Old Address: Spion Kop
Other names:, National Vaudeville Artists' Home, NVA Adirondack Lodge. The facility was occasionally mistakenly referred to as the National Variety Artists Lodge.
Year built: 1928
The Will Rogers Memorial Hospital, was built in 1928-29 as the National Vaudeville Artists' Home by the National Vaudeville Artists, which was run by E. F. Albee.
They started by providing care in a number of different cure cottages at Saranac Lake— the Gonzalez Cottage, the Kennedy Cottage, and the Northwoods Sanatorium. About 1916, the National Vaudeville Artists Fund was created in order to build a larger hospital. In 1925, they acquired forty acres on the south side of the village, on a hill (part of an esker) called "Spion Kop," where they built a large cottage for their patients. They commissioned architect William H. Scopes to design the hospital, which was designed to provide a comfortable, non-institutional environment, believing that such an approach would aid recuperation. The design emphasizes the wooded environment set among the nearby Adirondack mountains and lakes.
The Tudor revival-style building resembles an English country estate or lodge, with private rooms and sleeping porches with common dining and recreation facilities; it was named the National Vaudeville Artists Home. It was the last of the large, institutional sanatorium to be built in Saranac Lake.
The rise of the motion picture industry, combined with the effects of the Great Depression, caused a major decline in the audience for vaudeville. In 1929 Joseph Kennedy did a hostile buyout and took over. Though still called the NVA, it no longer was the same. Going bankrupt in 1935, the NVA transferred the hospital to the newly established Will Rogers Memorial Commission, established after the death of the popular humorist, and broadened its services to all entertainers; funding was provided in part by nation-wide "Will Rogers audience collections". In 1936, the institution was renamed as the Will Rogers Memorial Hospital.
Three articles titled "Cottage Calls," about some of the patients at Will Rogers Hospital, appeared in The Guild News in January, February and March of 1943.
Financial difficulties arose again during World War II, and forced the Hospital to restrict admissions. Funding was solicited from motion picture heads, allowing the institution to continue until 1975, when it was closed.
It was used briefly six years later as a press headquarters for the 1980 XIII Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid. In 1996, the county sold the property to Alpine Adirondack Limited Partnership for $92,500 for renovation as an independent living community, Saranac Village at Will Rogers. 12
- Will Rogers Hospital and O'Donnell Research Laboratories brochure
For one of the original buildings on Spion Kop, see Taylor's Taxidermy
- Saranac Village at Will Rogers
- The Atlantic, May 16, 2017, "The Tuberculosis Hospital That Treated America's Vaudeville Stars"
The following article was published in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in February, 2008. The article, written by Linda Jackson, was one of a series of articles written by Historic Saranac Lake on that year's Winter Carnival theme, "Hooray for Hollywood."
The glamour and limelight of Hollywood was not enough to prevent those in the entertainment business from being stricken by illness in the days of the tuberculosis onslaught. Many of its victims found a haven at the Will Rogers Hospital, on an esker overlooking Turtle Pond here in Saranac Lake.
Employees and retirees of the entertainment industry and family members over age fourteen received free, quality care regardless of their position. Patients included employees from movies, radio, television, and the stage: performing artists, technical and backstage personnel alike.
Actors who were treated here include Maurice Gosfield (Doberman on the Phil Silvers’ Sgt. Bilko program), Veronica Lake, Lila Lee, Jack Norton (TV co-star with Jackie Gleason and Milton Berle), Lionel Stander, and Jack Pearl. Other renowned patients include Charles R Jackson, who wrote The Lost Weekend; Larry Kaye, Danny Kaye’s brother; Collier Rogers, wife of Will Rogers, Jr.; and Vincent Sardi, Sr., of Sardi’s Restaurant in New York City.
Patients often put on impromptu shows in the hospital dining room, and other entertainers would arrive to help raise funds to support the hospital. Visitors and ambulatory patients were known to visit the Elks Club and if asked, would demonstrate their talents there. Bill McLaughlin, writing in the Enterprise, reported humorous visits with Kane Helen_Kane who visited several times to entertain the patients with her songs, such as “Get Out and Get Under the Moon.” She was best known as the voice of Betty Boop, the sexiest star in animated cartoons from 1932 until WW II.
In the 1920s, Will Rogers hospital began as a small cottage called Spion Kop on about forty acres. A place of healing for vaudeville performers ill with tuberculosis, it was supported by an association called The National Vaudeville Artists. In 1927 the NVA Fund decided to build a larger hospital. According to Wilder Harvey, Ed Harvey moved the cottage down the hill to Lake Flower Avenue -– where it houses Adirondack Lakes and Trails Outfitters today -– using one donkey that turned a windlass.
The new Tudor style building was designed to resemble a country estate or resort and reflected the philosophy that patients would heal more quickly in a “cheery, comfortable, and non-institutional atmosphere.” The architects William H. Scopes and Maurice M. Feustmann, both former patients, designed Will Rogers Hospital, the last of the big institutional sanatoria built here.
