Original Location: Auburn, New York
It is unknown when the Brunswick Hotel, at 55 Market Street (just off of Genesee Street), Auburn, New York, was built, but in October of 1890 it hosted a free phonograph exhibition and concert. Everybody was invited to hear the "greatest invention of modern times." From the Auburn City Directory of 1900, the proprietor of the Brunswick Hotel was Ed. J. Moore, 53 and 55 Market Street. It is speculated that sometime before 1910 the Brunswick Hotel acquired a Wurlitzer style 30A Mandolin PianOrchestra. In 1926 William T. Curtin, as the proprietor, changed the name of the hotel to the Curtin Hotel. At some point, possibly in 1926 when the operation of the hotel changed hands, the PianOrchestra was sold to Fred Volkman (who knew the area quite well and had operated a saloon on nearby State Street, as well as at least two hotels later on circa 1912 to 1916), and then moved to Skaneateles Junction, a.k.a., Hart Lot, New York.
Sometime during the 1920s, possibly 1926, when the Brunswick Hotel became the Curtin Hotel, Fred Volkman bought the Wurlitzer 30A Mandolin PianOrchestra and moved it into his hotel establishment in Skaneateles Junction, a locale also known as Hart Lot, which is located in the Town of Elbridge, Onondaga County, New York. Skaneateles Junction was a stop on the Auburn Branch of the New York Central Railroad, where the Skaneateles Railroad met the New York Central Railroad.
The Central Hotel was apparently at some point referred to as the Slater Hotel, perhaps due to the name of its manager, Henry D. Slater, who was born in Auburn in 1871, had lived most of his life in Skaneateles Falls and Hart Lot (a.k.a. Skaneateles Junction), finally dying in 1911. The old, rambling wooden frame structure was once a grand and stately two-story edifice. What is probably its original name, the Central Hotel, may be due to Skaneateles Junction being a station stop where the Skaneateles Railroad met the New York Central Railroad.
In 1908 a liquor tax certificate was issued to "Martin Holihan, Skaneateles Junction, Wheeler House, Railroad Street, Hotel." It is currently unknown when and how the hotel acquired the Wheeler House moniker, but that name seems to have been associated on and off with the old hotel up until at least 1947. In 1912 a newspaper article appeared in the Marcellus NY Weekly Observer 1912 -1913 – Elbridge Department directly stating that Holihan was the proprietor of the hotel:
Martin Holihan, a hotel proprietor at Skaneateles Junction, notified the sheriff’s office Friday that a horse which was rented from him on Monday had not been returned and he said that he believed the animal had been stolen. Mr. Holihan states that a stranger came to his hotel Monday afternoon and said he wanted to hire a horse and carriage to drive to Jordan; that his wife and child were coming by train and he wished to meet them there. The missing horse is a small brown mare, 14 years old, and was hitched to a black top buggy.
Through the years 1913 through 1917 various official New York State Commissioner of Excise and other documents list Holihan as follows: "Martin Holihan, Skaneateles Junction, Holihan House, Railroad Street, Hotel." So for a period of time the hotel seems to have been known as the Holihan House. How long Martin Holihan operated the hotel is uncertain, but in the Skaneateles Historical Society's St. Mary's Cemetery Gravestone Database he is listed as Martin Holihan 1876-1917. Thus it is that Martin Holihan passed away sometime during 1917, which is, coincidently, the same year that Frederick M. Volkman reportedly became owner of the what was again referred to as the Wheeler House at Skaneateles Junction.
As the story goes, Volkman had been literally run out of Auburn, New York, due to his "socially unacceptable," illicit activities, whatever they might have been. However, while there might be an element of truth regarding some of his clandestine activities, there is no evidence to suggest that he was forced to leave Auburn. If anything, he seems to have been well liked and personable, albeit his saloon and hotel endeavors were sometimes the target of legal action. The non-fictitious but segmented version of his story begins here in the Auburn Weekly Bulletin, March 23, 1900, under the headline: "Lost $214 at Poker; Then This Man Complained to the Police and Two Players Paid $50 each," which is a story implicating a Fred Volkman in a gambling deceit, for which most of the article is herewith presented:
Ambrose A. Holley, of Genoa, told Recorder Kent Tuesday that he had been “Buncoed” out of $214 in a poker game in a room over No. 5[?] Genesee Street Friday night, and named as the conspirators Fred Volkman, Thomas Welsh and James Corcoran. Another man, about whom the authorities will say nothing except that his name is “Smith and that he is probably in Buffalo,” is said to have been in the game and received a share of the money. As a result of Holley’s kick, Volkman and Welsh were arrested and a warrant has been issued for Corcoran, but he has left town. Volkman and Welsh were arrested under section 212 of the ordinances, which prohibits gambling, but the warrant for Corcoran, who is charged with being the game keeper, was issued under the penal code.
Officer Graney arrested Volkman and Welsh Tuesday afternoon at 5 o’clock. They were arraigned, pleaded guilty to having played a game of chance where money or property was at stake, and a sentence of $50 fine or 50 days in jail was imposed in each case, and the fines were paid.
Holley is well known here and at one time ran a saloon in Genesee Street, and afterwards was a bartender here. He has “bucked the tiger” before, and it is said has been unfortunate. According to his own story, he had been drinking considerable Friday and was not in full possession of his mental facilities when Corcoran escorted him to the room, which it is charged, was conducted by Corcoran. Corcoran, Volkman, Welsh and “Smith” were in the game with Holley and he was “done up.” The game was a “table stake” one and the play was strong, There were all kinds of big hands out, well distributed. Holley held his share of the hands, having as high as “fours,” but when he made his raise one of the quartette was always ready to raise over. It mattered not whether Holley had three of a kind, a flush or “fours,” there was a hand among the other four that was just enough better to take the “pot.” Holley was relieved of his money rapidly and when he finally decided to quit he was a loser to the tune of $214, a large part of which he paid with a check made payable to Walsh. The check was cashed the first thing Saturday morning. Holley concluded that he had been “flim flamed,” stated his case to the authorities Tuesday and the three warrants and two arrests were the results. Corcoran had received the “tip” that the complaint was to be made, and before the police had started out after him, the had left the city, taking the 2:53 West bound Central train. “Smith” has not so far been molested and the authorities are reticent as to his identity.
There was no desire on the part of the police to discuss the case. When asked how long the place had been running, Chief MacMaster said that as far as he knew it had not been open for business since the recent order of the police was issued for all gambling rooms to close.
In Lamey's 1900 Auburn, NY Directory, Vol. 30, From July 1900 to July 1901, is the entry: Volkman Fred, barkeeper, house over 70 Genesee. Then in the December 1906 Auburn NY Daily Advertiser Index Fred Volkman is listed as a saloon owner at 33 State Street, not far from his Genesee Street home address mentioned in the above text. Here is a brief article headlined "Fred Volkman" that appears on page 8 of the 1906 Auburn Daily Advertiser:
If you are desirous of spending a pleasant hour or so, and at the same time enjoy a good, cold glass of beer, or something stronger, there is no better place in this city than at No. 33 State Street, which for the past two months has been successfully conducted by Mr. Fred Volkman. This handsomely furnished saloon has a floor space of 25x75 feet and is fully stocked with the best and most choice line of both imported and domestic wines, liquors and cigars, as well many different kinds of beers, ales, porters, etc. Three courteous and obliging bartenders are employed and a special feature every evening is the excellent singing and illustrated songs. Mr. Volkman is a young man, a native of Auburn, whose uniform courtesy and good fellowship make him one of the most popular men in Auburn.
It seems that circa 1906 Mr. Volkman was an energetic and popular fellow and quickly working his way up the ladder in the saloon trade. But his ride to success was to encounter some legal bumps in the years ahead. In the Auburn Semi-Weekly Journal, Tuesday, February 28, 1911, under the heading "Long Special Term - Monday Feb 27," appeared the following article:
The next matter to come up was the application of Maynard N. Clements as State Commissioner of Excise for an order revoking and cancelling the liquor tax license issued to Fanny Volkman. Russell Headley of Canandaigua with H. W. Fitch as counsel is conducting the case for the Excise department and F. M. Leary and Frank C. Cady represent Volkman. Volkman is charged with permitting his place, the Exchange Hotel, to become disorderly and to be used as a resort by lewd women and prostitutes. William R. Graves, Richard D. Larkin and Charles H. Trast, all special agents of the Excise department were sworn during the morning and all testified to having visited the hotel at different times during the past winter and fall. The substance of the proof offered by the special agents was that they had on every visit to the place found men and women mingling and drinking in a room in the rear where moving pictures were shown. They detailed bits of vulgar repartee from the girls in the room and said that the latter had solicited them and made improper proposals asking to be taken to a room upstairs.
