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Maugham at the Alta Vista

September 19, 2008
By Howard Riley,

I mentioned the Alta Vista Lodge a couple of weeks ago, which was located at 48 Franklin Ave., recalling the large number of cure chairs lined up on the porch and that prompted a phone call from my friend Gene DeMattos.

Gene now lives at Saranac Village at Will Rogers and has been around longer than most anybody else I know, so at age 90, she is a good historical resource.

However, she called me following the Alta Vista column and said that after her father had suffered a stroke, he stayed at the Alta Vista for some time until they could get him into a more appropriate facility.

Article Photos

The Alta Vista, once located at 48 Franklin Ave., Saranac Lake. It burned down in November 1960.
(Photograph #82.141 courtesy of Adirondack Research Room, Saranac Lake Free Library)

On visits to her dad, she often brought the author W. Somerset Maugham to town and back, as he was either curing their or visiting his secretary/companion Gerald Haxton who did cure there. But Gene, at the time, busy with her life, paid little attention to the great man.

"Saranac, America's Magic Mountain"

The above is the title of an interesting book by Robert Taylor and tells of the famous people who cured for Tuberculosis in Saranac Lake with some very special lines about Mr. Maughamlike the following:

"The author of the 'Razor's Edge' was not long permitted to remain a detached observer, and the village fathers, cognizant of the celebrated man of letters in their midst, asked him to judge a short story contest. Many writers would have begged off or treated the Blanchet Memorial Contest as a task better left to high school English teachers. Buy Maugham acceded."

Another excerpt is as follows:

"He noticed the waitresses (at the Hotel Saranac) duplicating a verbal oddity widespread throughout the Adirondacks - they appeared to have lost use of the word 'yes.' Unlike the waitresses of Manhattan or Washington, they did not respond 'Yup' or 'Ya,' or even with the word spelt 'yeah,' which Maugham was unable to pronounce. Instead of 'yes,' they said, 'H'm H'm."

And this part of the book was taken from a copy of an original manuscript that resides in the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library, which Maugham had written for a local radio talk.

The radio address

The manuscript has all the corrections and additions and deletions that we all used when we typed our stories without the luxury of the computer. The radio address was on Sunday, July 30 at 12:30 p.m.

"Anyhow, I think I should start by telling you that I have come only to talk to those of you who are here to regain your health. I suggest that anyone else who is listening to me to give a little twiddle to one of those knobs on his radio. I'm afraid it is too late for him to get a sermon, but he might get a bit of music or a bit of news that will interest him more than anything I have to say."

Of course, the talk went on to the serious nature of the illness of TB including where he was and what he was doing when he contracted TB which was during WWI, so I will just add this tidbit.

"First of all I discovered what a pleasant thing it is to lie in bed with an easy conscience while the days pass, and the weeks pass, and time ceases to matter."

The Alta Vista burns

The Alta Vista was demolished by fire in two hours 48 years ago, Nov. 1, 1960, and was unoccupied. Here is the lead on the story by Bill McLaughlin:

"Flames of epic proportion signaled the end of one of Saranac Lake's resort hotel buildings this morning as firemen of three villages battled futilely to bring the raging fire under control."

The big cure cottage, later to become a hotel, as the health industry faded was owned by C. B. Panerai. There is no date on a brochure advertising the rooms for rent but it was probably in the late 1940s.

The rooms with private bath were $4 to $5.50 per person; rooms with semi-private bath were $3 per person or $2 per person, double. The better deal were suites for four persons at $10 per night or bigger suites for five persons were $11.50.

But the best deal was the American Plan, which means three meals per day and a room with private bath at $8.50 a day for singles or $7 for doubles. Now that does not compute.

The room rate is always less expensive for doubles but with the meals thrown in they are serving six meals to only three meals for the single.

The ad also included special rates for children, discounts before July 1 and after Labor Day and the dining room was open every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner - boy, are those days gone forever.

(Editor's note: This article appeared in the print edition of the Enterprise on Saturday, Sept. 13 but was accidentally not posted online until now.)



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