So that patients felt like welcomed guests, rather than society’s outcasts, the hospital included private rooms, a beauty parlor, a billiard room, solariums and balconies. The ground floor housed storage rooms, clinical labs, an operating room, a dentist examining room, maintenance shops, and radiology rooms. On the first and main floor was a large lounge and dining room, research labs, examining rooms, a bakeshop and food preparation rooms, a projector booth, stage with a screen, medical records library, conference rooms and an outdoor patio. Offices and patient care were laid out on the second and third floors and an attic and roof solarium could be found on the fourth floor. Off the main floor was a rotunda with a circular staircase whose handrail was made of decorative iron with wood. The arched stained glass windows, made in France, incorporated test tubes and beakers. Placed in the rotunda was a large bronze statue of Will Rogers. The stone foundation and slate roof refined the appearance. About forty cure porches and many windows aided the fresh air treatment.
The hospital was named the “National Vaudeville Artists Home” until 1936 when it was rededicated as the “Will Rogers Hospital,” in memory of the actor and humanitarian who played so many benefits for charity. He died in an airplane crash in Alaska in 1935. At this same time, due to the Depression and decline in the vaudeville entertainment industry, the Will Rogers Memorial Commission took over the running of the facility. The commission obtained financial support from the motion picture industry and initiated the Will Rogers Audience Collections where such actors as Shirley Temple and Bing Crosby made filmed appeals to theater audiences all over the country. With the advent of WWII, this major source of revenue dried up. Knowing from experience the success of the treatment at Will Rogers, Abe Montague, vice-president of Columbia Pictures, and Gustav Eyssell, director of Radio City Music Hall, pursued contributions from leaders in the motion picture industry to save the hospital and secure its future. For some twenty years a column entitled "Saranac" appeared regularly in Variety, a newspaper covering news of the entertainment industry. The column, which reported on facility inmates and on entertainers who stopped by to offer good cheer, always ended with the line, "Write to those who are ill."
By 1952, the facility was well known for its research. The R. J. O’Donnell Memorial Research Laboratories were developed for clinical and exploratory research in all pulmonary cardio-vascular diseases. To make space for the labs, three new apartment buildings were constructed to house staff, nurses, and doctors. In following years a summer institute for training and research enhanced the programs. An X-ray unit was added, and the labs were shared with the Saranac Lake General Hospital and, later, with North Country Community College technician courses. A Library and Study Center was designed by William G. Distin and built in memory of the hospital’s late president, Abe Montague.
With the advent of drug treatment for tuberculosis after WWII, the spotlight on Will Rogers Hospital began to fade. By 1975 the facility closed, but the Will Rogers Institute is still in business, based now in Toluca Lake, California.
Initial attempts to develop the Saranac Lake facility into a resort or apartments were unsuccessful. During the 1980 Olympics, it was operated as the Hillside Hotel, housing service workers.
Thanks to the determination of many, however, the facility ultimately underwent intense renovations and in 1999 it emerged as Saranac Village at Will Rogers, a lovely retirement community, housing many of our local “stars.” The former library is now the North Country Christian Center, and the three buildings that housed hospital staff are offices and apartments. The integrity and beauty of the historic complex have been preserved and the main building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
N. V. A. Buys Ground For Own Sanitarium
Purchases 50 Acres at Saranac and Will Erect More Buildings Soon
New York, Sept. 28.—A sanitarium to be devoted exclusively to the care of members of all branches of the theatrical profession is to be established in Saranac Lake, N Y at Spion Kop, a 50-acre estate which was purchased by the National Vaudeville Artistes, Inc., for that purpose last week. The estate, on the outskirts of Saranac Lake village, was bought from George A. Berry, of Washington. It becomes the property of the N. V. A. November 1.
More than 25 patients are now being maintained in various nursing cottages and sanitariums in Saranac by the N V. A. They are to be moved into the new home when the N. V. A. takes possession and all tubercular patients who will come under the care of that organization in the future will be sent there. Theatrical patients who are now confined to the North Woods Sanitarium will also be moved into the new place and in the future the North Woods will be left free for patients not connected with theatricals.
Dr. Edgar Mayer, executive head of the North Woods Sanitarium, will be in charge of the new N. V. A. Sanitarium, pending the appointment of a superintendent for the new place and also the engagement of permanent attaches.
The present buildings on the Spion Kop estate are to be enlarged and other buildings are to be added. Spion Kop is known to be one of the most beautiful estates in the Adirondacks. Theatrical people who are in Colorado, or who were to be sent there, will be taken care of at the Saranac N. V. A. home in the future.
Funds for the first payment of the property were secured at the various N. V. A. benefits held thruout the country early this year. It is understood that the receipts from the future benefits will also be devoted to the maintenance of the sanitarium.
Lake Placid News, August 13, 1926
PAUL WHITEMAN TAKES BATON OF G. V. ORCHETRA
Does His Bit Saturday Night at Local Hotel for Northwoods San Benefit —Theatrical Celebrities Help
Announcement has been made by the board of directors of the Northwoods sanatorium of Saranac Lake that a 120-acre site on the shore of Flower Lake [sic] has been purchased.
A modern fifty-room fireproof unit will be the first to be built; its completion expected in a year's time. The completed sanatorium will be one of the largest and finest non-sectarian institutions for the control of tuberculosis in the world.
For some time past a cottage situated at 9 Church street, accommodating about twenty-five patients, has been used as a haven for the sick. This small cottage has well served its purpose for from the time of its opening to the present it has been filled to capacity. With the recent purchase of a beautiful tract of land facing the water and the extensive building plan anticipated the dream of a small group of far-seeing and philanthropic people will soon be realized.
