This spring celebrates the 100th anniversary of the opening of one of the lake’s most popular former hotels – the Bon Air. The Bon Air was located next to the north side of River Styx Bridge at Ithanell Road (where the Arrowcrest is located today). While the location of Bon Air never changed, its building evolved over the years. The original Bon Air was started in the cottage of Dwight B. Smith known as “The Westerly.” Smith was an early all-year-round resident of the lake, published the 1898 Guide to Lake Hopatcong (considered the best guidebook ever printed about the lake), and was an original councilman of Hopatcong (when it was founded as the Borough of Brooklyn in 1898).
Owning several parcels of land, Smith decided to convert his residence and associated bungalows into a new resort which was named “Hotel Bon Air and Cottages” in 1914. Hotels were doing well at the lake and Smith saw an opportunity in adding a new hotel to the thirty or so then operating. The original residence building was converted into some ten guest rooms and visitors could also rent one of the ten separate bungalows or cottages which ringed the property. An unusual double decker octagonal gazebo was located on the shore of the lake and a boat house was added in 1915. The hotel advertised 1,000 feet of lake frontage.
The July 4, 1914 issue of the Lake Hopatcong Breeze reported “Mr. Dwight B. Smith's Westerly has been transformed this year into a charming and attractive hotel and is under the name of the Bon Air. Its delightful location on the Styx recommends it to all. The large and attractive grounds provide ample opportunity for out-of-door amusements and as most of
the nearby cottages possess launches the outlook is always lively. Under Miss Dawson's very able management we are confident that the new hotel will make a very creditable
showing at this resort.”
In 1924, the hotel was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Richard Voorhis of Paterson, who announced a grand expansion to four floors and 100 rooms. Work began in October 1924 with the original cottage being taken down to its beams and becoming the center for the new building which rose. The construction crew battled a rough Lake Hopatcong winter but by spring 1925 the new structure was nearly complete. Along the way, the original design was scoped down and the new “Bon Air Lodge” emerged with some 33 guest rooms. Each room had running water, which was not common in 1925, and about one-half had private bathrooms which was even less common. The new hotel had a dining room which could reportedly seat 200, a lounge, amusement room, music room, and a new dock. It welcomed its first guests for the Decoration Day weekend (now known as Memorial Day) in May 1925. The June 20, 1925 edition of the Lake Hopatcong Breeze reported“In the new Bon Air Lodge, the management has endeavored to give Lake Hopatcong what has long been needed – a modern, up-to-date, home like hotel. The Bon Air Lodge has everything that can be desired for an enjoyable vacation – ideal location, pleasant and cheerful environment, complete comfort and a wholesome, homelike atmosphere.”
Determined for Bon Air Lodge to be a year-round hotel, the owners planned activities throughout the off-season. The open air porch could be enclosed with picture windows in winter, providing guests with a great view of winter activities on the lake.
For the 1926 season, Bon Air Lodge advertised such amenities as a tea room, library, gift shop, and 10 acres of forest. Rooms were $6 to $8 per night (meals included) and cottages could be rented for the season at rates ranging from $500 to $800. The 1928 season saw the introduction of four clay tennis courts and new a new bachelor quarters above the garages across the road.
In 1931, management of the hotel shifted to Mr. & Mrs. T.E. Tolson, owners of the Hotel Bristol in New York City (Mrs. Tolson was the niece of Mrs. Voorhis). With the end of prohibition a bar was added in 1934. As was the case for most hotels at the lake and in America during the Depression, rates were dropped to $25 to $40 per week (with meals) for a
single room. In 1937, a terrace was added for dining and dancing under the stars.
Bon Air underwent big changes in 1940 when it was acquired by Abe Shustin, then owner of the Lakeview Hotel in Mount Arlington. Weathering the war years, Bon Air would emerge in the postwar era as Lake Hopatcong’s preeminent hotel. Under the Shustin’s management, the Bon Air featured Jewish American cuisine. Addressing the needs of the ongoing baby boom, the Bon Air offered camp and kindergarten facilities. Advertisements for the Bon Air in 1949 highlighted the remodeled dancing patio, air cooling system, smoking lounges, and game room. The new Mirror Room Cocktail Lounge was an instant hot spot.
While Lake Hopatcong’s other surviving hotels were fading in the 1950’s, the Shustin’s (Abe and son Stanley) had a sense for what the public wanted and the Bon Air remained popular. The year 1953 saw the construction of a softball field, new soda fountain, and the addition of Chinese dishes to the menu. In 1955, the Bon Air added roller skating and indoor badminton, as well as a new ballroom for dancing. A new boardwalk was added in 1956 and the Bon Air was marketed as “a resort of distinction for single clientele.” Entertainment for the 1959 season included popular comedians Morey Amsterdam and Henny Youngman.
In 1960, the Shustin’s sold Bon Air Lodge. Without their management the hotel started to slip and neither remodeling nor a name change to the Arrowcrest Lodge in 1965 could stop its decline. The end came in August 1970 when a spectacular fire totally destroyed this beloved lake landmark.
Shortly thereafter, the building known today as the Arrowcrest was built on the site. The Bon Air garages across the street survived the fire and exist today as apartments. Stanley and his wife Judith Shustin still reside in one of the beautiful Bon Air cottages and the words Bon Air can be seen as you go past their boathouse.
The demise of the Bon Air marked the end of Lake Hopatcong’s run as a hotel resort. No new hotels were built since and the lake soon evolved into a year-round community. As witnessed by this letter the Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum received some years ago, the Bon Air occupied a special place in Lake Hopatcong’s past.
I (and 4 others from Douglass College) waitressed at the Bon Air Lodge the summer of 1945. What a time we had! Abe Shustin owned the Lodge then. Incidentally, Pulitzer prizewinner Mike Shaara was one of the busboys of mine for a while. Who knew he’d go on to write “Killer Angels?”
We college gals used to give swimming and diving exhibitions at nite, after which we were plied with vodka – straight. Many a night I swam the River Styx to enjoy steak and corn on the cob on the other side! And rowed past the Maxim dock almost daily. And oft walked to the Landing Post Office for the mail! VJ nite when we walked to the little church to give thanks, after a wild hotel celebration with guests and staff alike doing the conga thru the kitchen! That was the summer I waited so patiently for my Captain to return from the Persian Gulf Command, and then France. The guy I am still happily married to, after 57 years of matrimony!
Oh, such memories.