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Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Smoke Rise Village Inn - Part II

Smoke Rise Village

If Walls Could Talk…The Smoke Rise Village Inn - Part II:  The Birth of the Village Inn.

In Part one of this story about the Smoke Rise Village Inn, I indicated that the Smoke Rise Community was born in 1946.  Interestingly, the Smoke Rise Inn was one of the first facilities to be worked on. The Inn was actually operating before the beach was constructed.

The story of the Smoke Rise Village Inn continues.

One of the earlier concepts of the Smoke Rise Community, was to have a self contained “Village” within the reservation. Hence the name “Village Inn”. At one point, in the late 50s, the piggery was converted into a small grocery store called “The Village Store” but that’s a story for another day. The original Smoke Rise Company Brochure published in 1946 gives some insight into the plan.

Smoke Rise –Today
The buildings at Smoke Rise, as it stands today on the threshold of planned development, are few. They include “Stone House” built in 1886, where the Company offices are installed, and a group of farm buildings in the proposed Village area which will serve as temporary facilities for Company and Club. Until the Village itself is built (as the community progresses) certain facilities will be available. These will be a combination restaurant and inn, with accommodations for Club Members, making it especially convenient for owners who may wish to stay at Smoke Rise while supervising the construction of their houses, a food shop, a service center for building and road construction work and a large hall for temporary club quarters. The old stone barn will house some of these facilities.”

The “Village” is described in greater detail in a subsequent section.

“Smoke Rise-Tomorrow
…Village – The proposed Smoke Rise Village will be strategically centered in the reservation and will cover about 20 acres in area with 20 more held in reserve for expansion, should they be required. And an ideal village it will be. Colonial in plan it will be the very heart of the community.

Here all the conveniences associated with modern living will be available, including shops, essential services, library and theatre. Here also will be located the Company and Sales Offices and a Building Construction Center with its architect, engineer, contractor, electrician, plumber, painter and decorator, together with display rooms. The main road through the Village (The Smoke Rise Village Common) will be 50 feet in width and there will be ample parking on both sides of this road as well as along the Perimeter Road thus assuring easy flow of traffic and ample, convenient and safe parking at all times. A system of excellent roads through-out the reservation will bring all facilities within easy reach.”

Just in case anyone was wondering how Perimeter Road got its name, it was the road that was to be on the outside “perimeter” of the Village.

Above is an artist drawing of the proposed Village from the 1946 brochure. Note how the “Perimeter Road” is laid out almost exactly how it is today. You may also note in the drawing a small church located about where the present gas station is…Hence the name “Chapel Hill Terrace”. More on road names at another time.

An application for a Retail Liquor License dated March 18, 1947 from the Smoke Rise Club for The Smoke Rise Village Inn building, lists that alcoholic beverages would be served on the ground floor of a “hollow tile and stone structure” with outdoor consumption on a “Summer Dining Terrace”. The application was signed by J. Alden Talbot, President. Road construction on Perimeter Road was carried out in the summer of 1947. The kitchen and rudimentary bar facilities were quickly completed. Extensive landscaping was completed outside including the planting of a few thousand daffodils. The landscaping included the raised terrace which extended between the two main wings. Parking, by the way, was in the courtyard, unless the courtyard was being used for an outside function. A couple of partitions here, some carpet over there and voila…instant, restaurant, lounge and Inn.

The Inn was a modest enterprise in its early formative days. Just so everyone can follow, the present day entrance wing, I will call the North-South Wing and the present day ballroom the East-West wing.

In the early days, the kitchens were located in the north-south wing, the bar in the old slaughter house, and the dining room was located in the area that is presently occupied by the Board meeting room and bathrooms. Bathrooms, in the early days, were located on the second floor of the north-south wing along with a number of guest rooms, set up for sleeping, perhaps six to seven in number. The area where the present bar is located was an outdoor terrace. As the community grew and more space was needed the westerly part of the cattle barn was converted into a ballroom, and was first known as “The White Room”. The ceiling in the White Room was quite low, perhaps no more than 8-9 feet high. Above this area was a cavernous hayloft that was used to store just about everything one could imagine (except hay).

In those early days, when the beach closed on Labor Day weekend, all of the beach apparatus; lifeguard stands, Adirondack chairs, umbrellas, picnic tables etc, were stored in the hayloft. The easterly most part of the cattle barn was also used for restaurant and liquor storage. There were a number of floor to ceiling posts running down the middle of the white room. These posts designated the individual stalls for the cattle.

