Bear Mountain Inn: Eco-friendly Face-lift - 7 December, 2005
By ALEX NUSSBAUM
STAFF WRITER, North Jersey Media
The once elegant Bear Mountain Inn, formerly a crown jewel of Hudson Valley recreation, has seen grander days.
But the 90-year-old log and stone inn, a half-hour's drive from the New Jersey border, is in the midst of an up to $14 million face-lift. The goal is to revive the glory that once drew celebrities and workingmen alike to its vaulted halls.
The latest step toward resurrection came Tuesday, when divers helped install eco-friendly heating and cooling exchangers on the bottom of neighboring Hessian Lake. The $1.5 million geothermal heat system figures to save thousands for the Palisades Interstate Park Commission - a good thing, considering the ambitious plans park officials have for the faded beauty.
"Bear Mountain Inn is extraordinary in that it's always welcomed everybody," said Hugh Hardy, the architect leading the renovation. "You can't come here and not be aware of nature and think about what it means. And of course, the system we're putting in today only reinforces that."
Much of the work is aimed at restoring the inn's legendary rustic look - an inspiration for rough-hewn park architecture across the country.
But the geothermal system is a touch of the new, a bow to concerns about global warming emissions and New York Gov. George Pataki's promise to increase the use of renewable energies.
A team of divers guided a 1,400-pound heat exchanger into place on a ledge 35 feet below the surface of Hessian Lake. The exchanger, an assembly of stainless steel panels, makes use of the fact that water in the lake stays a constant 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit through the heat of summer and chills of winter. Houston-based EnLink Geoenergy Services installed five of the exchangers this week.
A series of thick polyethylene pipes will carry water in a loop between the inn and the exchangers. In winter, water in the pipes will be heated by balmier water in the lake and carry the heat back to the building. In summer, the reverse happens: warm water from the building gets chilled in the lake, then returns to cool the inn.
Water in the pipes does not mix with the water in the lake. Park officials said the system would have no effect on the fish.
New York officials estimate the park can save $35,000 annually in energy costs at the building - a number that doesn't take into account the recent climb in energy prices.
"This is proof that we can make a difference, if you care about global warming, if you care about our dependence on foreign sources of oil," said Peter Smith, president of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which helped fund the project.
The two-story inn was an icon of elegance and native architecture when it opened in 1915. Builders took materials from the local landscape - rocks for the massive fieldstone fireplaces, hemlock and chestnut for the interior woodwork, light fixtures made from local birch and hand-hammered iron.
The inn, and the surrounding park, were the legacy of the Harrimans, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts and other local philanthropists. It became a tourist attraction for day-trippers of all stripes, who paid 25 cents to board the Dayliner ferry in Yonkers and ride up the Hudson.
Middle-class families came. So did actors and celebrities. For a time during World War II, the Brooklyn Dodgers held spring training in the park when gas rationing kept them from traveling south.
Visitors relaxed in the inn, hiked trails, took in the zoo at Bear Mountain State Park or zoomed down the ski jump that ran here until the 1970s.
"It was a wonderful way of absolutely every class mixing with each other," said Carol Ash, the Palisades park commission's executive director. "It was the place where people of every financial group could get out of the urban area and breathe fresh air and recreate and learn and enjoy nature."
But time and on-the-cheap renovations took a toll. A 1950s update added a food court swathed in Formica. "Baby blue Formica!" Ash fumed. "It wasn't even Navy." A stone fireplace on the first floor was plastered over with the logs still in place. A set of chintzy light-fixtures, more fitting for an arcade or roller rink, was slapped onto the second-floor ceiling.
"Bear Mountain Inn was sort of left behind," said Hardy, the architect. "It sort of vegetated and went downhill."
Hardy's vision for the revived inn includes open-air arcades, two grand staircases, a second-floor dining room and a new hikers' lounge set around the now-reopened fireplace. The building would be open for weddings, banquets and conferences and still be free to the public.
The effort could cost up to $14 million, using a mix of public and private funds. Ash said she's raised $11 million so far. The additional $3 million would "make the difference between a very good, sound building and a building that you walk into and say, 'It's really something.'Ÿ"
Hardy hopes a new generation of benefactors will take up the cause of the Harrimans and other elites who first established the park.
"They felt the responsibility of serving the public interest, and that tradition is something that I would think people would be proud to be a part of," he said. "It's an old-fashioned idea, I admit."
Copyright © 2005 North Jersey Media Group Inc.
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