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Rediscovering the St. George Hotel (Part 4)-Midcentury Decline & Renewed Vitality

Recap

In the previous parts of the history of the St. George Hotel, we examined its founding, learned about its founder, restauranteur George Bardin, and uncovered what life was like at the hotel. In this final segment, we look at the slow decline from its halcyon days, and then, its miraculous recovery and preservation through two noteworthy renovations.

Post card circa 1920 showing a car park on the east side. The wisteria that covers much of the front is in bloom. It looks like a chef is standing to the right. Courtesy of the Nyack Library.

Fire at the St. George

In 1928, a fire started in the kitchen on the rear first floor of the hotel. Luckily, kitchen workers staying on the third floor, a guest, and others playing domino on the first floor escaped. It took fireman two hours to douse the blaze. Later, it started up again. The fire damaged the kitchen and much of central hotel from back to front . The St. George was up and running shortly and renovations completed within the year.

Challenges from the Lenox Hotel/Hotel Nyack

As time progressed, fresh competition emerged for the aging St. George. The Lenox Hotel opened during the 1920s just west of the St. George. With an entrance at 80 Burd Street, the hotel ran the width of the block to a restaurant at 87 Main Street. The Lenox, later rebranded as Hotel Nyack, offered modern amenities and event spaces akin to those found at the St. George. Despite this, the St. George retained its status as Nyack’s premier banquet facility, even as the ferry business waned, catering to a more local clientele with a less formal menu.

The Lenox Hotel on Burd Street later became the Nyack Hotel. Today it is an apartment building. Courtesy of the Nyack Library

1940s & 1950s Menus

Under the ownership of Stanley Porter and the management of Thomas Reynolds, Jr. in the early 1940s, the St. George underwent a transformation. The restaurant’s specialties shifted to steak and lobster, complemented by evenings of dancing. 

Post-war, under Joseph Leone and managed by “Buddy” Graham, the menu continued to evolve, offering a diverse array of dishes. Sirloin steak was a premium choice, priced at $2.00, while other options hovered around $1.50. The cocktail bar became a favorite hangout for many including Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht

St. George bar in the 1940s. Note the pinball machine on the far right and the ceiling fan that dates back to the 1890s. Courtesy of the Nyack Library.

1960s: The St. George as a Cultural Hub

The summer of 1965 saw the Tappan Zee Playhouse (formerly a movie theater named the Broadway Theater)draw crowds with a musical revue, “An Hour and Sixty Minutes with Jack Benny.” This event marked a high point in Nyack’s cultural calendar, with limousines lining the streets and luminaries such as Helen Hayes gracing the occasion. Villagers crowded the sidewalks to catch a view of the celebrities. After the show, the producer held a reception and buffet for 300 at the St. George.

Tappan Zee Playhouse circa 1975. A policemen on the lower right helps direct direct the crowded sidewalk on South Broadway. Courtesy of the Nyack Library.

The St. George became the epicenter of various events, from political gatherings to charitable functions. Eddie Nolan, a renowned innkeeper, oversaw the St. George during the 1960s, injecting a lively spirit with his signature “Happy Hour” announcements by ringing the bar’s ship bell.

Transition into the 1970s

By the 1970s, the St. George faced a new reality. The aging structure was no longer suitable for hotel operations, leading to a series of restaurant ventures. The era of the classic St. George was drawing to a close.

Hotel St. George circa 1960 bears only slight resemblance to its former glory. The portico is gone and the doors are a sad replacement for the originals. Courtesy of the Nyack Library.

Rescue and Interior Renovation

In 1979, George Marsilio, owner of the popular Hi-Ho restaurant nearby, took on the monumental task of reviving the St. George. Despite initial skepticism, Marsilio invested significantly in restoration efforts. Notable discoveries included original features like notch and beam construction, forged nails, and Victorian embellishments. The Sweet Infusion Café emerged as one of the first businesses in the revitalized space.

The St. George Hotel after Marsilio’s renovation. Courtesy of the Nyack Library.

The Antique Renaissance

For many years Nyack was an antique mecca. Shops lined the business district including ten in what was called the Nyack Antique Mall located in the Prudential Life Insurance Building (now the home of the RCC Culinary center). The antique mall opened in 1974 but in 1979 the owners were abruptly displaced. Marsilio had long planned to have an antique shop in the St. George, so when antique shop owners needed a new address, he was ready.

George Marsilio in the first antique store in the St. George Hotel. Journal News photograph.

Exterior Transformation

 My partner Joe Maraia and I are history lovers and bought this building in 1998 with the intent of fully restoring it to its previous grandeur. We’re glad to play a small part in making sure the history of the St George lives on for the next generation!!

Ed Mistretta, co-owner of the St. George
Preservation Award plaque.

In 1998, JED Realty partners Joe Maraia and Ed Mistretta took ownership of the St. George. Recognizing the need for a facelift, they embarked on an ambitious restoration project under the direction of Nyack architect, Bob Silurski, principal today of S&CO Architecture. The frontage was rejuvenated, new siding replacing decaying materials. The fact that the old hotel section consists of five different levels over three floors without an elevator presented unique renovation issues.The portico, meticulously restored based on an old postcard, now stands as a testament to the St. George’s enduring legacy. 

Stained glass window in a hallway hides an air shaft.

The renovation received the Historical Society of Rockland County’s prestigious Historic Preservation Merit Award in 2004. The St. George has been the home for many businesses ever since. In 2023, the renovated St. George is 100% occupied in 2023, and vacancies take only a few months.

The renovated front porch brought back the columns and kept some of the original facade detail including the column molding and the multi-paned windows.

A Lesson in Historic Preservation

The St. George Hotel’s journey from its illustrious beginnings to its present-day renaissance is a testament to the importance of preserving our heritage. As Nyack’s silent witness to the passage of time, it remains a story worth celebrating.

Second floor of the rear entrance to the St. George on Main Street.

Michael Hays is a 35-year resident of the Nyacks. Hays grew up the son of a professor and nurse in Champaign, Illinois. He has retired from a long career in educational publishing with Prentice-Hall and McGraw-Hill. Hays is an avid cyclist, amateur historian and photographer, gardener, and dog walker. He has enjoyed more years than he cares to count with his beautiful companion, Bernie Richey. You can follow him on Instagram as UpperNyackMike

Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is brought to you by Sun River Health.


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