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Cover image courtesy of the Jim Seelen Motel Images Collection.

On January 28 2016, most of the buildings that once made up the Continental Inn were already torn down when the last of the them – part of the motel’s conference center – caught fire that Thursday night. In late October of that same year, what remained of that building after the fire was finally torn down as well. Now all that’s left of Lexington’s most famous lodging and convention center are 50 years of memories of some of the most eccentric conventions, celebrity sightings, and nefarious happenings that Lexington had ever seen.

Photo postcard of one of the rooms in the Continental Inn circa 1970s.
A room at the Continental Inn in the early 1970s would have looked something like this. Postcard c. 1970s. Public Domain.

The Continental Inn was built in Lexington in 1965 at a cost of $2 million dollars. The 319-room mid-century modern meets Mediterranean-style motel also featured a cocktail lounge, dining room, convention facilities, a private club and a swimming pool with a Statue of Liberty watching over swimmers.

The conventions held at the Continental Inn were  often a who’s who of quirky and kitschy lifestyle groups that included Elvis impersonators, psychics, square dancers, and of course, Trekkies. It was also the sight of annual tattoo expos and regional dart tournaments (though, we’re guessing, not at the same time).

In 1976, the local Rotary group, which also often met at the Continental, invited then-California governor Ronald Reagan to hand out its awards to some deserving local Lexington students. Reagan was seeking the Republican nomination for United States President that year, but lost to the incumbent Republican President Gerald Ford. Both would lose the 1976 Presidential election to Jimmy Carter. However, Reagan would win the party’s nomination and the presidency against Carter just four years later in 1980.

Photo postcard of the Revere Tavern cocktai lounge located in the Continental Inn in Lexington, Kentucky
The Continental Inn’s cocktail lounge known as the Revere Tavern sometime in the early 1970s. Postcard c. 1970. Public Domain.

While preparing for his role as the acrophobic truck driver Mike Catton in the 1979 film “Steel”, Lee Majors learned how to drive an 18-wheeler in the Continental Inn’s parking lot. It’s said that country singer and actor Jerry Reed often stopped by the motel as well, though we assume after watching him as Cledus in “Smokey and the Bandit” (1977), he already knew how to drive a truck.

Still, the memories of the Continental Inn in Lexington aren’t all fun and games for everyone, especially for those who stayed there in the motel’s scandalous 1980s and 1990s.

On July 16, 1984, for example, while locking his car doors at 10:30 at night, Oline Carmical, a political science professor at a Baptist College in the Kentucky mountains, was kidnapped from the parking lot of the Continental Inn. After demanding Carmical call his wife and ask for money to settle a gambling debt, the kidnappers put him in his trunk and eventually drove to Dayton, Ohio. That’s where police found Carmical the next day, alive, but still locked in his trunk.

Picture postcard of the convention room of the Continental Inn around 1970.
The convention room of the Continental Inn around 1970. Postcard c. 1970. Public Domain.

Also in 1984, businessman and future Kentucky Governor Wallace Wilkinson was allegedly kidnapped by his business partner, Jerome Jernigan. Wilkinson claimed that Jernigan then demanded half a million dollars to release him. However, only the alleged kidnapper and Wilkinson know what really happened that day and Jernigan isn’t talking. He was found dead  just a few weeks after the kidnapping on July 18, 1984 in room 418 of the Continental Inn. An autopsy revealed that 54-year-old had died from heart disease.

In 1992 a Georgetown man was charged with murder in connection to a shooting in which a man was found dead in room 154.

By the end of the decade, the once fun and quirky reputation of the Continental Inn turned even seedier when, in 2000, a Lexington elementary schoolteacher was arrested for prostitution after she told an undercover cop in the Revere Tavern that she would have sex with him and a 20-year-old stripper for $360.

A few years after, the owners decided to close the Continental Inn and sold it in 2005. In the years since, most of it had already been demolished when the last building was torn down after the fire in 2016.  What’s more, redevelopment has been slow at best, though there is now an Infinity dealership out in front of the property now.

The rest of it only remains in memories.

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