Old Rolling Meadows Holiday Inn where Pete Townshend found God, penned 'Tommy' lyrics to be demolished
It had a vibrating bed, fuzzy TV, and smelly sheets and towels, but a Rolling Meadows Holiday Inn hotel room happened to be the perfect setting for Pete Townshend's spiritual awakening.
And it was possibly even where The Who guitarist penned early versions of the script for what would become the rock opera "Tommy."
"Why did God favour this particular place in America? Because it was so new? Because it was so sunny?" Townshend writes in his 2012 memoir, "Who I Am." "Suddenly it became clear that I longed for a transcendent connection with the universe itself, and with its maker. This was the moment I had longed for. My mind was being set alight by the psychedelic times, but revelation came to me in the quietude and seductive order of Middle America."
The old shuttered hotel, at 3405 Algonquin Road, is set to face the wrecking ball in the next six to 12 months as part of a phased redevelopment led by property owner Sam Patel and hotel manager Jay Fishman. The original 1966 two-story building has been closed since 2018, when Holiday Inn owner InterContinental Hotels Group declined to extend a temporary operating license for the aging structure. A nine-story tower addition built in 1982 was refurbished and reopened recently as the swanky 119-room Aloft Chicago Schaumburg.
The 170-room portion of the old Holiday Inn centered around a "Holidome" - the indoor recreational atrium added to the complex in 1975 and popularized by the hotel chain thereafter - was to be converted into an assisted living/memory care facility. But those plans fell through, and now the developers plan to clear the site to prepare it for a seven-story residential tower with streetside retail.
"It's the next phase," said Fishman, of Griffin Hotel Management. "I think everybody was focused on getting the Aloft open, and now we're open ... and now we're ready to move onto the next phase of the project."
Patel, who purchased the property in 2005, said there was a market for Holidomes in the 1980s, but that receded into the 1990s. Now the site has become an eyesore and city officials agree that the Holidome "has to go," he said.
Townshend's connection to the old motel came to light this summer in a retrospective show about The Cellar, the legendary Arlington Heights teen music club where The Who performed June 15, 1967. Chip Brooks, owner of the Hey Nonny listening room and bistro in downtown Arlington Heights, read passages from Townshend's autobiography during the tribute show.
Brooks believes there's "a bit of truth and a bit of poetry" mixed together in Townshend's account of his post-show awakening. For instance, Townshend writes he hears a car door slamming and someone shouting, "Goodbye y'all!" before he says he heard the voice of God.
The Southern twang would have been "uncommon" in Rolling Meadows, Brooks said.
But perhaps what's more interesting are the pages of a book Townshend cowrote a decade after the band's initial appearance in the Northwest suburbs. "The Story of 'Tommy'" contains photos of the Holiday Inn Rolling Meadows letterhead upon which Townshend penned lyrics to "See Me, Feel Me," and the scene in the play where Tommy's father brings the boy to the doctor.
"That's historic!" said Brooks, who wants to incorporate something about Townshend into a permanent sculpture or public art piece memorializing The Cellar in Arlington Heights' Harmony Park.
Townshend and writer/director Des McAnuff reprised "Tommy" at Chicago's Goodman Theatre this summer, in a run that wrapped up earlier this month.
It's unclear if Townshend found God and wrote portions of "Tommy" all in the same night in his hotel room in 1967. In his autobiography, he said it wasn't until February 1968 that he began writing his plan for what would become "Tommy" during a return concert tour of the states.
The Who performed at The New Place in Algonquin on July 31, 1968, and the following night at the Electric Theater - later the Kinetic Playground - in Chicago.
It's also possible Townshend took some of the Holiday Inn stationery on the road.
That might be more likely, amid The Who's purported lifetime ban from all Holiday Inns.
Townshend recounts the night of drummer Keith Moon's notorious 21st birthday party Aug. 23, 1967, in Flint, Michigan: cake all over the floor, walls and Moon's face, and a Lincoln Continental half into the swimming pool, among other high jinks.
Not all stays at the Holiday Inn could have the quietude Townshend felt that night months earlier in Chicago's still-growing suburbia: a terrace that looked out onto a car dealer's lot, grasshoppers buzzing in the scrub grass, a distant freight train sounding its horn, and the hiss of tires from a passing Buick on the road nearby, he writes.
"In an instant, in a very ordinary place at an unexceptional time, I yearned for some connection with a higher power," Townshend wrote. "This was a singular, momentous epiphany - a call to the heart."