CATSKILL — When they renovated the former giraffe house at the old Catskill Game Farm, it was important to owners Cathy and Ben Ballone to save as much of the original structure as possible.
So now when guests walk into the main entrance of what has become the Long Neck Inn boutique hotel, they are greeted with fixtures taken right from the stalls and pens that once made up the interior of the giraffe house. And on the walls is decor taken from the old Catskill Game Farm, including many of the signs that once guided visitors around the zoo that closed in late 2006.
Also on display around the inn is memorabilia from the old game farm, including some of the souvenirs that were offered for sale, like an oversized pencil, nail clippers with the zoo’s logo stamped on them, and an illustrated map of the site. And there are photographs of what the giraffe house looked like before the renovations began that culminated in the creation of the inn, which opened in August.
But opening the inn was not the reason the Ballones purchased the game farm property in January 2012.
“We didn’t have any preconceived notions,” Cathy Ballone said of her and her husband’s plans. “We just thought it was a great idea. It’s fantastically rich with history. It’s got so many possibilities, even just with the infrastructure alone.”
The Catskill Game Farm was a popular family attraction that Roland Lindemann opened in 1933. It ended its 73-year run on Columbus Day 2006, due to plummeting attendance and high overhead costs.
By the time it closed, the zoo had close to 2,000 animals from more than 150 species.
Ballone said the idea for the Long Neck Inn came to the couple within a few years of buying the property. She said the old giraffe house was actually used to keep a lot of the animals in over the winter months.
“It was one of the only large buildings that they heated through the winter,” Ballone said.
Ballone said the area that now houses the inn’s dining/gaming room used to be a pool where the game farm kept its crocodiles over the winter. She said the pool had since been filled in.
That area is just inside the main entrance, to the right of the doorway. Across the central hallway is another old pool, which was the space for the game farm’s pygmy hippos.
Ballone said the pygmy hippo pool would be turned into an indoor koi pond.
Further into the building on the main floor is the communal kitchen that guests can use as much, or as little, as they want, Ballone said.
There is also a coffee and beverage station in the main lobby across from the kitchen, with a door leading to a small fire pit and lawn area in what used to be the giraffe enclosure. Next to that doorway is a life-size metal giraffe that Ballone purchased for the inn’s decor. And on many of the walls in the public spaces are the old game farm signs, including ones advertising the “3 Free Animal Shows Daily” and the “Petting Area.” There is also an old hand-painted billboard from when the game farm housed only deer “from all parts of the world” before the exotic animals joined the display.
Ballone said the signs were all found on the property and she is thankful she and her husband were able to save as many as they did. She said many of the signs had been attached to solid metal posts that were scrapped before the couple bought the property.
“And they just dropped the signs on the ground and left them,” Ballone said. “So a lot of the signs just got destroyed. They were just left out under snow and rain and the elements.” She said the old nursery sign, which she described as being an epic one that everybody remembers, was destroyed beyond being saved.
And much of the small zoo memorabilia on display are items that she has “had to retrieve from the world,” Ballone said. She said she has found some of those items on auction sites like eBay.
Ballone said she and her husband tried to keep the downstairs of the building as original as possible, but the upstairs was a total renovation.
“It was hard for us to rip out what we did up here,” Ballone said. “But we were really excited to save the floors, which was not easy to do.”
The stairs leading to the second level of the inn were originally on the outside of the building and brought inside, Ballone said. She said the upstairs part of the building was first used to house the game farm’s birds, but when a separate “bird house” was created for them, the second floor became winter lodgings for the primates. Ballone said the upstairs was filled with cages when she and her husband bought the property, though many of the outside enclosures were long gone.
The upstairs floors are now the original hardwood, but the game farm had put a layer of tar on them and covered them in concrete for the animal enclosure, Ballone said. She said it took her and her husband about a year to figure out how to get the tar off the floors.
The Long Neck Inn features five guest suites, each with a private bathroom. The rooms each have their own names: the Giraffe Room, the Rhino Room, the Elephant Room, the Zebra Room and the Menagerie Room. The decor in each reflects the name, with artwork and fixtures in the shape of the animals.
The Giraffe Room is the highest-end of the suites and is on the main floor of the inn, while the other four and a laundry area are upstairs.
“We donate a certain portion of each night’s stay to a conservation effort for that animal’s namesake,” Ballone said. “So if you’re in the Giraffe Room it goes to a conservation effort for giraffes.” She said a different animal will be chosen to receive support each year from the Menagerie Room.
The inn prices range from $188 to $275 per night, depending on the room. The details are available online at www.thelongneckinn.net/rooms.html
Ballone said the couple also has four luxury camping sites. She said the sites are run through Tentrr and cost $135 to $145 per night. Each tent is on a platform and includes a queen-size memory foam bed, wood stove, fire pit, picnic table, grill and camp toilet, Ballone said. She said the sites are fairly far apart, giving guests privacy. They are all pet-friendly and one has a fenced-in area for dogs to be off-leash, Ballone said.
While the inn and campsites are operational now, Ballone said she and her husband have plans to create their own RV and campground park on the site on Game Farm Road.
“Our ultimate goal is to do a campground and RV park,” Ballone said. “So this (the inn) is more like a stepping stone in that direction.”
The couple is also planning to host weddings and events on the property, Ballone said. She said the details would be posted on their website and social media, though there is a murder-mystery dinner planned for Feb. 8.
On top of those events, the couple also has a handful of days set aside each year for guests to do self-guided tours of the property, Ballone said.
Story provided by The Daily Freeman via AP StoryShare.