Harveys Lake History

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The Sunset Area

Chapter 5: The Later Years

The Bennethum estate did not rebuild its losses at Sunset, although the area remained a popular recreation site for nearly three more decades.  In 1930 the White Birch Inn became the Cotton Club Inn, which in its early years featured the popular twelve-piece Black orchestra of Pete Peterson and the Honey Boys.  The band roomed at the Adam Smith boarding house at Sunset.  Estelle Bennethum acquired a pavilion at the top of Oneonta Hill and used it for the reconstruction of the Lakeview Restaurant.  The familiar twin peaks of the old restaurant were eliminated, and the structure was reopened as the Plantation Club on Memorial Day 1931.  For its debut the new club advertises “6 red-hot cha cha girls” from Broadway and Atlantic City.  The Plantation Club, however, did not survive, and in 1933 Ace Hoffman managed the site as a restaurant under his own name.  Finally, in 1935 the landmark site, which had begun as Hill’s Pavillion, became the La Casa, the name it retained for over two decades.

For a number of years Estelle Bennethum continued to manage the family’s Sunset holdings, including La Casa, the restaurant at the end of the bridge.  The Casino, too, remained a popular attraction at Sunset, providing bowling, pool, dancing and refreshments.  There was an extensive dock system for Sunset swimmers; in encircled the beach from the site of the old Sunset Pavillion to the bridge.  There were two high-diving boards on the docks.  On the beach in front of the Casino was a bathhouse and novelty stands.  During the 1930's the swimming area was known as Crystal Beach.

In later years, the Sunset area would experience great change and new summer institutions would emerge.  A summer dwelling across from Harry’s Hill’s candy stand would be converted into Burke’s restaurant.  Carpenter’s Hotel would become the tearoom of Kitty Walsh followed by Sloppy Tony’s night club.  The Cotton Club would eventually acquire the names Circle Inn and Top Shelf under the ownership of Peter Ambrose, and under later owners it would have the names Scarlet’s Inn and Flagstone House.  Carpenter’s Road would gradually be filled with a large cottage community and the “state cottages” would provide summer rentals well into the modern period.  A significant change in the construction of the new Lake highway from Idetown to Sunset in 1941.  Filling of the Inlet basin also contributed to the changed appearance of the area.  The Bennethem holdings were eventually acquired by other interests, particularly Francis Ambrose who helped charter the development of Sunset during the modern era.

By the late 1940s the brothers Peter and James (“Red”) Ambrose were active at Sunset.  “Red” Ambrose had the Sunset amusement park.  Their activities were noted in The Dallas Post on May 13, 1949:

Peter Ambrose, proprietor of the Cotton Club at Sunset, is opening his inn tomorrow.  Tonight he is entertaining Dallas Rotary at an auction dinner.  He has turned the building half way around so it is lengthwise to the main road, moved it back twenty-seven feet, and has built a stone wall in front.

We were under the impression that he owned the grounds across from his inn that have been in the course of improvement for the past two years, but learned that his brother, Francis, is the one who is laying out another amusement park at the lake.

He is going about this slowly.  He has already turned a swamp into a high dry ground, using plenty of red ash, which he states will later be covered with a finer fill.  He leans toward the kids more than do the other parks.  He already has a miniature auto ride, small train ride, hauled by a 40 and 8 engine, and a torpedo and airplane concession.  He plans this summer to augment these amusements for kids with a small ferris wheel and a whip.

The Ambrose Brothers’ ambition is to build up Sunset as it was in the days of the Oneonta Hotel.

Tommy O’Brien established the Harvey’s Lake Diving School in 1955.  A self-taught SCUBA (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) diver, he turned his hobby into a profession.  He was born in New York City in November 1929, but O’Brien was raised in the Luzerne area. 

He periodically served with the Merchant Marines along the Great Lakes in 1945-1952, and he also worked in the Empire mine for the Glen Alden Company.  He taught SCUBA at Mount Airy Lodge at Mt. Pocono from 1962 to 1975.  He also worked at several Miami Beach hotels, including the Deauville and Casablanca, during the winter seasons.  In the early 1980s a second generation of water enthusiasts was enjoying O’Brien’s SCUBA rentals, his engaging manner, and fascinating stories of underwater exploration at the Lake.  In the photograph O’Brien was testing a helmet in a special diving suit.

Over 70 years have passed since the destructive fire of 1929.  Although Sunset’s appearance had changed dramatically over the years, the area still attracts a summer community to enjoy the remaining attractions.  The Grotto basin provides slip rentals for boaters, and the bridge is a favorite haunt for youngsters who like to fish.  The La Casa and Casino are now memories, but the old Bennethum garage, and the Flagstone House (now an expanded Villa Roma Pizza) formerly the Cotton Club, are reminders of a wonderfully short time in the 1920's when Sunset was in its glory.

In 1952 the Pagliante family opened its first pizza parlor in Plymouth and opened its second restaurant known as the Grotto at Sunset at the Lake in 1956.  Thirty-two years later, on September 7, 1988, Joe’s Grotto Pizza, which had expanded in previous years, was destroyed by fire.  However, the Grotto was rebuilt in spectacular style and is now managed by the Grotto Development Corporation.

On Friday, July 6, 1984, at 6:45 P.M., a severe seventy-five mile per hour downburst, spawned as a tornado in Sweet Valley, swept Sunset at the Lake causing $250,000.00 in damages.  Hoss’s Garden Center was blown of its foundation.  Several homes were damaged; a cottage and a borough police cruiser were demolished.

Sunset remains the most public area of the Lake with the original and  popular Villa Roma restaurant, and Jones’ Potato Pancakes which opened in 1953.  The former Burke’s Restaurant became The Pier III, then Damien’s, and, since 2007, is Dominic's on the Lake.

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Copyright 2006-2007 F. Charles Petrillo

Copyright 2006-2008 F. Charles Petrillo