A dance and impromptu auction held at the Grand View Hotel grill on Saturday evening, August 7th, which netted $3,400 for the Sanatorium's fund, followed the diner given in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Whiteman by Mr. and Mrs. William Morris. To start the ball rolling Paul Whiteman offered $200 to have Benny Rubin, Shubert musical comedy star, sing. Rubin, however, passed up the honor to open the evening's festivities and called for bids to have the world's premier orchestra leader conduct the hotel music makers. Whiteman came back with another $300 in an effort to be excused. Not to be stumped by this excuse $800 was pooled…
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, February 9, 1995
AALP preserving Will Rogers
Developers take steps toward senior housing facility
By ANDY FLYNN Enterprise Staff Writer
SARANAC LAKE - The looters are gone from the former Will Rogers Hospital, but the raccoons are still there. However, the masked creatures will soon be moved out of the main building to make way for seniors citizens and historic preservation.
Power has been restored to the building, at least in the boiler room, and efforts are now under way to patch up the roof and heat the place so no further damage can be done. Partners in the Adirondack Alpine Limited Partnership (AALP) are converting the building into a 75-unit senior housing project.
The hospital closed in 1975, and was modified during the 1980 Winter Olympics to house Olympic workers and athletes. But despite efforts in the late 1980s to renovate the building into condominiums, the facility has been falling apart inside, but not structurally.
Built in 1928 by a group of actors known as the National Vaudeville Artists (later National Variety Actors [sic: Artists]), the concrete and steel construction was very progressive for the times, according to AALP architect Doug Stewart. Many developers in the 1920s constructed buildings with the walls supporting the floors, he said. Therefore, if a wall was removed, it would cause damage to the floors. That would take more money and time to renovate. But in this case, the walls can be taken out for renovation without any structural damage.
Although the original developers made the building renovation friendly, the failed condominium project did more harm than good for AALP, Stewart said. Developers of the Will Rogers Castle Point project of the late 1980s renovated one wing on one floor into model rooms. They used wood studs for the walls instead of the metal ones Stewart needs to meet fire codes.
It's as though time is standing still in the building. Castle Point developers left everything as it was when they left. Mop buckets, drop cloths, and paint buckets are scattered on the floors. Even some Castle Point blueprints are on the walls in the construction office. Most of the tubs, sinks, toilets, cabinets, carpets, and fixtures are still in the model rooms. The Castle Point sign leans against a wall in the renovated lobby. However, looters made away with some of the fixtures and cabinets because the doors were not locked until two weeks ago.
Time has taken its toll on the abandoned building. Paint is peeling from the walls. Every room has the stench of mildew. The floors are strewn with raccoon feces, broken glass, and sheets of ice.
And yet, there is a remarkable sense of history throughout the place. Some floors are exactly how they were left 20 years ago. The old carpeting, wallpaper, bathtubs, and fire hoses are all vestiges of the past institution. The winding staircase and the stage in the dinner theatre, including a balcony for Shakespearean plays, are marvels that will not be lost in the transition to senior housing.
Stewart said he wants to renovate the former Will Rogers Hospital with a careful awareness of historical value. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the exterior of the structure will be restored to its original Tudor-style construction.
Essex County officially owns the building, but AALP has signed an insurance binder to protect both entities until the developers close on the property in April. The agreed cost for purchase is $305,000 plus additional penalties and taxes between now and the closing date. The price includes county, school, town, and village back taxes. It will cost between $3 and $4 million to renovate the building. The housing project is slated to open by early 1996.
The history of the structure is a long one. The hospital was originally used to care for ailing and aged performers and relatives under the name of NVA Lodge. In honor of humorist Will Rogers, following his death in a plane crash, the facility became known as the Will Rogers Memorial Hospital in 1936. With the decline of tuberculosis in the 1950s, the hospital began taking patients for all sorts of chest diseases. It closed in 1975, was used to house Olympians in 1980, and went through foreclosures through the Bank of Lake Placid in 1981 and the Liberty Bank for Savings in 1993.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, November 28, 1992
Actors’ hospital opened 1925
by Kathleen Scott Vaughn
SARANAC LAKE —- On October 29, 1975, officials at Will Rogers Hospital announced that the facility would close at the end of that year.
The reason given for the closure was state codes requiring the old building be renovated and improved. It was estimated that the project would cost between $60,000 and $80,000, which the hospital could not afford.
There had been rumors for several months prior to the announcement that the facility would close since for several years the annual fund drive was falling short of the $1.5 million operating expenses.
The hospital grew from a cottage opened in 1925 and supported by the National Variety Actors [sic: Artists] for tuberculosis patients. Over its years of operation, the facility expanded and served people with various respiratory diseases instead of only TB, which diminished after a cure was found.
The Will Rogers building, which still stands today across from [the former] Ames Department Store, was built in 1928 and fully complete in 1929. It was first called the NVA Lodge, after the National Vaudeville Artists, which was a small group of vaudeville actors, and it was built to take care of ailing and aged performers. In 1936, its name was changed to Will Rogers after the late actor.
Patients at Will Rogers, which was partly supported by the movie industry, included many famous people, such as . . . comedian Bert Wheeler. The movie industry conducted audience participation drives to raise money for the hospital.