Almost immediately, the Inn became the social hub for the community. Just about every type of event was conducted there from Church Services to summer parties, Halloween parties, Christmas parties and ballet recitals. Yes, the Community Church of Smoke Rise held regular Sunday services in the “White Room” from 1952 until the new church was constructed on North Road in 1956. Next time you visit St. Hubert’s Chapel, check out the black and white wooden sign that, on one side, reads “Service in White Room” and the other side reads “Service in Chapel”.

As the Community grew so did the Smoke Rise Inn. The outdoor patio area (present home of the bar) was enclosed and became the dining room. It was this addition that joined the structures; the east west wing, the slaughter house, and the north-south wing. This was perhaps the last big structural change to the facility, with one exception, that was to occur prior to the major renovation that was to happen much later. When the dining room was moved to this area, the old dining room would undergo a rather interesting and somewhat peculiar transformation (The old dining room being where the current board room is located.).

I note from a 1958 issue of the Smoke Rise Club News…

The Village Inn

“The South Room has been reserved for the exclusive use of the younger set. Teenagers and children (writer's note, is there a difference?) are welcome. Facilities offered are a juke box, billiard table and private meeting room as well as dispensing machines for ice cream, soft drinks, candy and crackers. The South room is open till 10 PM Weekdays 11 PM Fridays and midnight Saturdays. There is a rumor that Frank is planning to have a back-to-school surprise party for the teen-agers complete with barbecue and everything.

New Facilities at the Inn: On August 7th the new Charcoal Grill Room and Kitchen, and the outdoor “Bullpen Patio” had their official grand opening. This new area has been the scene of a great deal of activity from that time on. However, even though an announcement was sent to all residents, it still seems that many people still do not know about these added facilities in the “Come as you are” section. Dress is strictly informal at lunch and dinner times. The present Terrace Dining Room will still be formal in that men are expected to wear jackets at lunch time and jackets and ties at dinner time. Women’s dress should also be comparatively formal for the Terrace Room.”

For nostalgia purposes, I located a late 1950s menu. Let’s see what fare could be had...
  • Shrimp Cocktail….50c
  • Smoked Novi Scotia Salmon…25c
  • Broiled Lamb Chops (2) $4.00

This was the dinner menu that included appetizer, soup, main course; with potato and vegetable, and dessert. The dessert entries included “Smoke Rise Parfait”.

  • Family Buffet was offered on Sundays for $2.75 (Children $2.00)
  •  
  • Among entrees that could be ordered a la Carte (in advance)
  •  
  • Rack of Lamb for two…$10.00
  •  
  • Partridge, in cocotte au Champagne…$5.00

The most expensive item on the menu was -- of which I have no idea what this is -- Faisan Roti Souvaroff for 2…$15.00 (~ Pheasant in Cream Sauce?)

In addition to the menu items, a small blurb reminds residents that they could buy their liquors from the Inn, including the Smoke Rise Village Inn private brand liquors.

Indeed there was a time that you could purchase Smoke Rise Village Inn Gin, Vodka, Bourbon, Scotch, Rye and Champagne. (What else could anyone need?) I located an old label in the archive. I wonder if any of these bottles still survive?


On another note, all the dinnerware was a bone white china with a small green border. At the top of each plate was the familiar green Smoke Rise Club logo with the chapel located inside the circular disk. I think one such plate (and only one) still survives today at the Inn.

As the 1960s rolled on by the Inn continued in much the same fashion as it did in those early years. Occasions of all sorts, Sailing Club Dinners, Gun Club Dinners, Women’s Club luncheons, Card Parties, Bridge, as well as formal dances were conducted at the Inn. Around about 1965, the area just beyond the present parking area was dug out and flooded to create an additional skating facility and the “South Room” was turned into an informal luncheonette.

Regrettably, as the 1960s came to an end, there was trouble brewing on the horizon. The former Kin-Wood Inn had changed ownership and had become “Calamity Jane’s” and was doing a booming business. Patronage at the Inn was beginning to falter. The facilities were beginning to become somewhat run down. The Smoke Rise Company, which owned and operated the facilities, was losing money consistently on the Inn operations. As the seventies began, the owners of the Smoke Rise Company began to seek an exit plan. In order to stop the hemorrhaging of cash at the Inn it was decided in the fall of 1972 to close the operations.

