Since The Summer of 1900

By 1900, the little village of Lake Placid had developed into a major summer resort, known both nationally and internationally. 7 large hotels, plus a number of smaller inns and boarding houses, catered to vacationers from all over the world. The period between 1880 and 1900 has become known historically as LakePlacid’s “golden age of hotels”. The PinesInn(formerly The Hotel St. Moritz) fits into the category by a hair. Albert Stickney, born in Michigan, and his wife Etta Littlejohn Stickney arrived in Lake Placid in 1899 and proceeded to build an inn called “The Pines”. It could accommodate 25 guests and opened the summer of 1900. An attractive small three-story building with ample porches, and surrounded by trees and spacious front lawn, it was a successful venture from the start. The Stickney’s operated the inn personally until 1920, when it was taken over, apparently on a lease, by Robert B. Scott of Boston. Scott was a hotel man of varied experience and had been with Lake Placid’s Whiteface Inn and Stevens House for several years.

Under his direction the inn became a popular refuge for discriminating, well-to-do guests. It had bellboy service, and initially had an orchestra for musicales and dancing led by Miss Bessie Spectre of the New England Conservatory of Music. Thomas Walinsby, formerly with the Carlton Hotel of London, England, was the chef. Bungalows and bungalow tents were also available. In 1922 semi-weekly dances were held in the spacious dining room and music was furnished by the “Pines Trio” consisting of violin, piano and cello. Music was also played during the luncheon and dinner hours, and concerts of sacred music were given on Sunday evenings. The Stickneys sold the inn to Paul J. Augsberger in 1923 and soon passed into legend. Mrs. Stickney died the next year, 1924, and Albert Stickney died inMarch of 1926 at 68. It was Augsberger who renamed the inn “St. Moritz Hotel” and soon defined the place for all time. Purportedly in 1926, a large 6-story addition swallowed up original inn and shortly the front of the hotel was faced with brick.

No major changes were made in after years and the hotel today substantially resembles the original addition. It is believed that Augsberger also built the Annex in the back of the hotel. Originally used as a storehouse and garage, it was later remodeled and enlarged to house an overflow of guests. The hotel was winterized and could stay open both summer and winter. It is not clear when Augsberger ceased to operate the hotel. He seems to have been gone after 1930 and was probably a victim of the Great Depression. Inany event, the St. Moritz received considerable publicity when, in January of 1931, Helen Kane, the famous “boop-a-doop” girl of the period, vacationed there. In the summer of 1931 the hotel was advertising “nude sun bathing on the roof” and “private sun bath cabinets on the roof”. The years of the Great Depression set in. Frank Swift, well-known Lake Placid hotelier, managed the St. Moritz in 1933 and 1934.

During the remainder of the 1930’s, Edgar V.M. Gilbert ran the hotel as an adjunct to his famous Grand View Hotel. In the late 1930s the capacity of the hotel was listed as 150. J.R. Grossman took over the hotel in 1940. He had extremely ambitious plans for improvements and by December had created an atmosphere entirely new to Lake Placid. The grill was transformed into the “Swiss Room”, which would become a popular and unique rendezvous not only for hotel guests but also the people of Lake Placid. It opened on December 21, 1940, just in time for the holiday crowd, to the music of Cy Norton and his versatile trio. The walls were of knotty pine and provided an attractive background for antique lighting fixtures. The bar itself was enclosed in a rustic ski hut, a room within a room. Huge blown-up photos of skiers and mountain views, not only adorned the walls of the Swiss Room they were hung throughout the first floor and at the entrance to the lobby. The Swiss Room, in fact, was similar to a room in the St. Moritz Hotel in Switzerland. Famous people visited the St. Moritz during the Grossman occupancy. In the summer of 1940 the internationally esteemed pianist Vladimir Horowitz and his wife, the daughter of Arturo Toscanini, stayed at the hotel. In the summer of 1941 Albert Einstein, who summered in the Saranac Lake area in the 1940’s, was guest of honor at a hotel gathering and addressed the guests and their friends. Despite renowned guests and the fabulous Swiss Room, Grossman failed financially and was soon gone. He had done nothing to refurbish the hotel beyond the Swiss Room. The hotel had fallen into hands of the Town and Village for non-payment of taxes and was now owned by a consortium of bond holders, with Town Supervisor Willis Wells as Trustee. In April of 1943 Goodman Kelleher of Lake Placid, who himself owned a small bond interest, purchased the St. Moritz. Kelleher, a great and colorful character locally, had helped to brighten the Lake Placid scene and indeed had become a legend in the resort business. Starting out as a poor boy, he had achieved considerable financial success. At the time he purchased the St. Moritz he was also owner of the Majestic Restaurant in Lake Placid and Clearwater Beach Hotel in Clearwater Beach, Florida. His fame reached beyond Lake Placid. Ripley’s “Believe it or not” column had featured him on Jan.10, 1936 as “The Cook’s Cook” as he had been cooking his help’s breakfast every morning for 20 years. Kelleher had a post card made of the cartoon and handed one out to each of his customers. Given his track record, Kelleher soon put the St. Moritz Hotel back on its feet. The place was very much run down and immediately received a thorough cleaning. Barrel after barrel of rubbish was hauled to the village dump. Much of the furniture needed replacement, but new furniture was difficult to obtain during those war years. Kelleher solved the problem in his unique fashion. He bought a hotel in neighboring Wilmington and moved all the furniture to the St. Moritz.