The hospital had employed 140 full-time and 20-25 part-time employees.
Lake Placid News, June 20, 1930
N. V. A. SANATORIUM TO OPEN IN JULY
The National Variety Artists sanatorium on the eastern outskirts of Saranac Lake village near the Lake Placid highway is scheduled to open in July, according to recent reports. The big sanatorium was completed some time ago, but funds to operate were not in sight until substantial sums were raised during the recent N. V. A. jubilee week. The building cost nearly $1,000,000.
Adirondack Enterprise, December 6, 1973
Country Club Atmosphere at Will Rogers
BY FRANK SHATZ
SARANAC LAKE - Each year 5,000 movie houses all around the country spread the word by flashing images on the screen, that Saranac Lake, a community tucked away in the Adirondacks, is a place of blissful tranquility, surrounded by great natural beauty.
All this comes through, loud and clear, from a short film (a "trailer") shown in all U.S. movie houses during the annual Will Rogers Audience Collection campaign. The appeal for voluntary contributions to the hospital and research center was started in 1936. Since then movie stars like Shirley Temple, Bing Crosby and May Robson have volunteered to inform the public of the work of Will Rogers Hospital and Research Center. The emphasis on its location in Saranac Lake amid natural beauty has become an important part of the message.
Will Rogers Hospital was born in 1925 as a cottage type treatment center for vaudeville performers afflicted by tuberculosis. It has become one of the country's most advanced and important treatment, research and teaching center for respiratory diseases. The hospital is maintained to give free medical care to any person employed in or retired from the entertainment-communication industry, and members of their families.
Will Rogers Hospital is considered quite unique in its field because, beyond specialized care, it provides a kind of country club atmosphere. Experience has shown that the latter helps greatly to hasten recovery not just in physically, but mentally.
Beyond treatment and care specialization, the institution has evolved into a first class research center in the fight against respiratory diseases. From its laboratories, have emerged the INH-Resistant BCG Anti-TB Vaccine which permits a noninfected individual to achieve immunity while remaining in an infectious environment. The vaccine reduces the case rate by about 80 per cent of the amount which would occur without vaccination.
Sharing the findings of the Will Rogers Research Center with the world's medical profession, to benefit all humanity, is a basic principle of the institution.
In 1962 the Will Rogers Summer Institute of Teaching and Training was inaugurated. Its prime objective is to bring more doctors into active medical research.
The program also enables promising young medical: students to work under the tutelage of respected scientists recruited from many institutions. During an 8-10 weeks' summer program senior scientists and their students; work in the Will Rogers laboratories, attend seminars,: and take part in discussions related to prevention and treatment of respiratory diseases.
All this can be accomplished only by expending considerable amounts of money. The Will Rogers Hospital and Research Center's yearly budget amounts to about $1.5 million. To secure this amount, year after year, two major fund raising campaigns are staged.
Part of the annual drive is the Salute to Will Rogers, directed at every employee in the industry. It is an appeal to the "owners" of Will Rogers for contribution. The second part of the annual drive is the Audience Collection. Through the informative short film the audience is acquainted with the Will Rogers research, teaching and training program. The viewers are urged to help finance the program.
The fund raising drive for Will Rogers has been, since 1971, in the hands of Fred Schwartz of Lake Placid. Mr. Schwartz, a former member of the board of directors of the Will Rogers Foundation, travels more than 20,000 miles a year and spends unaccountable hours on the phone to raise the necessary funds.
"It's not an easy job," he says, "especially in times of economic difficulties such as we have experienced recently." Fortunately for Will Rogers, Mr. Schwartz is an entertainment industry insider. He was practically born into it. His father used to own the Century Theater chain of 40 movie houses and his sons helped to run it. Later, working in production and distribution for the Metro Goldwyn-Mayer, Mr. Schwartz developed even more extended ties with the entertainment-communication industry and the people in it.
"Knowing a lot of people in responsible positions can be helpful in find raising," said Mr. Schwartz, "but it surely isn't a substitute for the accomplishments for which Will Rogers is so well known. Because of those we are able to raise 40-50 percent of our yearly budget from audience collections. The largest upcoming event of this sort will be the New York benefit premiere of the movie Papillon, starring Steve McQueen."
Mr. Schwartz's latest project, as fundraiser and public relation man for Will Rogers, is using TV and radio in the Audience Collections campaign. Thirteen different TV and radio spots explaining the work of Will Rogers, narrated by the best known movie and TV stars, are broadcast daily. In them the words, "Will Rogers located in Saranac Lake amidst great natural beauty," is a message hardly detrimental to the image of our community.
The Vaudeville News and New York Star, February 9, 1929
A Pleasant Day At Saranac Lake
By ANDREW MOLONY
Saranac Lake, N. Y., Feb. 2.—The mail train arrives in Saranac Lake at 6:30 A. M. This event starts the official day. Visitors and new patients descend from the Pullmans wearing expressions of happy anticipation or vice versa . . . the unhappy expressions soon change. . . . Country folks from the "Backwoods" come to town a-marketing . . . they check their snowshoes at the depot.
