New owner seeks to revive historic Stamford resort

Contributed photo | Thomas W. P. Slatin The Westholm Hotel in Stamford has stood empty for more than 20 years. New owner Victoria Filonenko hopes to restore the building to its former glory.

A former Catskills resort is on track to be restored, according to the hotel's new owner.

Victoria Filonenko, of Greenport, said she purchased the Westholm Hotel, located on West Main Street in Stamford, in March 2016 for $58,000.

She said she first stumbled across the real estate listing while flipping through a magazine in line at the grocery store two years earlier. Filonenko said she could tell from the photos that the property was in need of extensive repair, but found herself drawn to it nonetheless.

"It was just the energy of the place," Filonenko said.

Even in its state of ruin, she said could sense the hotel's former majesty.

In its heyday, the Westholm, now on the National Register for Historic Places, was known for its fine dining and "high-brow entertainment," according to local historian Fred Wickert. The hotel had its own orchestra and cabaret, Peacock Alley.

The Westholm is also home to several large murals by Stamford-born artist LaMont Adelbert Warner. According to Filonenko, who works in a lab restoring old photos and artwork, one of the murals painted on plaster had to be torn out because of water damage.

She said she removed another mural, one that was painted on gesso board and nailed to a wall, and has it in her possession. Six other murals, which were painted on an old type of sheetrock, remain in the hotel.

Built in 1890, the Westholm Hotel was one of the earliest resorts constructed in the Catskills, part of a cluster of hotels, resorts, bungalows and retreats that historians often refer to as the "Borscht Belt" or the "Jewish Alps," in a nod to the predominately Eastern European and Jewish identities of resort patrons.

According to Wickert, vacationers from the greater New York metropolitan area would travel north by riverboat to the town of Catskill, in Greene County, where they would disembark and board trains on the Ulster and Delaware Railroad, which ran from Kingston to Oneonta. One of the riverboats from the city was named Queen of the Catskills, from which Wickert believes the town adopted its honorary title.

The Westholm Hotel was located only a quarter-mile from the railroad station in Stamford, making it one of the leading tourist destinations of the early 20th century, but it was not Stamford's only luxury resort.

The former Rexmere Hotel, also located on West Main Street, was destroyed by a fire in 2014. The Catskill Veterans Outreach Center has been housed in the former Delaware Inn since 2017.

The building gained local fame when a 25-year-old Theodore Roosevelt, then-Minority Leader of the New York State Assembly, stayed at the hotel with his wife in 1883. Wickert said a sign in front of the hotel for many years after declared: "TEDDY ROOSEVELT SLEPT HERE."

As roadways developed and more resorts were built closer to New York City, Wickert said Stamford's tourism industry began to fade. The railroad ceased its passenger service in 1954, and by the late 1960s the hotel was closed.

A local bar and grill called the Four Seasons occupied one of the hotel's buildings until the 1990s, but the property has since stood empty.

Cobleskill resident Thomas Slatin has many fond memories of dining in the old hotel as a child.

Born in New York City and raised in Stamford, Slatin recently contacted Filonenko for permission to access the hotel property and photograph its ruins. He said he found himself drawn by his own nostalgia and what he described as the "sense of what used to be, and what could have been."

Slatin said Filonenko readily granted permission, and even made the trip up from Long Island to give him a tour of the property.

Not that he needed one.

"The layout of the building is exactly as I remember," Slatin said. "The walls, the paintings, even some of the furniture are still there."

He said the Westholm maintains many of its original features, including oak woodwork, doors, furniture, claw-footed bathtubs and a floating staircase, but time and the elements have wrought considerable damage. In some places, Slatin said the floor slants at a nearly 45-degree angle.

Filonenko said she anticipates at least two years of work ahead for the restoration. Between April and July of last year, Filonenko enlisted local contractors to remove the collapsing chimney from the rear wall of the original structure, which runs parallel to the road.

Also removed were the original windows, which were falling out of their frames, and some the woodwork in the rear and side walls. A new concrete foundation was poured for the rear wall, and another side wall was reinforced.

A third structure on the property, formerly used as a carriage house, will need to torn down, Filonenko said, as well as several extensions that were later added to the original building.

Filonenko estimates an additional $1.5 million to $4 million in renovations and repairs are still needed. She said she hopes to create space for a boutique and a spa on the main of the building. The existing suites on the two upper floors will need to be completely gutted, she said, because they currently share one bathroom between three bedroom units in the style of the original hotel.

Filonenko said she has applied for numerous grants and loans, and is enlisting the aid of the Western Catskills Community Revitalization Council (WCCRC), a rural preservation nonprofit based in Stamford.

WCCRC Executive Director Velga Kundzins said the organization submitted a grant application to the New York Main Street Technical Assistance program, which is administered by the Homes and Community Renewal state agency. If approved for the full amount, the grant would provide $22,800 for an engineering study of the building conditions and code requirements. The application is still pending review by the state, but Kundzins said she expects an update from the Regional Economic Development Council as early as December.

Stamford Deputy Mayor John Bonhotal said the village board has supported the renovation efforts with letters soliciting grants for the project, but that it cannot provide financial support because the property is privately owned.

"It would be a great boon to Stamford," he said, adding that he is hopeful that the Westholm can "come back to life."

Bonhotal said part of the building's roof collapsed recently.

"If they wait much longer, there won't be anything left to restore," he said.

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

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