He also put together an excellent staff. After many years of neglect, the St. Moritz was now a hotel to be reckoned with. Kelleher made many major improvements to the inside of the hotel. He kept the Swiss Room but removed most of the decorations in which Grossman had taken such pride. Kelleher increased the capacity of the hotel by 20 rooms in another expression of his lively imagination and marketing skills. He purchased the old Village barn on Greenwood Street at the rear of the St. Moritz and in July of 1947, at considerable expense, remodeled it into a most attractive 20-room guest house, which came to be known as Pine Lodge. All the rooms were finished in knotty pine and most had connecting baths. This proved to be very popular and lucrative feature of the St. Moritz. During Kelleher’s ownership, capacity was listed in 1947 as 175, in 1949 as 200, and in 1952, 250. Kelleher’s nephew, William L. Rascoe, managed the hotel, having received his training at the Majestic Restaurant. When Kelleher died in 1953, Rascoe continued to manage the hotel for Mrs. Kelleher and then purchased it in 1956. It was under the guidance of William Rascoe and his wife Joan Dixon Rascoe, that the hotel experienced its greatest success. The Rascoes were very civic-minded and attracted local organizations for dinners, luncheons and meetings. The hotel was also favored by bobsled groups. In 1960 Eugenio Monti and his championship Italian team were quartered there, and when the World Bobsled Championships were held here in 1961, the St.Moritz was headquarters for the Italian and Swiss teams. The St. Moritz was also the scene of the opening and closing banquets and Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York presided as the guest speaker. In the 1960’s Lake Placid had developed a famous junior ski jumping team known throughout the nation. Many events were held in Lake Placid and the St. Moritz provided housing and feeding for visiting junior jumpers. The Rascoes also established the first ski package plan in Lake Placid in cooperation with the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center and ski bus tours became the major part of the winter business. This program would sustain the hotel for many years to come. The Schaefer Brewing Company became sponsor of Lake Placid’s North American Winter Festivals and the St. Moritz became headquarters for President Rudolph Schaefer and other company officers. Many conventions were held in Lake Placid during the Rascoe regime and the St. Moritz was headquarters for the New York State Lions, Veterans of Foreign Wars, New York State Fire and Police Association and others. There was always an orchestra at the hotel, in season, during the Kelleher and Rascoe years. The Swiss Room was kept open by the Rascoes, as well as a second bar and recreation room. The Rascoes were also staunch Republicans and the hotel was chosen by many party officials and organizations of Essex County for luncheons, dinners and meetings. It was the headquarters of New York State Assemblyman Grant Johnson in his campaigns. The St. Moritz was also the scene of at least one Democratic affair. In the fall of 1960, Robert F. Kennedy, as campaign manager for his brother John F. Kennedy, seeking the Presidency, was barnstorming the Country. He flew to Lake Placid in his twin-engine Beechcraft on October 9, 1960. He was met at the Lake Placid Airport by a large contingent of Democratic officials and supporters from Essex County. A caravan of about 50 cars, with horns blaring, then proceeded up Main Street to the St. Moritz Hotel for a coffee hour and an inspiring talk by Kennedy.

In January of 1964, William Rascoe sold the St. Moritz Hotel, containing 60 sleeping rooms, together withPine Lodge, to Charles Vosburgh of Cortland, N.Y. Vosburgh was a man who specialized in auction sales of hotels and promptly auctioned off the St. Moritz. Pine Lodge was severed from the hotel complex and was sold separately. The hotel was purchased, purportedly for the sum of $34,000, by a trio of local businessmen: Fred Dennin, Robert Reiss and Jack Davis. Davis had brought the Hotel Marcy to fame. In 1964 the hotel was leased to Zig Zag, Inc. and was managed that summer by Lake Placid’s famous bobsledder Stan Benham. In May of 1965 the trio sold the St. Moritz to Diversified Hotels, Inc. of New York City, which planned a year-around operation. Since that time the hotel has had a number of owners. A rather long-time owner was Stephen Reisinger, who operated the place from the late 1960’s until 1980. Again the major part of the winter business was the ski bus tours. Directly after the 1980 Olympic Winter Games here, Reisinger sold out to Alfred and Frieda Dornacher from Germany. In 1985, while the hotel was still in Dornarcher ownership, the Annex on Greenwood Street, a 25-room, 3-story building directly in back of the St. Moritz, was destroyed by fire in the frigid early morning hours of January 18. The fire was determined to have been arson. The Dornachers had been receiving threatening phone calls, probably from the arsonist, who was never apprehended. The hotel of late years has been in the ownership of James LaFountain and Glenn Cameron. In June, 1999 the hotel was sold to Marek Zach and his wife Grazyna Zach and a step-by-step renovation of the building was started. They owned the hotel until 2004 when they sold it to Frank Segger and Jill Cardinale Segger. The Seggers, from Claverack, NY, were instantly attracted to the nostalgia of the Hotel. Impressed with the long and exciting history of the building, they renamed the Hotel “The Pines of Lake Placid” and continued with the renovations. They opened a small seasonal restaurant in the hotel, “Duncan’s Grille”. In the summer they offer diningand live musicon the beautiful veranda. The original dining room was redone and is now openas The Alexandra Ballroom for private events& weddings. In 2006, the Segger family changed the name to “The Pines Inn”to reflect the relaxed and welcoming feel of their HOME.
Many hotels have come and gone in Lake Placid over its long history as a resort town. This old landmark still dominates the crest of Saranac Avenue. It is the last survivor of Lake Placid’s “golden age of hotels” …The Pines Inn, over a century old by virtue of its inner core, endures.