left to wait for its impending demolition.

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Three school busses parked out front were emblazoned with paint jobs evoking the Partridge Family's iconic transportation from the television show. The busses were once used to shuttle guests between the hotel and the park's public "pick up/drop off" area as opposed to the front gate as they had when the two businesses were under the same ownership.

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Initially when I went up to photograph the hotel, I didn't see its story becoming an update for QC/D. However, while walking around there was something that struck me. In the eight seasons I worked at the park and with how much time I've spent in the area, I had never once stepped foot on the resort's property. As I walked the grounds, it was evident that the hotel had once been a far more grand experience, the product of another time. To me though, this wasn't just some 1970's faux Swiss lodge that had been turned into a discount motel, it reflected the evolution of the nearby park and surrounding area.

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- A courtyard within the resort.


The Kings Island Inn and Resort had at one time truly been a destination built around luxury, just as the park across the street had. These days, there's no doubt that Kings Island is one of the premiere regional/seasonal amusement parks in the world. Disney World though, it is most definitely not. The attention to detail and escapism that the park and resort of the early 70's preached was a reflection of different objectives, a much bolder vision than what you'd find today. The Kings Island area bordering Interstate 71 was planned as a Walt Disney World for the Midwest. In many ways, it once was. Watch the aforementioned Brady Bunch/Partridge Family episodes and you can see that the park has a totally different feel than it does today. That notion is very clear in this early 70's brochure for the Kings Island Inn:

- Brochure located and scanned by Standbyme. Featured originally here.


Words like "luxurious," "enchantment," "elegance," and "sophisticated" are used to describe it. It touts nightly live entertainment, a cosmopolitan restaurant evoking old world charm and claims to whisk you "into another part of the world." Judging from the online reviews seen earlier, it seems the ideals of the early 70's didn't survive ownership shake ups and changing times. The resort was no longer the only game in town, subdivisions grew up along with movie theaters, fast food and other hotel options. The park across the way, still top notch, but it now focuses on seasons passes and frequent regional visitors rather than tourists and destination vacationers.

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In the Spring, Kings Island Amusement Park will open for the 2015 season per usual. The Kings Island Resort and Conference Center though, will be long gone and with it, remnants of the ideals and vision of a different time.

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As of this article's posting, future plans for the site following the building's demolition have not been announced.

UPDATE: While finalized development plans have yet to materialize, a followup article was published in February 2015 featuring photographs made inside the resort prior to its demolition. 

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- For more Kings Island history and the fan universe that surrounds the park, check out the ever awesome KICentral.com.

- Special thanks to Ryan aka Boddah1994, Standbyme (aka JD) and a man who interprets things for their help with this article.

Over the years, several of QC/D's urban exploration stories have focused on abandoned amusement parks: View all of the stories

Updates | Oct. 22, 2017:

26 comments:

  1. Great article! Thank you for taking the time to document this before it's demolished.

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    1. Thank you! I appreciate you taking the time to check it out.

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  2. I'm glad you did publish this one. Kings Island has been a staple of the area. You really did a great job capturing the generations of the park and it's subsidiaries.

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  3. Very cool article and pictures. I love your perspective and the sharing of the history!

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    1. Thanks a lot and thanks for taking the time to check out the article!

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  4. Awesome article. With this being in such close proximity to the park, I have a hard time believing this can't be a profitable hotel with new owners and with money to invest. Time will tell.

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    1. I think for this place, the problem was the size. If you're a resort, you can still be a destination in your own when the park is closed for the winter. This place became little more than just a typical hotel though and a very large one at that. I doubt they even filled most of it during the peak season.

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  5. Nice article, but can't believe you failed to mention that the waiter in the Partridge Family episode was Red;s Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench.

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    1. Wow, I didn't even realize that till you pointed it out! I'll add it in when I get a chance!

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  6. Sad. My family's experience-- and our attendance-- was greatly diminished when the campground was closed. And now the resort. I miss the old "family-friendly" KI.

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  7. Great article, thanks. I also worked at the park high school and college summers ('74-'80), and we had our wedding reception at the Inn in 1982. So many memories!