The fascination which the mail wagon holds for the town idlers. . . . We hire a taxi . . . climb a couple of precipices . . . locally termed hills . . . arrive at N. V. A. Lodge . . . welcomed by the superintendent . . . most of the girls and boys are astir already . . . pajamas, plain and fancy, peep out from under vari-colored dressing gowns . . . nobody minds . . . Bed patients leave sleeping porches for warmer rooms. . . . Merry salutations exchanged . . . morning toilets accomplished ... a keen appetite awaits breakfast. . . . And what a breakfast. . . . "Up" patients prepare to go walking, or perhaps some prosperous patient-friend, on the outside, has invited them to go motoring. . . N. V. A. members are very popular here.
Everyone looks forward to the arrival of the morning mail . . . Why don't YOU write?
All Around the Town
Mr. Murphy, affectionately referred to . . . in private . . . as Mike, invites us to take a drive through and around the village. . . . From the "San" we descend a snow-covered road which slopes at an angle of nearly 30 degrees. . . . The high wind of last night has piled the snow into fantastically formed drifts. . . . High-powered snow plows will clear this before the village is well astir.
We glide into the business section. . . . Shopkeepers are leisurely preparing for the day s work. . . . No one hurries here . . . except to meals. We cross the main bridge of the village underneath which the Saranac River flows ... so swift is the current that even in sub-zero temperatures the river never freezes over. . . . Incidentally, the river is the "white coal" which generates the. electricity which lights the village. . . . The lighting system is up to date, all cable is underground, and there are 20 miles of paved streets. . . . We also have a traffic signal light system.
The movie theatre . . . modern , . . . equipped for dramatic productions . . . seating capacity 1,200. . . . Into Berkley Square, the Times Square of Saranac . . Exchange greetings with Chief of Police Jennings ... a handsome man . . . looks like an admiral of the fleet on dress parade . . . Prosperous banks. . . . Hotels a la Metropolis and a la mode du Saranac. . . Sure, I was over there . . . attractive stores with show window displays ... as smart as on Broadway . . . most of the inhabitants originally hailed from the large, cities ....
The Hub of the Adirondacks
As Saranac is the hub of the Adirondack, there is a good system connecting nearby and distant points with the Tillage. . . . Mike Eagan's garage. Mike, an ex T. B, is the undefeated champion handball player of the world. . . . The telephone exchange . . . all local calls are free after subscriber has paid service charge . . . this arrangement is a boon to the bed-patients who can keep in constant communication with local friends. . . . The Public Library . . . over 15,000 volumes in circulation . , . several subscription libraries in the village. . . . Sullivan's rendezvous for all the "professionals" here . . . news agent for The Vaudeville News and Star. ... On to the Stevenson cottage . . . here Robert Louis Stevenson wrote some of his classics, while he sought to recover his lost health. . . . Afterwards he moved to the South Sea Islands.
Back of the Stevenson cottage towers Mount Baker . . . altitude 2,360 feet . . . favorite of the mountain climbers and hunters, licensed guides can be hired In the village. . . . A most interesting clan . . . they can garnish truth with almost convincing fiction. . . . Higher peaks further away. . . . Up hill . . . Down hill . . . we are now on the road to Lake Placid. To our right is Lake Flower, a section of which is the famous Pontiac skating rink ... here the international speed races are held . . . as we speed towards Lake Placid the scenery becomes most inspiring . . 500 yards back from the road . . . dominating the scene with almost mediaeval grandeur, is the almost completed new N. V..A. Sanatorium.
. . . In a short time we arrive at the grave of the immortal John Brown . . . here the man who died in the cause of freedom for the negroes . . . lies in eternal sleep. . . , Often during the year negro delegations make pilgrimages to John Brown's grave ... to pay homage to their martyred friend.
On the Way Back
We return to Saranac village, passing on the way several toboggan hills . . . wish we were younger. . . . Oh, well, we get a kick out of watching the others take a tumble . . . we overtake a couple of dog teams training for the coming dog derby. . . . There are 7,000 people in Saranac lake . . . 6,999 of these will be watching the dog derby. . . . Many beautiful churches scattered throughout the village. . . . The office of "The Daily Enterprise" ... a smartly written newspaper . . . member of the Associated Press. . . . The new Town Hall, completed last month . . . steel, stone and brick ... a lofty clock tower surmounts the building. . . . Police headquarters located here . . . last word in jails ... so we are informed . . . no personal knowledge . . . absolutely not.
Seems everyone here has a car parked on the street ... If this keeps on we will have to send for Commissioner Whalen. . . . Down hill. . . . Up hill .. . then through the grounds of the Trudeau Sanatorium. . . . Patients "curing" on the comfortable porches. . . . What a glorious scenic panorama spreads out beneath them. . . The beautiful cottage presented by worshiping baseball fans to the late Christy Mathewson . . . here the onetime idol of the diamond fought the last great contest. . . . a caring home , . . by this time we have all acquired a keen appetite for dinner—an appetite for which many a wealthy dyspeptic would exchange a fortune ... so we return to the N. V. A. Lodge . . . thoroughly convinced that Saranac Lake is a fine place to live in.
Vaudeville News and New York Star, February 23, 1929
N. V. A. Guests at Saranac Lake Help Unfortunates To Be Merry
By ANDREW MOLONY
Saranac Lake, N. Y., Feb. 15.- During the annual N. V. A. Drive Week the press often comments editorially upon the laudable objects of the Drive. The writers usually stress the fact that the vaudeville profession singly and collectively is ever ready to help to raise funds through their professional work for a deserving cause or charity and takes pleasure in bringing a little sunshine into the lives of those who, due to the fortunes of war, live in the shadows of life.
An illustration of this spirit in the ranks of the N. V. A. was presented last week. Six members, patients at the N. V. A. Sanatorium here, assisted by a member of the musical comedy stage and a local talented amateur actress, journeyed 27 miles to the U. S. Tuberculosis Hospital at Tupper Lake and there presented a two-hour continuous entertainment to the huge enjoyment of the World War veterans, who like ourselves, are fighting their way back to health.
We of the N. V. A. considered it a privilege to be able to contribute a little cheer to the lives of the boys who answered the call at the time of our country's need.
We had but one rehearsal at which the complete cast was present. There are many difficulties here, in a case of this kind, and too involved to explain fully.
The doctor granted us permission to go. There were reservations—among them, no singing or dancing.
The production directors. Messrs. George Harmon, Frank Garfield, Russ Kelly and Charlie Quinn, selected material which would not involve any physical strain upon the players.
Helen O Reilly and Helen Curtis made some new props and costumes and loaned some of those they had on hand.
A number of local men and women contributed musical numbers between sketches and skits and thereby enabled the actors to rest between acts.
We received letters of appreciation from the staff and boys at Tupper Lake and we were informed that the entertainment committee would send Mr. E. F. Albee an expression of their appreciation of what the N. V. A. members did to drive dull care away on that night in the Veterans' Hospital.
Many newspapers hereabouts carried complimentary stories of the event, inspired by the publicity department of the Veterans' Hospital
A Tribute to Those Who Helped
As a performer the writer would like to pay a sincere tribute to the brilliant performances of Messrs. George Harmon, Russ Kelly, Frank Garfield and Dick Kuni. They would have gone over BIG in any firstclass house in the country.
Our own leading lady, Miss Xela Edwards, demonstrated that in addition to being an accomplished danseuse she is also a finished actress.
The writer acted as Master of Ceremonies. Lawrence McCarthy, also an N. V. A. member, was the accomplished accompanist.
Variety, July 2, 1930, p. 49
Saranac's N. V. A. Patients Moving
Saranac, N. Y., July 1.
N. V. A. patients are moving into the new N. V. A. sanatorium in the woods nearby. About 60 in all will be located in their rooms when the moving will have been completed.
Sanatorium has accommodations for around 120 patients. It was formally opened last Labor Day, with the informal opening and reception of patients deferred until last week.
Show people in the new place and elsewhere in Saranac at present are:
Anna Mae Powers
J. C. Louden
John J. Farrell
Hans Bruno Meyer
Chester Rice, Santanoni Apts
Christina Keenan, 66 Lake Flower avenue.
Alice Roth, 32 Franklin street
Joe Reilly, 54 Sheppard avenue
James Haegney, 6 Military road
Russ Kelly, 19 Broadway
Harry Barrett, 302 Broadway
Charlie Barrett, 302 Broadway
Dave (D. D. H.) Hall, 6 Baker street.
Al Downing, 6 Baker street
Walter Daley, 10 Baker street
Charlie Bordley, 34 Sheppard avenue.
Variety, July 9, 1930, p. 39
50 N. V. A. Patients Finally Move to New Sanatorium-Comment on It
By "HAPPY" BENWAY
Saranac, July 5- ..
The long: waited for has happened Fifty patients are now enjoying life in the new N. V. A. Lodge. Comments are that It's the greatest ever, a beautiful clubhouse with no hospital atmosphere so far.
Patients are in utmost contentment. Their comments are:
George Harmon: "Oh boy, had I known this I'd got the bug sooner."
Ben Shaffer: "It's too swell to even die in."
Eddie Voss: "If the cure is rest and sleep I'll get well here."
Andrew Molony: "Somebody is. kidding 'hell' out of us."
Fred Rith: "To think I came neargoing behind with my dues."
Bobby Hatz: "Which goes to prove that being sick ain't so bad, eh?" Irving Bloom: "Anybody, who gets well now is nuts."
Rugs Kelly: "Wire my agent to cancel all future time booked."
Just one big happy family in a happy home under happy conditions.
Among those ordered to bed account of set-back are Xela Edwards, Nellie Qeauly and Ben Shaffer. Harry English, after a serious setback, is once more himself, thanks to faithful curing.
Catherine Vogelle is showing -a marked improvement, having played the bed for the past six months, now sits up a little.
It is called the N. V. A. Lodge now, not sanatorium. . .Gladys Bishop, doing well, working tearoom as it were. . .George Harmon the life of the Lodge, great boy, doing well...J. C. Louden and Mrs. are in the best of pink condition . . . Leah Temple has improved over 100% . . . Dorothy Jolson sitting . . . Edith Cohen gets final, okay; great comeback with much added weight . . .David Mavity will not be here much longer. He did the trick with faithful curing.. -Working soon . . .Andreas Erving, tipping 200, gain of 60 in six months. . .Jim Shields, picking up fine. In two months' curing . . . Chris Hagedorn, at his best nearly set for the big street. . . Andrew Molony, few more weeks will see him with those Broadway shows...Nell Gordon in a little while longer, will do the trick; feeling great . . . Eddie Voss is picture of health, very little trouble now. . . Benway up for one .meal a day, sure, am eating the other two meals; in bed. . . Richard Moore, up, out at times, report okay. '
Write to those that you know in Saranac.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, May 1934
NEW POLICIES AT WILL ROGERS
Patients at the National Variety Artists sanatorium consider themselves greatly benefitted from the change in the NVA executive board which occurred about two months ago. At that time, according to the information given out today at the sanatorium, Warner Bros., and Metro Goldwyn-Mayer acquired the controlling power on the board. Working together, these two major movie concerns have instituted several new policies, which, in the opinion of the patients, mean a great deal, not only to those who are living at the san, but also to the people of Saranac Lake.
