In the Adirondacks, a land of waterways, mountains and forests, a land of history, culture and tradition, a monument requires special virtues in order to claim significant importance. The Hotel North Woods, formerly the Hotel Marcy, stands out on the map as a site of both personal and collective memory for many people. Its inherent value as a large Lake Placid hotel is dwarfed by the value gained through the many events and guests it has hosted over the more than one hundred years of its existence. Celebrities, lore, fires, dances, deaths, parties, food and staff have created a story unique and site-specific; the tale will leave you with fresh appreciation for this ubiquitous hotel, as you enjoy your stay at the Hotel North Woods, and in Lake Placid.
In the 1960’s, owner Jack Davis distributed little advertisement booklets titled “the lake placid story” in lower case letters. They told all about recent improvements to the Hotel Marcy, and showed pictures and promised whatever you might desire in service. Our story starts way before 1960; as we go back to when Lake Placid was but beginning to be a called a town. C.W. Kenney, original owner of the old Northwoods Inn, which lay on the southeast side of the current building, placed an ad in the Mountain Mirror, July 13, 1894. The ad promoted a general store selling dry goods, fishing tackle, stationery confectionery, etc. The ad boasts, “Fine Shoes a Specialty.” Because of its natural beauty and emerging travel opportunities, Lake Placid quickly moved from a farming and forestry community to one hosting a booming tourist industry. Responding to the increasing pressure for more rooms and dining establishments, on July 15, 1897, Mr. Kenney opened a small hotel on his property. An early photograph by Dean Stansfield shows the hotel staff arrayed on the front porch. By 1906, the inn had grown in popularity, and Thomas A. Leahy purchased it from Mr. Kenney. Mr. Leahy owned the hotel for 14 years, and in doing so, became president of the Adirondack Resorts Association, an organization dedicated to spearheading the development of Lake Placid as a hospitality center in the Adirondack region.
Frank W. Swift, responsible for building the current hotel structure, bought the property from Leahy on October 1, 1920. Swift, a native of New Jersey, had previously purchased hotels in Keene Valley, and Elizabethtown as well as purchasing the first hotel built in Lake Placid, which belonged to the prominent Brewster family. After selling the latter, he amassed the funds to purchase the Northwoods Inn. In 1926, Swift unveiled his plans for a six story, luxury hotel, and, the first fireproof one in town. A report in the Adirondack Record-Elizabethtown Post announced the completion of the excavation and the pouring of concrete. McDonald and Jenney, contractors, a local business, oversaw the operation. The new structure would include 100 rooms and 100 baths, and Swift planned to use the original Northwoods Inn as a dining room for at least the first year.
Another newspaper, the Malone Farmer, indicates that the plans included two more units to be built the following year, one where the current Hotel North Woods stands, and one to the south. It also informs us that the foundation consists of reinforced concrete, stone, and brick of the latest hotel construction. To top it all off, the 7,000 cubic yards of earth excavated from the site were used to patch the shoreline of Mirror Lake.
The opening of the Hotel Marcy to the public, a rather gala affair, occurred Wednesday evening, July 6, 1927 at 7:45 p.m. It was reportedly the largest gathering in a hotel dining room “this side of the lake.” A mixture of guests and Lake Placid residents filed through the lobby all afternoon. The paper reported, “Fifth Avenue transplanted to the mountains, but with a setting that only the mountains can give, was the universal opinion expressed.” The procession marched through the lobby, lounge, writing-rooms, sun porch and sleeping rooms. The Lake Placid News called it first class, with every detail (repeated!) attended to. Each bedroom had a bath attached; the furniture was beautiful; and “Restfulness is the keynote of each chamber.”
Hangings, shaded lights and luxurious furniture made the lobby sparkle, with a string orchestra playing in the background. 325 diners attended, and two orchestras, the Marcy Orchestra, under Leo Dustin, and the Stevens House Orchestra, under Jacques George provided entertainment. With a meeting of the Adirondack Resorts’ Association planned for the next day at the Lake Placid-Marcy, resort owners from all over northern New York attended. The favors were bronze paperweights for the men and compacts for the women. Some of the noteworthy guests included W. Albert Swasey, the architect; the Brewsters; the Leahys; the manager of the Ritz-Carlton, Montreal, E. C. Des-Baillets; and Harrington Mills, owner of the Saranac Inn, among many others listed by name.
At the end of the banquet, Mr. T. A. Leahy recounted how Mr. Swift had developed the Northwoods Inn into the Lake Placid-Marcy. To demonstrate the goodwill of the town toward tourism, “Mayor Feek extended the greetings of the village trustees and characterized Lake Placid as the village where dreams come true, enumerating ‘as dreams come true, or, on the verge of crystallization’, the Lake Placid Club’s winter sports development, the construction of the Lake Placid Club’s six-story fireproof Agora, the new Hotel Belmont, the Palace Theatre, the Cascade Pass cement road, the Whiteface Mountain Road, and Mr. Swift’s Lake Placid-Marcy.”
John F. White, President of the Chamber of Commerce, praised the interior decorations, which Mrs. Swift had chosen. These furnishings came from Gimbel Bros., the department store that rivaled Macy’s and later purchased Saks. Donald Deskey, the designer for Gimbel Bros., produced work of the Art Nouveau style. With the “Great fires of 1909” on everyone’s mind, White hailed the Lake Placid-Marcy as being the “final touch” on ending of the town’s expansion period. The speaker stated that “the new Lake Placid was destined to be not only the queen of Adirondack resorts, but the unrivaled queen of all American resorts.” The speeches ended, followed by ballroom dancing.
The Hotel Marcy has seen many changes since then, having gone through a general deterioration through the 1960’s and beyond, to becoming early offices and housing for the 1980 Olympic Committee, to being time shared in the mid nineteen eighties. It is with great pride and appreciation for the current staff and management of the hotel, that , through the Hotel North Woods, we attempt to return this magnificent piece of Adirondack history, to its rightful place in the Lake Placid array of lodging opportunities.