Tudor on the Niagara

A 1923 article in the Niagara Falls Gazette described the origins of an English-style inn in Niagara Falls, NY. The story is unusually lengthy, and smoothly written.

It illustrates well the continued, even growing appeal of the “olde English inn” in American social habits by 1923. In that year, a hotel was erected on the site of a demolished German-American hotel, the Kaltenbach, a renowned hostelry since the 1800s.

The new establishment was – and is – the Red Coach Inn, whose peaked roof rises over the rapids of nearby American Falls.

An English design motif, via the Tudor Revival, had a marked influence in American cities due to its implied gentility, or social status. While a cozy English taproom had to be left out of the Red Coach Inn due to National Prohibition, the decor otherwise gave full vent to the old English hostelry of fervent American imagination.

From the article:

Mounting a circular staircase to the second floor the guest is ushered into a most inviting parlor off which there is a ladies’ retiring room. The furnishing of this suite of reception rooms is rich and striking, the lounges and chairs being in quaint old fashioned chintz, the walls in panels delicately tinted in soft, harmonious colors. The same holds true in the guest chambers throughout the inn. The walls are adorned with rare old English prints.

On this floor is the French dining salon which is a dream of quiet refinement. The color motif on walls, panels and ceilings is French grey, the hangings in chintz and the tables and chairs in old colonial style. The china and silverware were made expressly for this establishment, all china having a picture of the coach and four with the words “Red Coach Inn”. The silverware, as well as the blankets, spreads, towelling, bed and table linen, have the monogram of the inn marked on them. The bedrooms are designed to furnish every comfort to the guest. The furniture is actually sumptuous. The beds in single and double are in Tiffany bronze effect with rich floral ornamentations. The dressers and other appointments are of like character.

The writing mingles conceptions of genteel English country living with storied American Colonial days – all suggestive of a fixed social order, serenity, and timeless beauty. (The reality was quite other, but that is a different matter).

A Red Coach Inn existed in Niagara Falls, NY in the early 1800s when coaching inns were vital to American life, so building a new one drew on local history as well – a win-win for the developers.

Building and decorative styles of recognized authority convey gravitas and status; it’s an idea as old as the hills. In later decades Victoriana was applied to similar effect, especially from the 1960s until recently. 1923 was too early though for the smoky, gas-lit Victorian experience to gain authority.

In the 1930s the English inn or tavern motif burgeoned and characterised many new or renovated restaurants, bars, and hotels. It appealed to the aspirational classes and extracted lucre from their expanding pocketbooks. Everyone Was Happy – in the strata of society not riven by Depression, of course.

With Repeal in 1933 the Red Coach Inn could now serve liquor. The hotel thereafter went from strength to strength, taking advantage of the growth of Niagara Falls as a prime holiday destination and especially, Honeymoon Capital of the World. Hence the hotel still goes strong today. Pictured above are two images from its website.

A Toronto connection: the Gazette noted that the hotel’s manager, who had worked earlier at the Kaltenbach hotel, had many friends in Toronto and anticipated their patronage at the new hotel. This supplies a further clue why a British-inspired design was used.

In American eyes then and until quite recently “Canada” was a cipher for “British”. With German design and food out of style after WW I and Art Deco still gestating in Europe, a comfy, British-looking pile was the right direction, particularly for a border destination.

By now, the old enmity to John Bull from the American Revolution had subsided. Britain was now unequivocally a social and cutural model for Americans, as American literature and many of its social and cultural practices reflected.

(This would change again when the Jazz Age and emergence of writers such as Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, and F. Scott Fitzgerald introduced a particularly American sensibility).

August Janssen, the German-American restaurateur who owned the famed Hofbrau Haus in Manhattan, capitalized on the early 1900s British appeal in 1939. He created an Old English tavern as sister-establishment for his baronial Germanic Haus. A hedge, we think, against enmity toward things German likely to flow from approaching war in Europe.

More on that soon.

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