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  8. Thanks for documenting this. .lots of memories there, including a wedding reception there just last year.

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  9. I am not sure when they acquired it, but my former employer, Belvedere Corporation, owned The Kings Island Inn & Conference Center until @ 2008. I worked at Vernon Manor (owned by Belvedere, located at Oak & Burnet in Avondale/Corryville) for 10 years, until it closed in 2009. KII&CC was the first property to be sold. I remember it being said that it was sold to a "Motel 6" type of operation. Belvedere still owns the iconic Netherland Hilton in downtown Cincinnati (the only hotel property they still own).

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  10. Just another story of a company with a good concept selling out and being raped/sold off piece by pice for greed til there's nothing left but rubble and Debt. See Son Of Beast and Tomb raider for a recent heads up. Our Goverment was/is elected to serve we the people, not them the pocket. Emabarrassed.

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  11. KIRC, we will never forget "you"! Greetings from Bulgaria.

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  12. Thank you so much for all the work you put into this article! And for the great pictures! I was born and raised in Mason/Kings Mill and I still live in the area. Several of my family members have work for the hotel over the years, so it is a bit sad that part of my childhood is closing down. You did an excellent job highlighting the hotel's interesting past. I really enjoyed your writing!

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  13. The power lines ramming through the main entry drive mark the right-of-way of the long ago abandoned Interurban Railway & Terminal's "Rapid Railway" division between Cincinnati and Lebanon. I always thought it strange that they didn't manage to reroute or bury those power lines when they built the hotel. Either way, an interesting historical tidbit, which also shows that "light rail to Kings Island" isn't such a far-fetched idea as one might think.

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  14. Well done! My father was a nightclub musician who played in the resort lounge frequently through the '80's - he came home often with stories of celebrities and musicians from the KI concert venue ending their day with a drink at the bar. Another childhood landmark gone. Thanks for writing this!

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  15. Great article. I had a blast working as bartender/cocktail waitress in the lounge for a few years in the 90's when it was still Kings Island Inn. There was always a good mix of tourists and locals who would come and enjoy the fun. There was something different every night, but the highlights were definitely the Seafood Bar on Fridays and the nightclub atmosphere complete with a DJ, a dance floor and local live bands!! The hotel kept busy even during the "off" season by booking conventions, such as the Tow Truck convention (which has now gone to the Great Wolf Lodge) dart/pool tournaments, weddings, high school reunions and best of all the annual New Year's Eve party! I was also there when the company became Kings Island Resort...new management changed everything. The lounge was changed to a sports bar theme in turn putting a pool table where the dance floor once stood and got rid of the entertainment. They didn't want the locals hanging around "ruining" the hotel's reputation for the tourists. They didn't want the "crowds" that came along with the dart/pool tournaments so they quit offering them promotional deals. By the end of my employment I had been witness to the beginning of the demise for this hotel! It was such a shame to see how the opinions of a few had changed the lives of so many!

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  16. Excellent article filled with memory triggers. It prompted me to subscribe to QC/D's RSS feed and "plan" (time permitting and all that, you know) to read some of the previous articles that appear to be just as interesting. Good stuff.

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  17. Great stuff. There is a Facebook Page dedicated to this place: Memories and Photos of Kings Island Resort and Conference Center. Many wonderful memories there. It's a big shame to see it go. Too bad it couldn't be salvaged and rehabbed, if for no other reason than historical significance. It still was a great bargain for off-season conferences and meetings, and one of the few hotels of its type left. Reminded me a lot of the Drawbridge Inn in Northern KY. A sort of omni-resort destination hotel.

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  18. My son and I have stayed at the resort often in the last six years. It was a perfect set up for us with the shuttle service, indoor/outdoor pool, bar/restaurant. We got to know the workers and a few regulars. On the last night I was in the bar which was crowded with regulars and workers and we did a toast to the memories at closing time. It would be hard for me to return to Kings Island (a 3 hour drive) to see it gone - even though I am a Platinum Cedar Fair member.

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