Then not long thereafter, The Auburn Citizen, Thursday, August 24, 1911, reported more bad news for Fred and Fanny Volkman:
Attorneys Decide to Take Beard and Volkman Cases
Attorneys Frank S. Coburn and Frank M. Leary representing James Beard and Mrs. Fanny Volkman, respectively, have decided to take an appeal to the Appellate Division from the order handed down recently by Justice S. N. Sawyer, revoking the licenses for their hotels in this city on the ground that both were disorderly houses.
The costs to which the plaintiffs are entitled, were filed in the county clerk’s office this afternoon, The costs in the Beard case amount to $261.66 and in the Volkman case to 258.64. The mileage of the excise agents who testified at the several hearings formed a large item in the costs total in each case.
Then more bad news. In the Auburn NY Democrat Argus 1912 - 1913, the Volkman Appeal was dismissed:
Among the decisions handed down by the Appellate Division at Rochester yesterday was one in a Cayuga County case. A motion to dismiss the appeal in the petition of William W. Farley as State Excise Commissioner for revocation of the liquor tax certificate issued to Fanny Volkman for the Exchange hotel in Garden Street was granted. The certificate was revoked on order of Justice Sawyer two months ago and Mrs. Volkman had decided to appear from the order. No papers were served and the motion to dismiss the appeal was granted yesterday by default. The decision carried $10 costs against Mrs. Volkman.
One thing that immediately pops out in the above legal maneuvers is that Fanny Volkman, Fred Volkman's wife, is one of the defendants, and she is the person holding the liquor license for her husband's hotel proprietorship activities. When the couple was married is unknown, but their relationship survived up until Fred Volkman's passing in 1937. In the meantime, however, their legal situation was to get much worse. In The Oato Citizen – Friday, March 3. 1916, was this article:
In the County Court Wednesday, the jury returned a verdict of “guilty” against Frederick Volkman, former proprietor of the Childs Hotel which was raided October 17 by the Auburn police. Volkman was convicted of violating the liquor tax law. Yesterday he was sentenced to serve four months in the penitentiary and to pay a fine of $400.
John E. Lawler, indicted with Volkman on the same charge plead guilty to the charge, recently and was given a sentence of $250 fine and 90 days in the county jail.
Needless to say, Frederick Volkman was no stranger to legal conflict, and to some degree outlawed gambling activities, alcoholic beverage tax issues, loose ladies, and the long arm of the law. It may have been his propensity toward frowned upon activities that caused him to move out of Auburn. Whatever the case, "Freddie" Volkman set up operations in Skaneateles Junction in what was once the grand old Central Hotel, where he probably had a lot more freedom to carry on gambling or other fringe activities. The tall Wurlitzer PianOrchestra occupied a spot just inside the doorway in the upstairs grand ballroom. It was a very spacious, almost square, room, with a very high and ornately painted ceiling. Several very tall, stately windows adorned both of the outside facing walls, flooding the large room with sunlight. It is easy to imagine a lone couple or many dancing to the Wurlitzer PianOrchestra, ending a happy evening of festive frolic and enjoyment.
But this story does not end well. In The Citizen Advertiser, Auburn, N.Y. – Saturday, November 12, 1937, is this sad story:
Volkman Died Before Oil Stove Blazed
Funeral Rites Held in Jordan Today for Former Proprietor of Auburn’s Exchange Hotel.
Frederick M. Volkman, 58, formerly of Auburn, whose body was found sprawled across a flaming overturned oil stove in his sickroom Wednesday afternoon, died of natural causes before he collapsed and tipped the stove Coroner William R. Winne, Onondaga County, announced in a verdict yesterday afternoon.
Volkman, owner of the Wheeler House at Skaneateles Junction since 1917, had been in ill health for some time, and his wife discovered his body, clothing aflame when she returned after leaving him for a few minutes.
