Goodbye to the Drawbridge Inn: The Early Days
May 23, 2014 Leave a comment
A fixture in Northern Kentucky for over 40 years, the Drawbridge Inn was home for a night (or more) for millions of travelers and guests. When it opened in 1970, the hotel was a true regional attraction. In the years between, the hotel sat as a beacon for northbound and southbound travelers on I-71/75. A measure that you were either nearing Cincinnati or that you had truly ventured across the doorstep to the South. Its conference spaces hosted weddings, reunions, business conferences, cheerleading meets, church rallies, and holiday feasts. Its restaurants and nightclubs hosted countless dinners and celebrations. It served as Northern Kentucky’s de facto convention center until the turn of the century when conventions shifted to the publicly supported downtown Covington facility. Today, we present the first in a three part series taking one last look at what was and what is.
Part I: The Early Days
Upon completion of I-75 in 1962, car culture was finally in full swing in Northern Kentucky. With easy highway access, the cities of Fort Mitchell and South Fort Mitchell were primed for suburban style development that catered to the traveler and commuter alike. Fort Mitchell annexed the much larger South Fort Mitchell in 1967. On the southwest corner of the newly combined city were undeveloped parcels of land ready for a new purpose.
A wider angle of the sign above. The sign lived to see social media hit its stride. The Facebook page and Blog (that appear in cryptic format here) are no longer active. Credit: Travis Nipper
What would become the Drawbridge began to take shape in the late 1960s when the homes were demolished on Grace Avenue. Grace Avenue once connected directly to Buttermilk Pike but to make way for a sweeping entrance ramp for I-71/75 the road was partially removed/partially reconfigured as Royal Drive.
Jerry Deters acquired the property and initiated plans for the site to include a hotel, conference center, and multiple restaurants.
In November 1970, Deters opened the Rowntowner Motor Inn, a reimagined nameplate and concept of motels that shamelessly boasted a heritage of locating near downtown convention centers to capitalize on built-in business. The Downtowners were now sprouting Rowntowners (presumably a play on the words “around town”) and the model in Fort Mitchell was logical because the sprawling facility could host large meetings. In fact, it served as the main Northern Kentucky convention center until a new convention center was built in Covington around the turn of the century.
A few years later. the complex would become known by its more popular moniker, The Drawbridge (Motor Inn).
Above: The sign that welcomed visitors entering from Buttermilk Pike for Gatehouse Taverne. Credit: Travis Nipper
Above: This view looking southeast is from December 1977 and shows the site before the early-1980s expansion. All of the land in the top of this picture has now been developed into offices and Buttermilk Pike is five lanes wide. Above: Leonard Losito (50), a bell hop stands in the main lobby in 1979. His mere presence hearkens back to days gone past when businesses approached customer service with manpower instead of technology.
Above: Employees by the outdoor swimming pool accepting Mobil 4-star award in the late-1970s.
Above: Employees in London Hall accepting Mobil 4-star award in 1977.
Above: A meeting of educators in the 1980s.
Above: Seventies inspired fashion abounds at this gathering.
Above: Conventioneers in 1979. Above: The airport shuttle made a stop at the hotel here in 1981. Part II: Heyday Exapnsion
Jakle, John A.; Sculle, Keith A.; Roger, Jefferson S. The Motel in America. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press. Tenkotte, Paul A.; Claypool, James C. (2010). Fort Mitchell. In The Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky. (Vol. F). Covington, KY:The University Press of Kentucky. Stephens, Sarah (2010). Cincinnati's Brewing History. Charleston, SC; Chicago, IL; Portsmouth, NH; San Francisco, CA: Arcadia Publishing. All photographs unless otherwise noted: Kenton County Public Library, http://www.kentonlibrary.org