from the archives: bathing in bedford springs

Secluded on 2,200 acres in the Southern Allegheny Mountains of south-central Pennsylvania, Bedford Springs Resort is one of the country’s few surviving examples of a time since passed – a time when Americans “summered” and traveled to “take the waters.” Now a national historic landmark, the 18th-century resort hotel sat derelict for a generation before recently undergoing a massive $120 million renovation that restored the once-famous mineral springs, Colonial-era buildings and golf course. How appropriate then, that this piece of American history is returned to its former glory and welcoming travelers once again.

Long touted for its healing waters and restorative environs, Bedford Springs dates back to 1796, when its seven original mineral springs were purchased by Bedford native Dr. D. John Anderson, who built bathing facilities for his patients to drink and soak in the waters. To local residents and the general public he sold “life tickets” and “family tickets.” It was the beginning of something far grander than anyone could have imagined. As word of the healing springs spread – they were rumored to cure everything from gout to rheumatism to “derangements of the liver” – Bedford’s guest register recorded the names of many American luminaries, including Daniel Webster, Aaron Burr and Henry Ford. Presidents Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor also came for the cure.

Where celebrities and politicians went, so society followed, and “the Bedford Cure” became part of the social circuit. Outdoor adventure in the lush valley became part of it as well, as guests amused themselves with lawn bowling, badminton, shuffleboard and tennis. After a morning soak at the Yellow, Sulphur or Moss Springs, patrons packed the horse-drawn “Talley Ho” for a ride around the grounds and into town.

With the opening of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1940 came greater access to the prestigious resort, and it continued to prosper throughout the 1960s and ’70s. But by the 1980s the once-grand grande dame appeared outdated and eventually closed her doors. It was soon deemed one of the most endangered sites on the National Registry of Historic Places.

After 21 years, Bedford Springs Resort has awoken like Sleeping Beauty. There are now more than 200 guest rooms, elegantly restored in historically accurate colors with period details preserved and reflecting the diverse history of the buildings. Sun- and breeze-filled porches are plentiful, with striking views of the grounds. Many of the curiosities discovered during the overhaul are proudly displayed, including photographs of turn-of-the-century merrymakers, guest registers and ledgers noting presidential visits, and a grand Stars and Stripes that greets you in the Federal-era lobby – the only known 39-star American flag in existence. Today, the resort’s fabled waters flow through a new 30,000-square-foot Springs Eternal Spa fed by Spring Eternal, the property’s eighth spring, which unexpectedly gushed to the surface during the restoration. Treatments at the Springs Eternal Spa are naturally focused on hydrotherapies, so be sure to indulge in the classic American spa experience of taking the waters however you can. Both the restored Victorian-style indoor swimming pool and the newly built outdoor pool are spring-fed. The trout stream and miles of nature trails will excite outdoor enthusiasts. Give a nod to the old “Talley Ho” and grab one of the resort’s Cannondale bikes and a prepared picnic from the cafe.

What’s even more engaging about Bedford Springs is the utter lack of pretense. Some of the friendliest, most knowledgeable staff you’ll ever meet are happy to stop whatever they’re doing and share some fascinating factoid. (The central double staircase, for example, is rumored to have been designed by Thomas Jefferson, who installed a similar one at Monticello.) There are nuggets of American history tucked into every nook and cranny of Bedford Springs. However, it’s the five-star service that will leave you feeling positively presidential.  READ MORE

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theatrically inclined

Much to my chagrin, the one-off movie theater across the street from my apartment recently closed. It showed crap movies, so no wonder; yet I still can’t help but mourn the passing of yet another single-screen cinema in this city. What the block-long expanse will become remains uncertain: the theater seats were sold off in the lobby to anyone who happened to notice the hand-scrawled For Sale sign, and the adjoining three shops have all been stripped bare. A sign at the corner announcing yet another TD Bank – just what the neighborhood needs – promises that the project will constitute some sort of major redevelopment. Not to sound too sanguine but I guess theaters come and theaters go; becoming everything from hot-spot bars to banks to parking lots. With that in mind, here are a few more recent converts that have bowed to changing times – and ever-changing needs.

THEN: The Jane Street Theater • NOW: The Jane hotel ballroom • Location: NYC

History:  The Jane Street Theater was an off-Broadway theatre in Greenwich Village with a small stage and a seating capacity of 280.  Notable shows presented at the Jane Street Theater included Hedwig and the Angry Inch (rumored to be coming to Broadway) and Jonathan Larsen’s tick, tick … BOOM! After the theatre was purchased by hoteliers Sean MacPherson and Eric Goode, they converted it into an event space called The Jane ballroom, located in the adjacent hotel, The Jane.

THEN: Michigan Theater  • NOW: Parking lot • Location: Detroit, Michigan

History: The Michigan Theater was built in August 1926. With a seating capacity of 4,050, the concert hall/movie house was one of the largest in Michigan. In the 1960s, it televised Red Wings hockey games for those who could not attend, and in the 1970s it was reborn as a nightclub and concert venue. In 1976, the main hall and lobby were gutted and converted into a multi-story parking structure – with much of the original architecture left intact! Ironically enough, the Michigan Theater is built on the site of the small garage where Henry Ford built his first automobile.

THEN: Mayan Theatre • NOW: The Mayan nightclub • Location: Los Angeles

History: Designed by Mexican artist Francisco Cornejo as a spectacular Mayan revival theater, the aptly-named Mayan Theater was built in 1927. Created solely as a venue for stage musicals, the debut event was a production of the Gershwins’ Oh Kay! In the 1980s, the theater fell on hard times and was bought by a developer who turned it into a nightclub. The building was renovated and – surprise, again – all the original architecture was maintained. Now, in addition to nightclub duty, The Mayan hosts the annual World Salsa Competition and on Sundays is home to evangelical church services.

THEN: The Villa Theatre • NOW: Adib’s Rug Gallery • Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

History: The Villa Theatre opened in 1949 showing Prince of Foxes on a screen 26 feet wide by 20 feet high, one of the largest screens in the West. In 1958, the Villa drew nationwide attention for its record-breaking 10-month and 4-day run of South Pacific. Moviegoers came to the theater from all parts of Utah, as well as southern Idaho and eastern Nevada.  After a string of renovations and ownership changes, the Villa Theatre was sold to Dr. Hamid Adib who preserved the theater’s original facade and restored the building. It’s currently enjoying new life as a gallery for Persian and Oriental rugs.

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