At the present time, Herman Levine, of the New York City NVA association headquarters, is in charge of the sanatorium. However, a petition signed by the 47 patients at the NVA has been sent to Harold Rodner, of Warner Bros., requesting that Dr. George Wilson, attending physician, be appointed to the position of medical superintendent. It is planned also to have a social director, and it is understood that Mrs. William Morris of Camp Intermission has been offered the position.
John Eskin of New York City is the new dietician at NVA. he comes here with 15 years of experience in his line. He will be in charge of the buying and one of the new policies is to have all the purchases made with the merchants in the village of Saranac Lake.
Restoration of the former practice of having movies and special entertainment at the NVA is another policy which the new regime plans to carry out. According to Mr. Levine, the sanatorium will be filled to capacity, which is 100 to 125 patients, within a short time. Cooperation among the theatres of the country in support of the sanatorium has greatly increased this year with the new management.
All persons connected with the theatre profession are now eligible to enter the sanatorium. This is another change made by the new board.
- New York Times, September 24, 1925, ACTORS BUY AT SARANAC (PDF)
- New York Times, June 10, 1949, SHOWMEN ACQUIRE ROGERS HOSPITAL (PDF)
- New York Times, September 22, 1929, WORLD'S LARGEST SOLARIUM ERECTED AT SARANAC LAKE (PDF)
Leslie Hoffman, a native of Saranac Lake, and former HSL Board Member who is quite familiar with the original Will Rogers statue now housed in the California headquarters of the Will Rogers Foundation, tells us that the statute was made of plaster with a "bronze" finish, not actually of bronze metal. (9/2/2009). The two bronze statues that exist that were made off of this cast are in Claymore, OK at the Will Rogers Museum. The other is in Washington D.C. in the National Statuary Hall in the Capitol Building. Tradition maintains it is good luck to rub his shoes while passing.
Also the fireplace screen that was given to William Morris by his friends, which was at Will Rogers, is also in California.
Some of the better known people who were patients at Will Rogers Hospital over the years:
- Bill Bailey, tap dancer, brother of Pearl Bailey
- Carl Ballantine, billed as The Amazing Ballantine, a magician who later took the part of Gruber on '"McHale's Navy"
- Happy Benway wrote columns from Will Rogers that were published in "Variety" in the 1930s
- Al Birnbaum, a brother of comedian George Burns
- Bernard James Daly, Jazz Musician
- Benny Fields, Broadway "hoofer" - burlesque
- Maurice Gosfield, "Doberman" on the Phil Silvers' "Sgt. Bilko" program
- Charles R. Jackson, writer - "The Lost Weekend"
- Larry Kaye, brother of entertainer Danny Kaye
- Veronica Lake, known for her "peek-a-boo" hairstyle
- Lila Lee, well-known actress
- Lester Mack, comedian in burlesque
- Helen Miller, a Broadway show girl who started several businesses in Saranac Lake between 1932 and 1954
- Conrad Nagel, well-known actor
- Micheal Nagel, actress, wife of Conrad Nagel
- Jack Norton, famous "drunk" in many movies and television programs
- Eileen O'Dare, dancer-actress
- Jack Pearl, actor
- Collier Rogers, wife of Will Rogers, Jr.
- Vincent Sardi, Sr., of Sardi's restaurant in New York
- Lionel Stander, well-known actor
- Lylah Tiffany, pianist and singer
- Arthur Tracy, "The Street Singer"
- Bert Wheeler, Vaudevillian first and then an actor in numerous movies and stage plays
- Ione Reed, Actress and Stuntwoman in numerous movies
- Evelyn Ellis, Actress The original Bess in the 1927 theatrical production of "Porgy and Bess". Also performed in films.
- Bill Bailey, Dancer, Brother of Pearl Bailey and the inventor of the "Moonwalk"
From a press release by Albert I. Evans: August 14 :
"Notables of theatrical world here today for ground breaking for Northwoods sanitarium [sic] at which will be treated theatre folk suffering from tuberculosis. Upon arrival here this morning in special cars they were breakfast guests of William Morris of New York at his camp at Colby pond. Later they went to White Pines camp at Osgood lake and were received by the president. Luncheon followed at Paul Smith's hotel. At three P.M. ground breaking and tree planting ceremonies took place at tract recently purchased on Lake Flower here where sanitarium is to be erected. Those taking part and organizations they represented were as follows— Daniel Frohman, Actors Fund of America— Charles Coburn, Players club— Colonel Reginald Barlow, Lambs club— S. Jay Kaufman, Green Room club— William Morris 2nd., Friars club— Brandon Tynan, Catholic Actors guild— Rev. Elmer P. Miller, Episcopal Actors guild— George Howard, Actors Equity guild— Miss Nellie Revell, New York Newspaper club— Walter K. Hill, Press Agents association— David Seymour, Theatre Manager associations— Henry Berlingholl, American federation of Musicians."
