Since this blog was originally written in 2016, Hotel Saranac has opened and is once again a vibrant part of community life in Saranac Lake. We thought you'd still enjoy this blog, as it captures the excitement of an interesting time in the hotel's history. You can also check out an excellent video about the hotel, which features the hotel's Grand Opening and the beautiful restoration done on the hotel. Enjoy!
When it was announced that the Hotel Saranac would open again, with a classic refurbishment befitting its historic landmark status, the entire village was thrilled. Then we started getting calls and emails. Was it true? When would the hotel open? Can they make a reservation now? Turns out, the rest of the world is thrilled too. To understand the pull of this extraordinary hotel, we must consider its history.
An incredible past
The Roaring Twenties certainly roared in Saranac Lake. While the very rich of the Gilded Age built their own lodging and amusements with Great Camps in the remote forests and lakes, the newly rising middle class created a demand for lodging designed for their budget and tastes.
Saranac Lake had some extraordinary hotels built during the turn of the century. There was the Hotel Algonquin, on the shores of Lower Saranac Lake, known for its speedboat races. The Saranac Lake House, which becomes known as Martins, was on Ampersand Bay on the same lake's northern shore. The Berkeley House lasted until 1981, when fire consumed it, and the lot became Berkeley Square park.
All the great, grand, hotels of that era had this terrible habit of burning down.
So when the Hotel Saranac opened in July of 1927, it was publicized as the first "fully fireproof" hotel in the North Country. Out of thirteen hotels which once flourished in town, it is the only one left. Ironically, it was built on the foundations of the former Saranac Lake High School; which burned down in 1924. The basement dates back to 1890.
The idea was affordable elegance, the work of Adirondack architects Scopes and Feustmann. The second floor was modeled after a Renaissance-era Italian Palazzo, the Davanzati Palace in Florence, Italy.
Just like a cult movie, the Hotel Saranac had a rocky beginning. The builders did not see the competition that would come from the then-popular motor courts which dotted the outskirts of the village. These little places had parking in front of the units, and this proved a popular drawing card for travelers.
The hotel had counted on the trains continuing to bring travelers to town. The town depot was a short stroll from the hotel. But the lure of personal motor cars turned out to undercut the railroads, too.
Still, the hotel's inherent beauty, and convenient location, continued to appeal to visitors and townsfolk alike. The wonderful public spaces on the second floor, with its beautiful terrace, old world paneling, and generously sized rooms, were the focus of many a wedding, prom, New Year's Eve celebration, and the annual Winter Carnival balls.
The hotel became so important to the town that when news of its restoration broke, the Ice Palace for the year 2015 was the Hotel Saranac. In ice.
The theme of that year's Winter Carnival was the Groovy 60s. This fit the history, too. That decade was a pivotal one for the Hotel Saranac.
A town mainstay
In February of 1961, the then president of Paul Smith's College, Dr. Chester L. Buxton, proposed leasing the Hotel Saranac as a real-world classroom for their hospitality students. At the time it was still considered one of Northern New York's largest and most modern hotels, but the presence of the students breathed new life into the hotel.
By using it as laboratory for the students to get "on the job" training, Paul Smith's provided the students with internships, and provided the hotel's guests with attentive and enthusiastic staff.
Forty years later, when I first encountered the Hotel Saranac, this wonderful tradition was still going strong. I bought Adirondack gifts at the cute little gift shop on the ground floor. My mother-in-law loved the elegant dining in the Paul Smith's Restaurant in the front, while my husband and I preferred the Boathouse bistro in the back. It had a nautical theme, deep booths, great burgers and Reubens, and on one Thursday a month, prime rib.
And there was fresh pie. My favorite was the mixed berry, which had a different proportion of berries every time. After extensive taste-testing, we got our wedding cake from the hotel's kitchens, a buttermilk chocolate cake that melted in the mouth.
I attended many events on the second floor, which was a world of its own. The marble staircase, ornamented ceilings, gorgeous fireplace, and chandeliers all made for an incredible feeling of bygone luxury. The second floor terrace, reached through arched-topped french doors, overlooked Berkeley Park and historic downtown. It made for a delightful spot to gather friends when we all had a craving for open air dining.
When the college sold the hotel to a new owner, there were reassurances that all the great traditions would continue. But it did not.
Even though the hotel was still there, it held none of the glory it once had when the students had so lovingly catered to their guests.
An amazing comeback
In the fall of 2013, the NH-based Roedel Companies purchased the Hotel Saranac with the plan of restoring it as a National Historic Register building. This will keep the fascinating architecture, but also renovate the rooms to create a hotel with 4-star modern amenities. The best of both worlds for their guests.
This company is a family business with multi-generational ties to Saranac Lake. They are highly cognizant of the important place of the Hotel Saranac, both in downtown... and in the hearts of the people. This means they will be making the restoration as faithfully as possible. Such architectural details as the hotel's original limestone veneer, and the bronze storefront facades that reached the street, were part of the Arcade. A central arcade originally ran the length of the building, and the plans are to re-create this attractive retail space.
This series of shops drew people into, and back to, Main Street, making them a thriving part of Saranac Lake's historic downtown.
The classic dining of the Hotel Saranac will also return. The plans include Campfire, Adirondack Grill & Bar. Evoking a night spent around the fire with family and friends, there will be an open display, wood-fire grill. The menu will feature locally-sourced ingredients, inspired by a classic approach.
There will be a space devoted to world-class spa treatments and services, and another to a gift shop, offering the work of local artisans and craftsmen.
To show off how the updated Hotel Saranac is going to look, Fred B. Roedel III, Managing Member of Roedel Companies, has released photos of a model room, stating that, “We wanted to make sure the new look of the hotel reflected the history of the Hotel Saranac and what it has meant to Saranac Lake.”
The interior design is by RSJ Associates of Wilton, N.H. Sue Pollio, president and founder of RSJ, stated that the goal of the update is to "give the guest rooms a modern touch," while still maintaining the "feel of the 'Great Gatsby' era of sophistication and elegance" that the Hotel Saranac was originally designed to evoke.
“We wanted to keep the historical integrity of the hotel and we kept that in mind throughout the design process,” Pollio said. “We wanted to bring the architectural detail of the building into the rooms, and you can see that in everything from the carpets to the door knobs.”
It all sounds wonderful! We can't wait.
This will be a fine addition to our array of cool lodging options. While here, find some delightful dining and indulge in more history at the Saranac Laboratory Museum.
Header Photo, and vintage postcards, courtesy Bunk's Place. Other photos courtesy Roedel Companies unless otherwise noted.