Adirondack Daily Enterprise March 26, 1986
The grand hotel in Saranac Lake that never was
A now rare and forgotten brochure describes a grandiose prospectus prepared in 1915 by the Ampersand Realty Co. to sell some 200 lots and build a major resort complex on the shore of Lower Saranac Lake. The plan was so elaborate that, even prior to the great depression, it had little chance of success. It proposed to rebuild the Ampersand Hotel, which had burned in 1907, not to its original size and shape but by a huge horse-shoe design containing 200 guest rooms and 150 baths. The cost of the new building was estimated at $300,000 and would be known as the Ga-ko-mas Hotel. A grand opening was pleanned for Christmas of 1916.
On the site of the existing Algonquin Hotel the company had plans for a club house and casino to serve members and their families. A description of this imposing edifice appeared in the "New York Hotel Review" for Oct. 23rd, 1915.
"On the first floor of the building provision will be made for lockers, for canoes and rowboats, slips for motor boats, dock, general entrance, lobby, offices of administration, and a golf school. Here also will be the post office, barber shop, soda fountain, bowling alleys, a target range, Turkish baths, men's and women's bath cabins, and a large swimming pool with a large fireplace in the swimming room. On the second floor there will be a stage with dressing rooms, with provision for amateur theatricals, movies, roller skating, dancing, indoor baseball and indoor tennis, a museum for Indian relics, lounge, general meeting room, writing, card, smoking rooms, etc."
As if this were not enough to attract investors, the brochure goes on with a third and fourth floor containing a large roof garden, a pool and billiard room, a Japanese tea garden, seven sleeping rooms, and two large dormitories. The opening date for this extravaganza was set for the summer of 1916.
Leaving no stone unturned the company made arrangements with the New York Central Railroad Co. to provide a new station between Lake Clear Junction and Saranac Lake which would be named the Ga-ko-mas Station. In between the hotel and the club-house-casino there would be an 18-hole golf course extending between the lake shore and Edgewood Road. Seymour Dunn, the golf pro of note, would have charge of this program assuring it to be "one of the finest 18-hole courses in the country."
During the winter months the club would provide a skating rink, a toboggan slide, skiing facilities, and horse racing on the ice. A club garage was to be erected to house the cars of members and handle mechanical repairs.
The manager of this entire complex was to be Asa O. Gallup, Vice President and manager of the Hotel Gramatan, Lawrence Park, Bronxville, N.Y. Organizational trustees were: William Minshull, President of the Adirondack National Bank, Dr. Frank Kendall, President of the Saranac Lake National Bank, and C.M. Palmer, President of the Saranac Lake Board of Trade. An impressive panel of upright citizens.
And now comes the financing, the total cost of the project was placed at $770,000 and to meet this goal the Ga-ko-mas Company would authorize the issue of the following stocks: $300,000 common stock, par value $100 $600,000 6% preferred stock, par value $100 $600,000 6% first mortgage, 30 year gold coupon bonds in denominations of $500 and $1000.
Each member of the Ga-ko-mas Club must own at least one share of common stock and there would be two classes of members — members and associate members. Members holding $1,000 or more of preferred stock would receive a discount of 5% on all bills for accommodations. Associate members would be those who elect to join the club for a single season with the priviledge of election to full membership upon application to the Board of Governors. All other visitors must be guest of members.
No TB patients allowed
The object of the club was to secure by co-operation, among congenial people, an ideal vacation or all-year resort centered in the midst of beautiful and natural surroundings. Memberships will be limited to all those against whom there can be no reasonable objection. No person suffering from tuberculosis can reserve or occupy rooms. Sounds a little bit like the old Lake Placid Club, doesn't it?
A huge map of the development was drawn by Harry Hull, a well-known local civil engineer, showing the location of company buildings and the 200 lots for sale at auction. The map is dated 1923 so apparently the promotion had progressed for at least eight years. The broadside for the auction sale of 200 building lots shows an opening date of Tuesday, July 24th at 1:00 p.m. but, unfortunately, the year is not given. If any of our senior citizens can recall this event, it would be interesting to learn of the outcome.
The lots were clustered in the area from Ampersand Avenue toAlgonquin Avenue and the Lower Lake. Many new streets were laid out with such names as Colby, Mulflur, Peacock, Dickert, Leis, and Patterson. The auction was to be held in a large tent, rain or shine, and all lots were to be sold for "whatever they will bring." Terms were 10% of purchase price plus the auctioneer's fee, dwindling down to 2% per month thereafter with interest and taxes. For further information prospective members were asked to contact S.D. Matthews at 18 Broadway, Saranac Lake or J.C. Davies at 149th St. and 3rd Ave., New York City.
Obviously this major project never took place, but one must admit that the plan was innovative and daring. Perhaps, there is still an opportunity lying somewhere for such a bold and elaborate venture.
In his well researched and fascinating book. Resort Hotels of the Adirondacks: The Architecture of a Summer Paradise, 1850-1950, published in 2003, author Bryant F. Tolles, Jr. has a chapter on "Resort Hotels Planned but Never Built".
He details a plan for a huge resort hotel complex called "Ga-Ko-Mas" which was to encompass the sites of both the Ampersand and the Algonquin Hotels.