Surviving, besides his wife, Mrs. Fanny Volkman, is a sister, Mrs. Bertha Firth of Rochester. Services were conducted at the rooms of M. L. Bush and Son, funeral directors, Jordan, at 2 P.M today by Rev. Donald Condon, pastor of Christ Episcopal Church. Burial was in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Elbridge.
For many years Mr. Volkman conducted the old Exchange Hotel in Garden Street.
From the 1937 Syracuse Herald come a few more details of the tragedy:
Frederick M. Volkman died at 1 P.M. Wednesday in his flaming room at the Wheeler House and was apparently the victim of a sudden attack from a long illness. Clothing aflame the body was found lying on an overturned oil stove by his wife Mrs. Fanny Volkman who rushed into the room, threw a blanket over him, and dragged him into the corridor. The body bore burns about the head, arms and face. Volkman died before other aid could reach him.
Volkman had for two years been in failing health and for three he had continued to live in a rear apartment of his hotel after he gave up management. Mrs. Volkman reported she had left their apartment for a few minutes while her husband was eating a late breakfast and heard no sound from him while she was away in the hotel kitchen. Two guests in the hotel rushed to the involved Volkman apartment and in extinguishing the blaze before arrival of the volunteer fire firefighters.
In the 1940 census Fanny Volkman is listed as follows: Age 64, born about 1876. Birthplace: New York. Gender: Female. Race: White. Home: Elbridge, Onondaga, New York. Then in the Marcellus Observer - Friday, October 3, 1947, is the following legal notice:
Notice is hereby given that license number HL 1628 has been issued to the undersigned to sell Liquor, Wine, Cider and Beer at retail in a Hotel under the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law at Railroad St., Skaneateles Junction, Onondaga County, N.Y. for on-premises consumption.
Fanny Volkman, d b a Wheeler House, Skaneateles Junction, N.Y.
Circa 1940 the operation of the hotel changes, it becoming Martin's Hotel, the new proprietor being Royal Lee Martin. His wife's name was Alice B. (Johnson) Martin. In as much as Fanny Volkman was issued the license to serve alcohol in 1947, and probably before, it leaves one to wonder what the relationship between the new hotel owner and Fanny Volkman might have been. Perhaps she just held the liquor license for a percentage of any barroom profits, but this is mere speculation. Very little is known about Royal Martin, most of which came from his obituary in The Citizen, Auburn N.Y. – Thursday, September 30, 1982, part of which follows:
Royal L. Martin, 83, of Hart Lot died Wednesday, September 29, 1982, in Van Duyne House following a short illness.
Born in Lisbon, N.Y., he lived in Hart Lot since 1940. He was the owner of Martin’s Hotel in Hart Lot for several years. Mr. Martin was a well-known horseman and he was a member of the Pinto Horse Association.
Surviving are one son, Clifford L. Martin of Auburn and four grandchildren. Services will be Saturday at the B. L. Bush & Sons Funeral Home, Skaneateles at a time to be announced. Burial will be in Fairview Cemetery, Parishville, N.Y.
The condition of the Wurlitzer PianOrchestra circa 1940, when Royal Martin took over, is unknown. However, judging from the deplorable and filthy condition of the instrument when it was discovered, circa 1957, it is likely that the PianOrchestra had not been playable for a very long time, albeit it might have still been somewhat functional and complete when the hotel became Martin's Hotel some seventeen years earlier. All that remained of the once mighty PianOrchestra was the case and whatever was still inside it. Not even a small fragment of music roll was to be found, nor was there a trace within the hotel of the pipework or other missing parts.
Larry Givens, of Wexford, Pennsylvania, discovered the forlorn 30A PianOrchestra in the long-abandoned upstairs ballroom of the Martin's Hotel circa 1957. Larry had heard about the existence of the machine from his friend Dick Shattuck, of Eldred, Pennsylvania. So, during summer camp training (at Hancock Field in Syracuse, New York) with his Pennsylvania Air National Guard unit, Larry drove to Skaneateles Junction in search of the instrument. After arriving at the hotel, where the PianOrchestra was supposed to be located, Larry described the instrument and its imposing dimensions to the manager. The manager then assured Larry that no such machine was in the hotel, nor could he recall ever having seen such a thing.
