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In the News: Historic Landmark Back in Business

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December 24, 2009

BY KARL DE VRIES

The heart of downtown Ho-Ho-Kus is open for business once again.

"We tried to make it something the town will have for a long time," said Gordon Hamm, a managing partner of the Inn whose group, Ho-Ho-Kus Inn and Tavern LLC, purchased the borough-owned property back in the spring and has spent the past six months renovating the building. "The number of people that care about the Inn in this town is amazing."

Featuring a new roof, boiler and heating system as part of the building's updating, the Victorian-style Inn, located at the confluence of Franklin Turnpike, Sheridan Avenue and Maple Avenue, also features new hardwood floors, extensive brickwork and a completely refurbished interior. And with its walls adorned with local memorabilia including old photographs, maps and even a baseball uniform from the mid 20th century, the Inn is ready to regain its place as part restaurant, part history museum of Ho-Ho-Kus.

First built back in 1790, the Inn first served as a private residence for Andrew Zabriskie and his family, who operated a cotton mill near today's Warren Avenue Bridge. But after several devastating floods, the family sold the property in 1882, where it would remain a residence for the next few decades, even serving as a parsonage for the Christ Episcopal Church in Ringwood.

In the succeeding years, the Inn was variously known as the Zabriskie House, the Mansion House, Villa Inn, the Wayside Inn, the Washington Inn, Estephe's Hotel and Paddy Burke's. The building was on the verge of being closed in the late 1920s when H.T.B. Jacqueline purchased the building, restoring much of its Revolutionary War-era décor.

The borough purchased the property in 1941 to ensure its preservation, eventually leasing it to Gordon Butler and Heather Wilson in 1953, whose son Dick would operate the Inn until 1985. By this stretch in its history, the Inn had become a favorite center in town for people to congregate, and several notable personalities, from Jackie Gleason to Tony Curtis to former President Richard Nixon, would stop by to dine there.

"It was a fun place to come to," said Dick Wilson, now 77. "When people came to the Ho-Ho-Kus Inn, they had the expectation of having a good time."

The Inn, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, would change hands several times over the proceeding years, most recently when owners Chris and Nan Kelly sold their share of the building at the beginning of 2009. At that point, Hamm, a councilman, helped organize a group that assumed control of the Inn with the intent of recognizing the building's unique place in the borough's history. From there, it was a matter of meticulous research to do justice to its legacy.

"We had to be creative without destroying anything," Hamm said. "We were trying to recreate Ho-Ho-Kus, basically."

In August, the Inn sent out mailers to Ho-Ho-Kus residents, asking them to help furnish the interior by supplying memorabilia. The response has been overwhelming, according to Inn officials, who claim that they've received so much feedback they've yet to fully sort through and post all the contributions. George and Martha Washington in particular are featured prominently, a nod to the days when the neighborhood was a staging area for patriots fighting the British.

Watercolor paintings of the classic Inn by Ho-Ho-Kus resident Phyllis Hughes decorate the library found on the ground floor, while a portrait of Andrew Zabriskie by local resident Keri Clark is found upstairs in what is known as the Zabriskie room.

In addition to its ornate main dining room, the ground floor features a modernized tavern that serves the bulk of the Inn's lunch crowd, as well as a second bar in the former lounge, now called the library.

While the newest incarnation of the Inn is still brand new, having opened on Dec. 7, the response from those who have returned to the Ho-Ho-Kus landmark seems positive.

"This is the first time it's really been done tastefully," said Jane Barry, a local resident who has been coming to the Inn since the 1940s and vividly remembers its glory days as a top gathering spot in town. "I think that we needed this in the area."

E-mail: devries@northjersey.com