Tuesday July 3, 2012

LENOX --The fondly remembered, locally popular Eastover Resort in Lenox is well on its way toward completing a nearly five-year, multimillion-dollar restoration project under new owners.

At the suggestion of Building Inspector William Thornton, all five Select Board members and state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli toured the main mansion and nearby buildings, including the renovated Tally Ho Room, on Monday morning.

Yingxing Wang, manager of the ownership group, HG October Mountain Estate LLC, led the tour, pointing out a wide range of outside and indoor improvements to the century-old, 550-acre property that boasts picture-postcard views of Mount Greylock to the north and October Mountain to the east.

"They're doing a great job," Thornton said. "It's a really long project."

The new owners acquired the 25-building property in 2010 from Dorothy "Ticki" Winsor and her daughter, Betsy Kelly, for $5.4 million, including personal property, fixtures, furnishings and an adjacent parcel.

Renovations and infrastructure improvements, including new connections to town sewer and water lines on East Street, are expected to reach or exceed the purchase price by the time they are completed in 2014.

"It's way, way beyond that, but I don't have a final number yet," said Wang, adding that the resort is gearing up for a busy summer season with a full house for the upcoming weekend and a fashion show a week later to be filmed by MTV at the Tally-Ho room. Thirty-two of the resort's 70 rooms are currently being booked.

The cost of the long-term sewer improvement project alone is expected to total $2.5 million, replacing temporary lines.

A major source of local employment for multiple generations of Lenoxians, the estate built in 1910 as a "summer cottage" for New York City banker Harris Fahnestock has become an "eco-friendly" destination with its own solar panels and a small wind-turbine installation.

Wang expects the planned booking of local, live music entertainment for the Tally-Ho room will enhance the property's appeal to a younger crowd, which, she said, is rediscovering Eastover through Internet marketing.

For Selectman John McNinch, it was an especially poignant homecoming because his family had owned the resort for 63 years. His grandfather George Bisacca opened it in 1947, a year after purchasing the long-vacant, derelict property at auction for $41,000 and restoring it.

"My entire life was here, the first 20-something years," he said. McNinch and his family still live a half-mile down the road.

Selectman David Roche recalled an enjoyable summer in 1959 as a busboy when he was 15. He and McNinch laughed as they traded anecdotes, recounting youthful experiences working at Eastover as they admired the dramatic, just-completed improvements to the main dining room and the spotless, state-of-the-art kitchen.

"Everybody in town worked here," said Selectman Edward Lane, who was a busboy and groundskeeper. "They were great benefactors to the town."

"I remember it as a forerunner to Club Med, a lot of singles," Roche noted, recalling trainloads of visitors being transported by stagecoach from the Lenox station by Bisacca, the ultimate Civil War-era buff.

McNinch explained that it started as a singles-only resort catering to what became a 50-50 split between Bostonians and New Yorkers.

Eastover, always affordable by Lenox standards, never had a liquor license but was strictly BYOB, he added, though local package stores would deliver reinforcements after guests' supplies ran out.

"This was the last of the ‘Dirty Dancing' resorts," Pignatelli said. "Big families would come here. It was rustic, you didn't need amenities, people didn't mind bunking up, they didn't need TVs or phones in their rooms."

While the buffalo herd that once roamed the pastures, attracting many spectators, won't return, Wang said, she hopes to welcome a flock of goats and lambs to add some down-home flavor to the now-elegant property.

To reach Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6247.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto.