Adirondack Daily Enterprise, February 7, 2006
How the '20s Roared in Saranac Lake
This article is the first in a series of three prepared by members of Historic Saranac Lake, celebrating the 2006 Winter Carnival theme, "the Roaring '20s." Saranac Lake was in the thick of the action in the 1920s. Benefiting from the good economic times, a building boom was on. Famous folks were visiting here, and the village was cast in their reflected glory. Behind it all was the brisk trade in (then) illegal alcoholic beverages. Here's how the '20s roared in Saranac Lake!
Building boom brought many local landmarks
By CHERYL MAID
For Historic Saranac Lake
Let's pretend you can walk back through time to stroll the streets when the '20s were roaring in Saranac Lake. What might you see? Well, if you happen to be wandering back from some revelry in the early hours of July 27th in 1926, you couldn't miss the flames arising from the Harrietstown Town Hall. In fact, the Enterprise reported that people saw the cloud of sparks from as far away as Loon Lake.
By the next day, however, plans were beginning to be drawn up by local architects. William Scopes and Maurice Feustmann. By September, drawings were displayed in the window of the Saranac Lake National Bank, and a proposition for a $320,000 bond issue to cover the costs was on the ballot. A capacity crowd on Oct 3, 1928 welcomed the opening of the present town hall with minstrel entertainment by the Odd Fellows.
The town hall fire also consumed the offices of the Enterprise and, unfortunately for future historian, with it the only complete file of its 32- year history. Just two days after the fire Thomas F. McCormick, contractor, was reported to have begun excavation for the foundation of a fireproof addition to the rear of what is now Chickadee's at 77 Main Street. This became the plant for the then-three-times-per- week newspaper.
Fireproof buildings were going up all over town in the 1920s - construction steel, brick, stone and workmen were everywhere. If you wandered up Main Street at about the same time the new town Hall was going up, you'd see the Hotel Saranac taking shape, also a project of Scopes & Feustmann. Advertisements before its opening in 1927 promised, a modern, fireproof hotel with 100 rooms and 100 baths. Its upstairs lobby was modeled after the foyer of the Davanzati Palace which stands in Florence, Italy. Downstairs, small boutique, stores lined an arcade through the building that ran from Main to Academy streets.
The Hotel Saranac was built on the site of the old, wooden Main Street School which had been outgrown by the expanding population of Saranac Lake. In 1922, after years of defeated propositions, the district voted $650,000, for the building of a new junior-senior high school. Designed by locals architect William Distin, it remains a handsome place of learning, now known as the Petrova School. When it opened it had every modern convenience including steam heat in every room controlled by individual thermostats. The weeklong celebration program in February, 1925 included student presentations of the operetta "Hiawatha's Childhood" and of the play "Come Out of the Kitchen."
A year before the high school was completed, the new, brick St. Bernard's school opened its doors. Inaugurated only a few years earlier by the Rev. Joseph Creeden upon his arrival in Saranac Lake, the school's population quickly outgrew its, quarters in a small wood-frame house adjacent to the parish. Paul Jacquet was hired to design a new building, which initially had classes one through five. In 1926, a sixth grade was added to the roster and by the mid-l930s, the Sisters of Mercy were teaching grades one through eight.
Paul Jacquet was also the architect for the North Elba Town House, which was erected in 1927. Designed in the neoclassical style, it served as, an auxiliary to: the town hall in Lake Placid. Once completed, the Saranac Lake residents who lived in the North Elba side of town no, longer had to make the trip to Lake Placid to cast ballots or attend court.
Across town, where Olive Street intersects Broadway, another venerable brick building was being built to house the current post office, which was about to make its latest of many moves since its beginning in Saranac Lake in 1854.
Traveling across the new Broadway bridge, and onto Main Street, steel was also being erected for a parking garage and office building at what is now 47-49 Main Street, current home of Saranac Lake Discount Liquors and the Cigarette Warehouse. Designed by H. L. Magill of Rye, it featured three and-a-half Tudor arched bays and a freight elevator able to lift 7,425 pounds. It is the first of two buildings in the village to be faced with terra cotta tile.
In 1927, the second terra cotta-faced structure was built to house the offices of the Paul Smith's Electric Light and Power and Railroad Company. Unique in its time, the erection of temporary wooden housing on the outside of the scaffolding allowed construction to go throughout the winter: The street-level windows of this $275,000 addition to the power plant were lined with decorative, colored ceramic tiles and displayed appliances for sale. Currently this is the home of the village offices.
Of course, facilities for the care of tuberculosis patients had been, important fixtures since 1884 in Saranac Lake. While most establishments had been built earlier, construction of the Tudor-style National Variety Artist Lodge, renamed the Will Rogers Hospital in 1936, did not begin until 1928. When completed, the Literary Digest reported that it featured "the largest solarium in the world using fused-quartz windows where, "patients may enjoy sun baths year round, regardless of outside temperature." More than 40 balconies, since enclosed, graced the exterior of the building, which was designed by Scopes & Feustmann.
Many impressive private residences were also built during the Roaring '20s. One of particular note was the Ramsey Cottage. Designed by William Distin and his associate, Arthur Wilson"], it featured 20 rooms 10 baths and three tall, elaborate chimneys. A private telephone system with its own switchboard linked the rooms. Today we know it as the St. Joseph's Rehabilitation Center.
At what is now 89 Church Street the Saranac Laboratory was getting its first addition in 1928. Mrs. Frank Black donated funds to construct a library and lecture room in memory of her son, John. This room is currently being restored by Historic Saranac Lake.
The skyline of Saranac Lake changed in 1927 with the erection of the; tower of the new Methodist church topped with a lighted cross. Built by the local firm, Branch & Callanan, lnc., the stone for this impressive structure was taken from a small Ray Brook quarry. To make way for, the, church, the parish residence was moved 20 yards down St. Bernard Street to its current site.
As you conclude your walk down Church Street, you might take time out to attend the unveiling of the World War I memorial that stands at the triangle corner of Church and River streets. Like all the Roaring '20s buildings, the memorial reminds us of an important period that helped define the Saranac Lake we know today.
Famous people you might meet on the street
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, February 8, 2006
By PHIL GALLOS
Let's pretend you can walk back though time to stroll the streets when the '20s were roaring in Saranac Lake. Who might you meet?
If it was a Sunday and if you were on Church Street, you might bump into the most famous, man in America. He would be Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States, who held office from 1923 to 1929, His summer White House; was at the White Pine Camp on Osgood Pond at Paul Smiths, and though he spent most of his time there he did come to town to attend services at the First Presbyterian Church, where the Rev. George Kennedy Newell held sway from the pulpit.
It's an open question whether or not you would have had an opportunity to discuss any of the issues of the day with the president. Taciturn and painfully uncomfortable with strangers, Coolidge had earned the nickname "Silent Cal." On the other hand, he was accomplished in the public forum — a shrewd manipulator of the PR apparatus as it existed in the country at the tune. He essentially invented the press conference and the radio address, and he effectively promoted his policies through movie house newsreels arid White House press releases. These policies came mainly from the desks of his secretary of commerce, Herbert Hoover, and his secretary of the treasury, Andrew Mellon.
Coolidge was the man who said "The chief business of America is business," and he believed business should run the country. He packed the Interstate Commerce Commission with railroad magnates and the Federal Trade Commission with sworn enemies of trade regulation; With his tax cuts and his laissez-faire economic philosophy, he enjoyed consistent popularity, even while turning a cold shoulder to the privations of farmers, the working poor and Africans-Americans. The country remained prosperous through his tenure, but a scant seven months after he left office, the stock market collapsed, and the United States of America descended into the Great Depression. OK, maybe you really didn't want to talk to Silent Cal after all.
