The motel itself was a two-story embarrassment of neon and a sprawl of giant, improbably-colored fiberglass animals. The Colonel loved molded animals. They made the motel stand out, which is exactly what Rankin wanted. And basically, whatever the Colonel wants, the Colonel gets, or so he was fond of saying. He apparently was, at one time (so he said), the largest shipper east of Mississippi of these animals out of California. Due to the very high shipping costs and because, "It was too much work", he ceased operations. He had a special fondness for Bulls and horses. The most memorable animal was a purple bull which stood at the entrance to the restaurant. Another purple bull was located near the bottom of the motel's hilly site. I believe the bull in front of the restaurant was originally built as a homecoming float in 1955, constructed of chicken wire and plaster, it weighed more than a ton. It was bought by Marge Schott for $75 and was used to promote a sale at her Buick dealership - "You can bet there's no bull in our prices." Two weeks later she sold it for $100 to the Colonel, who filled it with concrete and painted it purple. Unfortunately I do not have any photos of these animals except for the Mustangs on the Cadillacs and the one image below showing something grazing on the hillside grass.
The Colonel first became newsworthy in 1945 when he applied for a dance permit. The women from various organizations united and appeared in Probate Court to protest and the Judge, Frank Bonham, denied his petition stating that "the combination of dancing, drinks, and overnight accommodations was a moral danger". The motel was painted green for most of its life and then blue near the end. The building was entirely lit up with green neon lights, making the whole complex extravagantly peculiar.
The 2nd image above shows the back of one of the key holder on the left plus the actual key. It also shows a small boot that apparently were attached to the key holders for a unknown period of time.
Door decoration Example of rooms
The following description was made by Stephen Koff of Cincinnati Magazine in 1983. "The door, festooned with an hombre snoozing against a cactus, his donkey nearby, was painted blue. The room had blue carpeting, spurious wood paneling, with a bed that is either a large twin or a small double was the exact width of two pillows. The door to the right opens to reveal a two-burner stove, single basin sink and a half-size Kenmore refrigerator. A three-shelf cabinet is furnished with three sets of Styrofoam dishes and plastic utensils, neatly lined up. A wooden table hangs on hinges against the inside kitchenette door, painted orange and with a hinged wooded leg to prop it up. All art work is firmly glued or nailed to the wall." As you can see in the last photo above the TV is mounted into the wall to prevent theft plus all TVs were engraved with the motels name and area code. You sure could not watch it from the bed. All overhead lights were fluorescent.
1 1/8" X 2 1/8" Bar of Palmolive soap
Bill Vach, who graciously supplied some information for some of these photographs, does not believe these phones were located at the hotel. He states, reasonably, that the El Rancho Rankin would not have a courtesy phone for the Mariemont Inn. This photo may have been taken at Lunken Airport. If I can positively place this at Lunken, I will move it.
DINING AND DRINKING
Entrance to Cactus Room? Cactus Room Cactus Room stage
Only a hand full of these photographs were identified so I am guessing in many instances, the first image is one of my guesses. One of the Cactus room images was identified and the ceilings and decor matched in the other so I guessed that it must also be the Cactus Room. It looks to me to be primarily a bar.
The menu had to be scanned in four parts due to its size. There were several different restaurants at the motel over the years. When the motel first opened it had a regular motel restaurant and the Colonel ran it. He is quoted as saying, "Don't you ever go into the food game, it's the hardest game in the world. It's work. If you want to work 18 hours a day, you might break even." After that he let other people run the dining facilities. After him there was a fried chicken fast-food emporium and then for several years it was a Chinese Restaurant, the Canton House. Other facilities at the complex were: the Saddle Room; the Desert Room, and a TV Theater Restaurant (check out the back of the envelope below). I understand that the concrete sidewalk leading into the restaurant was embedded with silver dollars.
This Is Another Menu
The first picture is identified and shows the Democratic Club meeting in the Desert Room. The second photo is identified as the Saddle Room which was the main dining room as it looked in the early 70s. I believe the third image is the Canton House. A visitor to this site, Bill Vach, worked in the restaurant here for a few years starting when he was still in high school and stated that the third photo above was taken on the occasion of the Elks Club Christmas Stag Banquet in 1971. Bill says he is the 2nd person to the right of the Colonel. By the way this banquet included strippers. (Bill was 17).
The Colonel had a organ in his office and many times could be seen strumming a guitar, so I assume he could play those instruments. He is shown here with a musician and singer that played at his motel. Whether he actually sang is something I can not guess about.
Front Mailing Side Inside
Open All The Way
This envelope actually contains tax information for one of his employees that was returned because the person had moved on and left no address. I had 20-30 of these that all contained the same form. The back is interesting in that it shows a couple of areas not seen in the above photographs. In the Health Spa image you can see Rankin and his wife posing on a couple of the machines. In 1978 Rankin closed the pool because of security issues. Teenagers kept sneaking in. He stated, "Believe me, you get sued all the time. There's always someone flying around and falling. Whether it's your fault or not, you still get sued. and you always have to have a lifeguard all the time it's open. We just closed it up, it's storage now. That's something I should never have opened up. Something like that you cannot sell, your giving it away."
Bill states that he was not aware of any policy that would deny Blacks use of the hotel. He says that there was some other reason for them being denied rooms.
Use is unknown
Back of glass Back of Glass
The hotel prospered in it's early days even
though it was always tacky because it catered to the air travelers arriving at
Lunken Airport. As the years went by things began to go
downhill and seedy mainly because Lunken was no longer Cincinnati's main
airport. Another reason was the opening of the I-275 corridor which drastically
cut down the amount of traffic going past the El Rancho Rankin. In the early 80s readers of the Cincinnati Magazine voted
the El Rancho Rankin the worst hotel in Cincinnati with many accusations of wild
women running around with many rooms only being used by the hour. Although true
in the 60s - 70s by the 80's things were a lot less exciting. The place began to
fill up with the working poor who couldn't find cheaper places to live. The
residents became permanent and Rankin spent less and less on fixing the place
Some facts about the Colonel that have not been mentioned yet. He wore a Masonic ring on his finger and a Shriner's buckle on his belt. He had achieved practically every rank within the Masons, and he was very generous in return. He renovated the Mt. Washington Masonic Lodge with his own money. He didn't drink but maintained a full liquor cabinet for his guests. Harrison was what is known as a character, but it was a character he had under complete control. He seemed to enjoy putting on a show for his visitors, but it was, in fact, nothing but a show. He played the eccentric, and he played it well.
The Colonel was a little guy who loved to live large, right up until the time he died after a stroke in August 1995 at the age of 84. He operated from his office at the hotel until the very end. After his death the property went to his estate and the motel really began to go downhill. In May 1996 the 300 residents were evicted from the motel, Judge Fred Cartolano said he weighed the "inconvenience" to residents against their safety. The place was a fire trap. Anderson Township Fire Chief J. Robert Brown said at the time he "would rather take the heat for closing the place down that standing out in the parking lot dragging out bodies after a fire."
Skytop Pavilion is now in it's place. Biggs Starbucks, Radio Shack, etc. And so we say goodbye to a piece of Cincinnati history.
The area as it looks today.
The aerial view above shows what the area looks like today. The orange building in the center of the image is a Mexican restaurant belonging to the El Rancho Grande chain at 5330 Beechmont Avenue. I don't believe it is an accident that the restaurant chain decided to build at this location, do you?