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Christmas at the Hotel Saranac

December 19, 2009

There was a special Christmas tradition for employees at the Hotel Saranac established in the late 1940s by General Manager Harold Cox.

The party was held in early January for all the employees after the holiday guests had departed the village and the hotel.

It was no surprise to me that Michele Tucker, curator of the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library, came up with a clipping of an Enterprise story from January 1952 about just such an event, and here it is:

Article Photos

The front of the Hotel Saranac is shown in December 1927, the year it opened. Santa arrived by sleigh and pony, and that gentleman just to the right of the running children is no other than William Kollecker, the famous Adirondack photographer. He is holding a camera and always wore a hat cocked jauntily to his left, usually chewing on a cigar which he never lit. That is how I remember him when I delivered the Enterprise to his shop on Main Street.
(Photo courtesy of the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library)

"Costumes from the Gay Nineties, the Roaring '20s and some other dateless period appeared last night in a skit, 'Christmas in the Gay Nineties,' written, produced and spontaneously acted by employees of the Hotel Saranac.

"The occasion was the fourth annual Christmas party arranged by the manager, who also arranged to free every one of the 55 employees who work at the hotel in any capacity for a post-Christmas party. The restaurant and bar closed early and a special person is brought in to relieve the man at the front desk.

"The ball room was filled with a most appreciative audience made up of families, friends and co-workers of the thespians. And handle bar mustaches, the lady known as Mae West, the novelty dancers, all came in for their deserved share of laughs and applause.

"The grand finale of the evening was the welcoming in of 1952 with Denton Lewis as Father Time, and with the New Year represented in duplicate by Robert Russell and Bobby Dumas.

"Other performers were: Edna Drowlette, Margery Duquette, Jane Russell (wow, I wonder if Howard Hughes was there!), Elzida Wilkins, Charlotte Russell, Zephy Trombley, Mrs. Mary Coldiron, Mrs. Mary Foley and Iva McManus.

"Also Viola Turner, Shirley Miner, Ethel Jewtraw, Liselotte Jaekel and Wallace Baldwin. George Galdiero, Danny Page and Paul Gentile contributed music for the evening.

"There was a gift for everyone under a lighted Christmas tree. An automatic clock radio was presented by the employees to Mr. and Mrs. Harold Cox."


Hotel built in 1927

Another piece in the archives of the library was a history of the hotel written by the late Eleanor Munn for a presentation she gave at the library's Brown Bag Luncheon in November 1989.

Eleanor was manager of the Hotel Saranac from 1940 until 1946 and at a later time I will cover more of her story about the hotel. For now, here are some interesting vignettes from her talk at the library:

"So let us go back to 1927. Several new buildings were opened that year and a couple of new businesses were established. One of the buildings was the Hotel Saranac, another was Paul Smith's Electric Light and Power Company, later owned by Niagara Mohawk and now owned by the Village of Saranac Lake and the new high school was built on Petrova Avenue, now the Petrova Avenue middle school. It was the year that Radio Station WNBZ was established, and Jean DeMattos tells me that 'Meet the Town' was published for the first time that year."



"Let me say first that many townspeople had invested in the Hotel Saranac Corporation. It was looked upon as an economically feasible venture and a sound investment. Then came the Wall Street crash of 1929. The aftershock hit our area in the early thirties. The hotel went through bankruptcy; the small investors lost everything, some their life savings. This left bitter feelings in the community for many years. The first mortgage was held by Mr. and Mrs. William T. Snider, owners of another hotel in Newburgh."


Operates in the black

"The U.S. government took over the Lake Placid Club as an R & R (rest and relaxation) center for the soldiers returning from tours of duty overseas. The accommodations at the Hotel Saranac were strained beyond capacity. When all the rooms were filled, cots were set up in the main dining room and in the Oak rooms. You see, this area was flooded with relatives of the returning soldiers.

"It was also a fun time. An Army canteen arrangement provided transportation from the area towns for the young ladies (I was one of them) who would go on Friday nights to the Club to meet the soldiers and dance to the U.S. Army Band in the Agora Theatre. We really had some wonderful times.

"This may sound like I am tooting my own horn; however, as I told you earlier, the Hotel Saranac ran in the red from the very beginning, and it was during my tenure that the figures rolled into the black. This was truly a feather in my cap. But in all honesty, we can see the events that led to the improved economy."



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