From Saranac Village at Will Rogers News, July/Aug./Sept. 2017
From the Historian: History Retold Not Rewritten--Leslie Hoffman
I have researched the history of the land area that started out being called Spion Kop and its transition to the National Vaudeville Artists Lodge (NVA), then to the Will Rogers Memorial Hospital and finally to Saranac Village at Will Rogers.
I learned about the buyout of the NVA by Joseph Kennedy, which forced out E. F. Albee. Vaudeville declined quickly after that move. When Kennedy became chairman of the board, Albee stayed on as president. When Albee made suggestions on several matters to the new chairman, Kennedy's response was, "Didn't you know, Ed? You're washed up. You're through." Albee resigned and died 16 months later. . . .
An unexpected surprise was when Michele [Tucker, director of the Saranac Lake Free Library's Adirondack Room] showed me blueprints from 1975 that were drawn up for Dr. Morris Dworski who was trying to renovate the building, only to be turned down by New York State. This ultimately forced the closure of the Hospital. . . .
Adirondack Observer, June 11, 1948; reprinted in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, September 30, 2017, by Howard Riley
When the N.V.A. sanatorium opened its doors on Spion Kop some eighteen years ago, approximately 60 patients registered in. Among the first ten to sign were Dan Astella, Frisco DeVere, Ben Schaffer, George Harmon, Helen O'Reilly, Harry Namba, Toni Temple, Lawrence McCarthy, Bobby Hart and Happy Benway.
Mrs. William Morris, known to all the ailing artists of the theatrical world as "Mother," planed to London, England, to enjoy a much-deserved vacation. She will attend the grand opening and debut of the "last-of-the-Redhot Mamas, Sophie Tucker. Miss Tucker registered the biggest hit ever registered by an American artist in the history of show business. Her good deeds to the N.V.A./Will Rogers patients shall never be forgotten by the gang.
See also: Helen Antalek
2011-01-28 23:18:49 Hello, My father was in the room next to Mr. Sardi. Across the hall was Mr. Al Birnbaum, he was a brother of George Burns. My father was Lowell Heath, he owned the non-union film distributorship in Indiana... It was called Bradford Film Transit; my father owned it from 1928 until 1966. He died at Will Rogers in Feb. 1969. —126.96.36.199
- Thanks! — MWanner
2012-11-12 22:03:40 My father, Charles Schwartz, was the personal lawyer for and close friend of Al Jolson. Although Jolson is not mentioned in either of these articles as having been a patient there, my recollection is that my dad told me Jolson was. Also, in Jolson's will there is, among many charitable bequests, a $50,000 bequest to the Northwoods Sanitorium, which is one of the pre-Will Rogers names of the facility. We had for many years a summer home on Lake Placid, and I recall my dad visiting the Will Rogers Hospital to meet with its administrators more than once. Also, Fred Schwartz, mentioned at length above, as the head fund raiser there from 1971 on, was another friend and client of my dad, who had represented Fred's dad and the Century exhibition chain since its inception. Fred and my family became neighbors in the summer on Lake Placid, and we socialized almost daily for many summers, waterskiing together, usually behind his super fast Century inboard rather than our larger but good deal slower Chris Craft. Lastly, my dad was the corporate Secretary and General Counsel of Columbia Pictures, and Mr. Montague was its corporate Treasurer, and also a friend of ours. My main point is that, while I am looking now for my copy of Jolson's will, it is my distinct recollection that I was told by my dad that Jolson left money to Will Rogers Hospital not only because it was a movie industry haven, but because he had actually been there early in his career. Interestingly, although I have read several biographies of Jolson, and while I have met and talked about Jolson with members of the International Jolson Society, no one seems to be aware that he was, even if only for a few months, a patient there. Perhaps because it might have been construed as a reflection on Jolson's health, he never sought to mention it publicly. And yet, in 1949, when he and my dad drew his will, he chose to put it in. Ernie Schwartz, 11/11/2012 —188.8.131.52
1. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form (pdf)
2. Adirondack Daily Enterprise, "PILOT plan for Will Rogers property OK'd", May 16, 1995
- John Wayne doing the Summer 1967 Will Rogers Institute Public Service Announcement
- Clint Eastwood doing the Summer 1969 Will Rogers Institute Public Service Announcement
- Cary Grant doing a Will Rogers Institute Public Service Announcement , 1940
- Front page of the October 28, 1975 Adirondack Daily Enterprise announcing the closing of the hospital.
2013-03-22 16:52:31 I have a key chain with the logo from the hospital on it and it has numbers stamped in the back "21023". If lost you could drop it in a mail box and it would be sent to the owner. I was wondering if there are records of patients with such numbers. The Father of the man who gave me the key chain worked for MGM for over 20 years. Thank you for any help. Regards, John —184.108.40.206
Answer: The keychains were given as "Thank you" for your donation. I have been told that there might be a list on a floppy disc, but more than likely this list no longer exists. There is no way to tell what number on the keychain matches to the person who donated to the Hospital. There are at least three version of the keychain and there is a fourth one that was created when the Hospital moved to White Plains, NY.