To recent newcomers, the existing complex of several deteriorated buildings was known more for its series of crimes including drug deals, armed robberies and murders.
But to longtime residents, it was a place where many wonderful memories were made at civic club gatherings, wedding receptions and fundraising events.
And it was where you could hear lots and lots of great country music in the Holiday Inn Lounge, which evolved into the Sassy Sadie’s, Honkytonk and Miss Kitty’s nightclubs.
The Augusta business community was buzzing with the news in late 1957 of the just-completed Holiday Inn with its 52 guest rooms. It put Augusta on the travel-industry map as having a really nice motel that was part of a nationally-known chain.
It was among the first efforts to revive the south side of Richmond County along Gordon Highway with the Southgate Plaza shopping center, Howard Johnson’s travel lodge and the Alamo Plaza motel all to follow within months.
For many celebrities who came to Augusta in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, the Holiday Inn on Gordon Highway was “the” motel to stay including for singing stars Wilson Pickett and Bob Seger.
Two personal memories come to mind.
In late February of 1973, a large country music show came to town for a matinee performance at 3 p.m. and evening performing at 8 p.m. at Bell Auditorium.
Besides Billy “Crash” Craddock and Gordon Terry, Webb Pierce brought his daughter, Debbie; former Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis (writer of You Are My Sunshine) brought his wife, Anna, who was part of the Chuck Wagon Gang gospel singers, and Tom T. Hall brought his new discovery, young singer Johnny Rodriguez.
Within months after being in Augusta, Rodriguez would release his monster breakthrough single Pass Me By (If You’re Only Passing Through).
Hall – writer of Jeannie C. Riley’s hit Harper Valley P.T.A. and his own many hits including Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine – asked me if I could drive him back to his motel room at the Holiday Inn between shows.
He said he had something really important to do and needed to get back. So, I said “of course” and drove him there. It was raining really hard, and when we got to the motel, Hall wasn’t sure about in which wing his room was located. He remembered it was on a second floor.
He told me to come with him, and we sprinted through the rain into a wing and up the stairs. He looked across at another wing and said, “Oh, it’s over there,” and we ran through the rain to that wing.
So what was so important that he needed to get back to his room between shows? He quickly went over and turned on the TV set and the Redd Foxx comedy series Sanford and Son came on. He looked at me, smiled and said, “I never try to miss this show!”
That same year in September of 1973, I went to the Holiday Inn to interview singer Ray Charles. He was in town to perform at James Brown’s Third World nightclub. I was told to go to a room in a wing on the far right of the motel and knock on the door. This very familiar voice called for me to come in and shut the door.
When I opened the door, I saw Charles seated in the room and said hello, but when I shut the door, the room became almost totally dark. Those were the days before I was using a tape recorder and only had my reporter’s notepad.
“Mr. Charles,” I said, “you may be the one who’s blind, but you have me at the disadvantage because I can’t see to take notes!” He let out a big laugh and turned on a light. It ended up being one of the best interviews I’ve ever had.
Ron Gibbs and his Sound Dimension band became a resident group in the Holiday Inn Lounge when it was known as Sassy Sadie’s Lounge.
The beautiful and talented vocalist Lynn Houston and her band took up residence when it became the Honkytonk nightclub in 1981.
An advertisement in The Augusta Chronicle for the club showed a woman with a cowgirl hat offering this message, “Now that Honkytonk is open, I never worry about having a good time when my friends and I go out. I know at Honkytonk I’ll get live music every night with lots of dancing and plenty of action.”
By 1985, the Holiday Inn franchise was gone and the motel became the Quality Inn with a nice guy named L.E. Adams running it. The Honkytonk became Miss Kitty’s.
May of 1987 found a brand new band from Marietta, Ga., booked into the still popular night spot – Confederate Railroad fronted by singer Danny Shirley. It wasn’t too long after Augusta that Shirley and his band started having national hit singles like Jesus and Mama, Queen of Memphis, She Never Cried, Trashy Women and Elvis and Andy.
So, you can take away a building, but not the memories that were part of Augusta’s first Holiday Inn on Gordon Highway.