"Mind if I look around the hotel, anyway?" asked Larry Givens.
"No, go right ahead," replied the manager.
After a little searching the PianOrchestra was found in plain view, just inside the door of the second floor grand ballroom, exactly where it had been since the 1920s. Larry writes: "The entrance to the ballroom was at one of the corners of the room. As I walked into the room, I saw nothing even faintly resembling a PianOrchestra. I walked out into the middle of the room, and then turned around -- and then I saw it! I had walked into the room directly past the side of the PianOrchestra's case, without noticing what it was! It had been right beside the entrance doors."
Having found the machine, the manager of the hotel was called to the ballroom, Larry pointing out the obvious PianOrchestra.
"So that's what that big old thing is," he said. "I never looked inside of the cabinet and always wondered what it was."
Larry decided that the PianOrchestra "was bigger game than he could handle." So, when he got back to the air base in Syracuse late that afternoon, while sitting in his car -- a 1954 Plymouth station wagon -- he immediately wrote to Roy Haning and Neal White, giving them all the information he had regarding the PianOrchestra. "They were into those big instruments," Larry said, "so I thought they should have a crack at this one."
At the time, Larry Givens knew of no collectors who had any idea what a large Wurlitzer PianOrchestra might sound like. When questioned during a circa 1969 visit to Hathaway & Bowers, Inc., Santa Fe Springs, California, Larry remarked that he just assumed that large orchestrions, like the PianOrchestra, did not sound good, although, as he later admitted, he had no idea whatsoever how a restored PianOrchestra might sound. So, as far as Larry was concerned, the PianOrchestra would never sound "good," it would not be an easy thing to remove from the upstairs hotel ballroom, and it would be extremely difficult to restore, considering its poor condition and that it was missing a lot of critical parts. This was a time when machines missing parts and difficult to restore were passed over for something that either still played, or was in pristine condition. It was not until Larry's visit to Hathaway & Bowers, Inc., when he heard a PianOrchestra for the first time, ironically the very one he had once discovered in Skaneateles Junction, that he realized his mistake.
Once Haning and White received the letter from Larry Givens, providing details regarding the PianOrchestra, Roy Haning said they wasted no time driving to Skaneateles Junction, fully prepared to haul the PianOrchestra home. Roy Haning once remarked that after they dragged the PianOrchestra out of Martin's hotel, loading it into a trailer hitched behind their station wagon, they drove fast for about one hundred miles, before stopping to cover the machine with a tarp. They wanted as much of the encrusted filth to blow off and away as possible. The big Wurlitzer 30A PianOrchestra sat untouched at Haning and White's place for many years, when Dave Bowers purchased it about 1965.
About 1965 the PianOrchestra became part of the David Bowers collection, Vestal, New York. The PianOrchestra was set up for display in a specially constructed, high ceiling, music room. Up to this time, and during the time it was part of the Bowers collection, there was no discernible attempt to restore any aspect of the PianOrchestra, other than wipe off some of the encrusted grime.
When I first met Dave Bowers in 1966, he showed me pictures of his collection, which, at the time, contained four PianOrchestras. Of the four examples, only one was operational, a style 12, Mandolin PianOrchestra, which Bowers had acquired from the Otto Carlsen collection in Monrovia, California. Two machines, the Wurlitzer style 30A PianOrchestra, from Skaneateles Junction, and a style 32 Concert PianOrchestra from Chilton, Wisconsin were completely unrestored and missing parts. The fourth instrument, a style 32-A Concert PianOrchestra from Leadville, Colorado, was complete and in very nice original condition, although not playing. Dave Bowers was attempting to get it playing.
I bought the 30A PianOrchestra from Dave Bowers in mid to late 1965, seeing only four little black & white Polaroid snapshots of it, as it appeared in Bowers' music room, along with a brief description. Loving the machine from my first glance at the pictures, I carried those tiny photographs around wherever I went, looking at them frequently. Then, one fine warm and sunny day, maybe in August, the 30A PianOrchestra arrived in Santa Fe Springs via a Mayflower Van Lines truck. The exciting moment had arrived, as the deeply padded moving quilts were unwrapped, revealing, piece by piece, the magnificent machine. It sparkled to my happy eyes, its dark, silvered oak case, which was beautifully embellished with tarnished brass-work and gilded ornamentation, glittered with an ancient luster as it met the summer sunlight. The art-glass consisted of a geometric design, using clear chipped glass mounted in brass piping. There was a golf-ball-sized hole in one pane of glass. The instrument was beautiful, even though it still carried a hefty coating of sticky Skaneateles Junction grime.