Relief was found the following spring when George F. Foley, a devout Smoke Rise resident, bought the Smoke Rise Company. The purchase included about 1500 Acres of undeveloped land, about 80 acres of lake and shoreline, the two gate houses, about 50 lots, the Inn and the entire Village Green as well as other miscellaneous parcels. The purchase was made with a minimal down payment and one huge mortgage.

Now there are many who may still be bitter about Mr. Foley and his handling of the Smoke Rise operations during the middle 70s. However, I truly believe he had the best of intentions.

From a historical perspective I believe his two major gaffs were, one, being seriously under-financed and two, being in the wrong place at the wrong time in history. 1973 saw the first Arab oil embargo; the unwinding of the whole Watergate Scandal, the stock market declined 60% between 1973 and 1974; a general overall decline in real estate activity, a club membership that desperately wanted to seek its independence from the Smoke Rise Company and a public which began to question its leaders and institutions. NOT a fantastic time to enter into a new real estate business venture! Particularly not a good time to start such a venture with a dollar and a dream.

Nonetheless, recognizing the need for a community social hub and trying to find ways to invigorate the Inn, Mr. Foley re-opened the Inn in the summer of 1973. The very east end of the Cattle Barn, which was previously used for storage, was opened up into a potentially thriving liquor store.

Display cabinets and refrigeration displays were purchased and the birth of the “Smoke Rise Wine and Spirits Shop” came about. The most easterly door (facing Perimeter Road) was the entrance to this new endeavor. A paved turnaround was installed so that residents could “drive right up to the door” and stock up. In addition to reopening the bar and restaurant, the old Charcoal Grill Room and Bullpen dining terrace was re-opened as “The Smoke House” where light lunch fare could be obtained. JJC and I often ate there during the summers as both of us were Smoke Rise Club summer maintenance employees during our high school years.
From the 1985 Smoke Rise Newsletter
About this time participation in tennis at Smoke Rise had risen to an all time high. The two paved courts on North Road and the old clay court across from the gas station, (current site of the basketball court) were insufficient to meet the demand. So the Tennis Club began discussions for expanded facilities. Each location that was considered was met with a “not in my backyard” response. At one point the open areas behind the Inn were considered as a potential location. However, that too proved unsatisfactory and ultimately a number of acres were purchased across the street (more or less in nobody’s back yard) where the six new har-tru courts were erected about 1975. You are probably wondering what this has to do with the Inn. Read on.

The Inn operations continued in its previous fashion for a short while until the Kinnelon Board of Health determined that conditions were not right and the Inn closed again in May of 1975.  Unable to weather the economic firestorm, The Smoke Rise Company filed for bankruptcy in 1976. Most of the properties were still under mortgage by the previous owners and were subsequently recovered by way of Sheriffs Sale.

During the recovery process, the previous owners of the Smoke Rise Company, namely John Talbot and his partner, E. B. Leone, offered to sell all the assets of the Company to the Smoke Rise Club for $1,100,000. This included the 1500 acres, more or less, of undeveloped property, 80 acres of lake and shoreline, The Inn, the two gate houses, the remainder of the Village Green and other miscellaneous parcels. On October 15, 1977, by a vote of 325 opposed and 152 in favor, the acquisition proposal was turned down by the Smoke Rise Club membership. Shortly thereafter the primary assets of the Smoke Rise Company, including the Inn, were sold to Comco America.

During these turbulent years, in an interesting twist of events, The Community Church of Smoke Rise became the social hub for the community. However, many of the members, with happy nostalgia, longed for the Inn to re-open or in the alternative to have another clubhouse.

Consider all the patrons, parties, weddings, college mixers, graduation parties, confirmation parties, dances and other events that had transpired over the facilities first 25 years. The Inn was way more than just a restaurant; the Inn had become a fondly remembered institution. Negotiations commenced almost immediately with Comco for the Inn. However, proposal after proposal was found to be unsatisfactory to the membership. Finally, in 1979, a proposal was passed by the membership to expend club funds to develop plans for a new club house, presumably to be situated across the street in the vicinity of the new tennis courts. At this point Comco stood up and took notice.

A major turning point in the history of the Inn was about to occur.

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Thanks, Tom!




Note: Images courtesy of Tom Kline, Kinnelon & Smoke Rise Historian.
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