The Unexpected Interior of Downtown’s Graduate Hotel
In June of 2017, AJ Capital out of Chicago reopened the former downtown Lincoln Holiday Inn as The Graduate, a little-known hotel chain. From the outside, the building at 9th and P Street looked like the same standard hotel, albeit “The Graduate” emblazoned above its 16 floors, and the addition of a red and white striped marquee. Step inside, and it’s a different story.
One look at The Graduate’s lobby and you might feel like you’re in a time warp. 1970s plaid cushions on mid-century furniture have replaced the typical Holiday Inn florals and swirls. Painted brick walls, wood paneling, and Grandma’s acrylic Midwest landscapes occupy the once wallpapered beige walls. Three old-school arcade games sit in the corner.
Make no mistake—The Graduate’s retro kitsch doesn’t stop there. It took six months to completely renovate everything from the hotel rooms to the event spaces to the elevator, all while researching our state’s history and scouring local antique stores to make Lincoln’s Graduate hotel distinctly Nebraskan.
The Graduate’s general manager, Troy Terwilliger, had been with the former Holiday Inn for 13 years before it was bought and completely turned inside out. “I was nervous, right?” Terwilliger said. “We were a very plain and simple Holiday Inn. Nice, but a Holiday Inn. All of a sudden, they start bringing in this decor that’s currently in here. They did a model room and I was like, ‘holy cow, I’m going to have to find a different job.’ It was just so crazy.”
As the renovation went on, Terwilliger said he began to appreciate the due diligence the company did on Lincoln’s history. “It’s grown on me,” he said. “The level of research they do is impressive.”
The location-based research is a key part of each Graduate hotel. The concept originated with the renovation of a run-down Days Inn near DePaul University, outside of Chicago. The redesign was kitschy, fun and had ties to the heritage of DePaul University, and the new hotel took off.
The experiment launched The Graduate hotels’ concept: target large, university-anchored markets where the typical hospitality is owned by hotel chain big-leagues like Marriott and Hilton, and bring in something totally off-the-wall and unique to the city. Today there are 13 Graduate hotels, all in college towns. Next year there will be 25, and in nine of the Big Ten markets.
Lincoln’s Holiday Inn was an obvious pick for a Graduate renovation with its walking distance to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, State Capitol and entertainment district—and you’ll find ties to all of Lincoln’s landmarks and history in every nook and cranny of The Graduate.
Take a look at your room’s keycard, and you’ll be holding the old student ID of a famous person that went to UNL—like Johnny Carson, Brook Berringer, Gabrielle Union, or Edwin Perkins, the inventor of Kool-Aid. The curtains in guest rooms are patterned with corn, the elevator floors are covered with vintage Nebraska postcards and even the lamps on bedside tables are in the shape of roller-skates—a tribute to Lincoln’s National Museum of Roller Skating.
“For me, the change from the Holiday Inn to the Graduate has reignited my fire a little bit,” Terwilliger said. “You know, for 20 years I wore a suit and tie. The Graduate belief is we can give you whatever you want and we don’t have to be stuffy. It allows for a little more personality. We’re not the Embassy Suites. We’re not the Cornhusker Marriott. We’re The Graduate.”
Founded in 1967, the Downtown Lincoln Association provides services and champions initiatives for maintaining and enhancing our vibrant downtown. Our vision is to create an energetic downtown environment where we live, learn, work, invest and play. DLA has evolved into a multi-faceted organization supporting a wide range of programs and activities including maintenance, economic development and advocacy.