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We finally arrive in Florida

Let’s see — where was I? The title on my column of Nov. 14 read “Hotel history: Lake Placid to Clearwater.” Well, it’s taken a month to get to Florida — and believe me, it’s been a tough trip. I am writing the fourth column based on a book written and published by Goodman Kelleher in 1945 … all about his life in business but sprinkled generously with stories of his family, his many friends and employees.

The book is not written in chronological order, so I had a devil of a time tracing when Mr. Kelleher bought and sold numerous places. I finally figured out that he often went to Florida in the winter months when he owned the Majestic Restaurant. It becomes a bit confusing when “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” published his story, indicating that he cooked breakfast every morning for the staff for 20 years, which must have meant every morning when he wasn’t in Florida.

He owned the Clearwater Beach Hotel and the Majestic Restaurant in Lake Placid at the same time.

He sold the Clearwater Hotel in December 1943, just weeks before he sold the Majestic in January 1944.

We now are in Florida

Mr. Kelleher tells how it all started in Florida:

“A friend of mine, Mr. Boulon, from St. Petersburg, talked to me one day about a proposition in real estate … a pretty old dump, the Clearwater Beach Hotel at Clearwater Beach, Florida. It was a tough proposition but the hotel is located on one of the finest beaches in the state of Florida. I had no money to improve it and the mortgage was more than the hotel was worth at the time of purchase.

“I talked to the mortgagee, E.T. Roux of Bartow, Fla., and by putting on a second mortgage I was able to obtain lumber from the Roux Lumber Company to put a 38-room addition on the hotel.” [What a coincidence that the Roux people who held the mortgage also had a lumber company.]

The following was covered in my column of Nov. 14 about Kelleher hiring the George Bola Building and Construction Company of Lake Placid to build the addition. They began the work in September 1937, and it was open for business on Dec. 15, 1937. That column also carried a photo of the Bola carpenters having a big Thanksgiving dinner at the hotel.

The men from Lake Placid

“George Bola and his carpenters included George’s brother, Edward Bola, Henry Winch, Henry Douglas, Rufus Perks, Charles Durkin, Delor [sic] Gordon and Nelson Blanchet. Gordon was better known as “Pop Fye” because of his peculiar eyes. Merritt McCasland worked as mason and plasterer. Mike Murphy, another painter from the Adirondacks, spent other winters at the Beach Hotel, painting it from top to bottom.

“A great friend of mine from the Adirondacks kept my spirits up, saying that if I was going to enlarge the hotel, now was the time to do it. This was Arthur Hayes, a man who had built many camps on Lake Placid, and his daughter was my right-hand bower, doing the manipulating with her pen and pencil.” [I can’t find the title “bower” in the hotel business websites; I have worked at a couple of hotels and never heard of a “bower.”]

“The bills came in and no money to pay them, but the big tourist season was just ahead and with all the new rooms, we knew we would get out of the difficulty soon. I bought new furniture from the Ortmeyer Brothers, Tampa, Florida. I hired a good chef I knew from Massachusetts, Arthur Langille, who stayed with me for many years.

“I had an old French baker by the name of Charlie LaBarge from Tupper Lake, who had worked in the woods for lumberjacks. His Johnnie-cake would melt in your mouth, if you had plenty of butter. [As a kid I remember someone saying, ‘Too much Johnnie-cake makes a Frenchman’s belly ache.”] His baking powder biscuits were supreme, but for the desserts he could only think of sliced bananas with cream, rice pudding, bread pudding and jello which just stiffened itself with hot water. His doughnuts were just wonderful and his pie crust was made famous at the Beach Hotel.”

Other improvements

“Many changes have been made by me since I took it over, additions and improvements such as seven cottages, dormitory with garages, circular glass front lobby and eighteen bedrooms, more beautiful than the thirty-eight rooms first added.

“It is possible to dress for swimming in a sleeping room, or for sun bathing, and almost fall into the Gulf of Mexico, without taking a step to get to the private beach of the hotel. It is equipped with glass windbreaks so that guests can see for a considerable distance just who is on the beach. In case of a telephone call or message, it saves employees much time looking for parties wanted. This novel windbreak has been copied by many of the beach hotels throughout the country.”

Random vignettes from the book

“I met an Irishman [in Saranac Lake] named Thomas McVeety who came from Ireland near the place from which my father came. I interested McVeety in a business from which he later retired. It was a lunch wagon when he started the enterprise, but was later known as the ‘Miss Saranac Diner.’ He had this small business for over twenty years at the same location paying only $30 for it in the beginning. When McVeety died a few years ago he left an estate of $100,000.”

——

“I stayed at the Lake Placid Club for awhile, then obtained a job in Saranac Lake as chef at the Sisters of Mercy Hospital. [It was located opposite 95 Ampersand Ave., that beautiful red house, then owned by the Dave Hanning family.] In this hospital for tubercular patients, all had to be fed the finest of foods.

“I didn’t know much about pastries, but with the help of the Sisters I was able to carry on. There were forty trays to be arranged at each meal. I knew what was to go on each tray and was the only chef on that job. I worked there nine months. The Sisters thought I was somewhat extravagant, but I told Sister Kathryn that where there is good taste, there must be waste. Being somewhat independent I decided to make a change. World War I was about to start and wandering came into my mind once more.

“I worked for a time for the McClelland sisters of Saranac Lake who operated a tea room in Sarasota, Florida. I worked part of one winter at the Evergreen Lodge in Saranac Lake [located on Catherine Street].”

——

Charlie Goodman Rascoe of Lake Placid can fill you in on more of the story about his great uncle Goodman Kelleher. His father Bill later owned the St. Moritz, and Charles said he started washing dishes there when he was about 7. Charlie says he lives by a rule of the old school: “The customer signs the paychecks.” All four columns have been taken from a book originally owned by his mother Joan … and given to me by Holly Chabbott.

——

It was Eunice Theodore’s family who purchased the Majestic Restaurant; it was our hangout in the 1940s and ’50s. Our good friend Eunice married Peter Cox, one of my best friends.

——

The story refers a few times to a “lunch wagon.” Lunch wagons were buildings, now called diners, but were constructed to look like trolley cars. New Jersey has diner lunch wagons about every 100 yards. Apparently the original concept came about when someone remodeled an abandoned railroad dining car into a lunch wagon.

More later about when the McKillip family owned the Miss Saranac Diner.

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