Well chin up then. Take a walk on down to the intersection of Broadway and Bloomingdale Avenue, where the Hotel St. Regis occupied the southeast corner. Up there on the veranda, see that big guy with the big grin as he whips another adversary at checkers? That's Christy Mathewson of the New York Giants, who some still consider to have been me greatest baseball pitcher of all time. He won't shy away from you. He'd be glad to shake your hand and chat a bit. Nearly as famous as Calvin Coolidge, and certainly; better loved, he came, to Saranac Lake for his health. Tuberculosis was the one opponent he was unable to beat, but wherever Matty went he spread by example the gospel of good sportsmanship arid life squarely lived. And he loved his checkers. He would while away the afternoons at the St. Regis taking on all comers, though he enjoyed most playing the St. Regis's proprietor, John English, whom he almost invariably defeated. Mr. English was the grandfather of Bill McLaughlin, a popular writer for this newspaper for many years. Matty lost his final inning against tuberculosis in 1925. John English sold the St Regis in 1957, and the five story building burned to the ground one January night in 1964 in what was called the worst fire in Saranac Lake in 40 years. The house that was built for Christy Mathewson still stands at the high end of its lot where Old Military Road crosses Park Avenue— like a pitcher on the mound.
Continue down Bloomingdale Avenue to Depot Street. Throughout the '20s, what is now the William Morris Play Park was the site of the Saranac Lake Day Nursery. William Morris was the most notable impresario of his day, and his theatrical agency is still a big name in the business. His summer home on the north shore of Lake Colby was called Camp Intermission (now the state Department of Environmental Conservation's Camp Colby). Morris came here as a health seeker, arid he was acutely sensitive to the plight of TB patients of lesser means. One night at camp in 1919 a dinner guest told of a family in town running out of funds: the husband sick, the wife needing to go to work — but what to do with the children? That was the genesis of the Day Nursery. Fund raising began immediately, and the Nursery was opened before the year was out, beginning with two and eventually housing as many as 30 children. It was Morris who was responsible for bringing to town many of the entertainment luminaries you might meet on your walk - often to participate in charity benefits for various local causes.
- Silent, screen femme fatale Olga Petrova, for whom Petrova Avenue is named.
- Sir Harry Lauder, the singing Scotsman, who graciously lost fund-raiser golf matches to hometown doctors and hoteliers.
- Comedienne and singer Sophie Tucker, one of the most popular stars of the period, who became close friends with William Morris's daughter Ruth. When she came to town, she not only entertained the general public, she went from sanatoria to hospital to private cure cottages to lift the spirits of the sick.
- And vaudevillian Al Jolson — so afraid of TB he told Morris he wouldn't come within 100 miles of this place, and then came here every year for nearly a decade. One night in 1927, before a packed house in the 1,200-seat Pontiac Theater on Broadway (just north of where Berkeley Green is today), he performed solo for three solid hours. Aside from Broadway, you might also see him on Church Street — not necessarily socializing with the president, though he was a supporter, having popularized the campaign tune "Keep Cool with Coolidge" - but going to visit patients at the Northwoods Sanatorium which was where the Paul Smith's dormitory now stands: There he funded a free bed for needy members of the theatrical profession.
To meet a more contemplative artist than these, you might take a walk up Park Avenue, past Christy Mathewson's house into the sedate Highland Park neighborhood, where the Norwegian-American painter Jonas Lie (pronounced "Lee") occupied first the house at 135 (now 308) Park Ave. and later the house at 157 (now 382) Park Ave. He lived here with his wife, the dancer Anga Sontum, who was here for her health, and their daughter Sonja, who attended Saranac Lake High School. Lie was one of the most celebrated landscape painters of his era. Both rebellious and conservative, he led a revolt against the jury system of the National Academy Of Design. Yet, unlike many of his compatriots, he remained a member of the Academy and eventually, became its president. He is remembered, as a kindly and generous man; in 1925, he made a gift of a magnificent painting of Mount Baker from Highland Park to the physicians of Saranac Lake in recognition of their work. The painting was hung in the Saranac Lake Free Library, that it might be available for viewing by everyone, and you can see it there today. Currently, there is an exhibition of 31 of Jonas Lie's paintings at the Spanierman Gallery in New York City. The exhibition will run through Feb. 25.
The world-famous writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, was in the United States on a lecturing tour in 1922 and had planned to come to Saranac Lake for rest as he was reportedly on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Whether he made it here that year has not been confirmed. However, in 1923, he stayed with his family at the Loon Lake House. It seems a mere matter of elementary deduction that Sir Arthur would have spent at least a little time in our village, so nearby to the south. Take a walk down Baker Street. Perhaps you'll see him there.