"The burning of the Ampersand Hotel at Lower Saranac Lake in September of 1907 deprived the Adirondack district of one of its most luxurious resort establishments. This unfortunate episode was an economic setback to the town of Saranac Lake and its environs, and in the years immediately following, various unsuccessful schemes were developed to fund new hotel construction on the lakefront Ampersand site, as well as the nearby Algonquin Hotel property. One such project idea...was a massive, fortress-like, eclectic hotel edifice recalling early twentieth century office or institutional architecture… architect. B. Eustace Simonton. Date probably as early as 1910, likely no later than 1925."
"According to the prospectus, Phillips and the trustees were particularly attracted to 'Swiss architecture', hence the hotel was to exhibit features similar to the Park Hotel at Vitznau and the Hotel Du Charmont near Neuchatel in the Swiss Alps."
"Conceived in association with the Ga-ko-mas Hotel and the Ga-ko-mas Club at the Algonquin Boat house site was the Club Casino, primarily intended to serve the needs of club members, but also invited hotel guests. The prospectus optimistically predicted that the casino, upon its completion, would be 'the most comprehensive resort amusement building in the United States'. The Adirondack Enterprise went one step further, claiming that 'the plans are unique, there being no other resort building of this nature in the world'"
"The opening date of the extravagant Ga-ko-mas venture was set for the summer of 1916 ...but the date passed with little evidence of progress. The likely problem, exacerbated by the financial uncertainties caused by World War I, was insufficient investment capital to meet the $770,000 price tab. By March 1916, total funds had reached only $100,000 and the future of the resort project seemed in doubt."
"In 1920 the Ampersand tract was sold by Charles M. Eaton, the owner for the previous thirty-three years, to S. D Matthews, who planned to subdivide it for summer and all-year residential development and two new hotels. This enterprise failed, but promotion of the Ga-ko-mas resort concept continued into the 1920s before it ended. The innovative and daring Ga-ko-mas scheme, with the hotel and casino protects at its core, would never add luster to Adirondack hospitality, but the knowledge we have of it provides a fascinating opportunity to ponder what might have been."
"On 28 October 1914, approximately 30 men representing the business, financial and professional interests of the Saranac Lake area, met informally at the downtown St. Regis Hotel and commenced the planning of a new hotel, private club, casino, and cottages project, one of the most ambitious and costly ever conceived for the Adirondack region."
"It was intended that this venture would utilize both the former Ampersand property as well as the Algonquin parcel, totaling 428 acres on the northeast shoreline of the Lower Saranac Lake."
"In 1915 the organising group, under the name 'Ga-ko-mas Company', published an informal and promotional booklet for the proposed undertaking, entitled 'Ga ko-mas in the Adirondacks: a prospectus'."
"Under the leadership of …William Minshull, Frank E.. Kendall, and C. M. Palmer, all from the immediate region, plans were advanced for the new year-round resort complex." It seems that there were design renderings done by more than one architect, as the book shows photos of designs by John H. Phillips of New York City. Dan Bready, owner of Camp To-No-Na which was previously the property of the descendants of William M. Hanes, last owner of the Algonquin Hotel, is in possession of a design and plan done by another architect.
Adjacent to the casino, midway between the hotel and the clubhouse, there was to be a one hundred car garage. Plans called for chauffeurs' quarters adjacent to the garage 'with sitting and reading room equipped with various forms of amusement'. ...The provision of these facilities ...demonstrates to continuing impact that the relatively new automobile, still used largely by affluent owners, was expected to have on resort life and operations. New roads were to be developed, one along the lake connecting the hotel and club properties, and the other joining the resort with a new railroad station 'through virgin forest for the entire distance, with no stores or primitive building to mar the natural picturesqueness of the scenery'. The Ga-ko-mas station was to be located "between Lake Clear Junction and Saranac Lake and would receive New York Central Railroad trains, including overnight direct service from all the principal cities of the eastern United States."
As is characteristic of grand resort hotel life, in relational, cultural and social facilities and offerings were to be multi-dimensional, and in the case of the Ga-ko-mas, were also to encompass tennis courts, a baseball field, a new eighteen hole golf course, and winter season pursuits such as 'skating, tobogganing, skiing, (and) horse racing on ice'."
Malone Farmer, January 17, 1917
The Burlington Free Press says: "McDowell, Henderson & Mercer, the local architects and engineers, have obtained one of the biggest contracts that have come to town in years. They are drawing the plans for a new hotel at Lake Placid, the Ga-Ko-Mas, to cost, it is estimated, about $1,500,000. The hotel will be located on Grand View Hill, and the present Grand View Hotel will only be a sort of annex to it. The building- will be of concrete, ten .stories high, with a tower going up another four stories. Three stories will be below the surface of the ground so that much of the steep ascent to the hotel will be done away with and the rest will be by easier gradations. The hotel with the annex will be by far the biggest in Lake Placid. Asa O. Gallup, former manager of the Lake Placid Club, will be managing director of the Ga-Ko-Mas and Grand View and also of another hotel which the Ga-Ko-Mas Hotel company, a holding concern, will construct on the site of the former Ampersand hotel on lower Saranac Lake. The latter if built will cost about $350,000. Work on the new structure at Lake Placid will be started as soon as the weather will permit blasting and excavation."