All the wooden pipes were missing, as were the bass drum, snare drum, cymbal (the drum actions were present), the triangle and tambourine, (the reiterating triangle and tambourine actions were present). A basic cleaning and scrubbing of the case exterior and interior mechanisms was the first order of business. No restoration work was done until the instrument had been observed and studied in detail, noting unused screw holes, impressions in the wood, shadows in the clear interior wood finishes, and so on. Noteworthy in the trapwork instrumentation are the castanets, which are an early style mechanism consisting of two large castanet halves, one stationary, the other fastened to a pivoted lever operated by a large pneumatic. It produced more of a wood-block tapping sound rather than what might be expected from a set of castanets, as with the later style castanet action.
A few candle wax drippings and at least one wax ring, where a candle had been affixed for light, were noted on the top, left side of the decorative wooden shelf located just under the roll changer. There were two charred spots on the underside of the xylophone support shelf, the main horizontal support board above the roll changer. Obviously, a candle has been used in this area on many occasions, a few times as a light source when adjusting or repairing the left side of the roll changer mechanism.
The case was refinished by a Mr. Carter, a local man who worked out of his garage in Baldwin Park, California, someone I had met through another collector. It was Carter's first attempt at a filled pore glazing type finish. Neither Carter nor I knew of anyone who knew how to correctly use the glazing compounds for this type of filled-pore finish. Carter experimented, trial by fire, so to speak, until passable results were obtained. Mr. Carter, a genuinely friendly man, worked without any provisions for adequate ventilation, constantly inhaling or absorbing the toxic lacquer solvent fumes. His health was obviously declining, probably exacerbated by his wife, who would come out to the garage (her bleached blond hair straggly and unkempt) and loudly curse and complain, constantly nagging and putting him down. He just kept working, sort of ignoring her, while I maintained a quiet demeanor, so as to not become one of her targets.
Except for re-leathering the pump, replacing the missing wooden pipe-work and some metal work, the restoration was done by myself. I found old drums of the correct size that were fitted with Wurlitzer style hardware. The tambourine was copied from the style 40 PianOrchestra then belonging to Otto Carlsen, of Monrovia, California. Richard Fague, of San Francisco, did the metal work on the tambourine, stamping out brass jingles like the original. The pipe-work was replaced by selecting specific note ranges from appropriately voiced pipe organ pipe sets, and then modifying and/or making new toes.
Around 1966, David Bowers and I, Terry Hathaway, visited the Martin's Hotel site to sample its ambiance. The old hotel was (and still is as of 2012) a large, square, two-story wooden structure. A smaller two-story boxy add-on was tacked onto the backside of the building. The upstairs "grand" ballroom was in the front corner of the hotel, with two large windows facing the front and three windows along the side, which overlooked a side street. Noteworthy, was the spacious front porch that stretched fully along the two access sides of the hotel. It provided comfortable admittance to the seemingly unused front or main entrance, which faced the pair of main rail lines that shot straight through the center of town. The side entrance, which was the door to the hotel bar, was currently the only entrance apparently used for public access. The hotel sat at one end of Skaneateles Junction (a.k.a., Hart Lot) and banked by a forest of trees on the far side. The "town" basically consisted of a single row of tall, false fronted, dilapidated, and decaying wooden buildings that stretched perhaps several hundred yards along both sides of a main railroad thoroughfare. A bumpy roadway access trailed along both sides of the railroad, permitting automobile access to the grungy, once colorfully painted stores.
We entered Skaneateles Junction from Hartlot Road, which after rounding a curve became a "side" street that ran alongside the Martin Hotel. Hartlot Road seemed to be more of a main street than was Railroad Street, the town's actual "main" thoroughfare, which straddled the railroad tracks. The side street (Hartlot Road) formed the only apparent crossroad in the whole town. Once across the railroad tracks it went between buildings on the other side and eventually disappeared into a heavy thicket of trees in the distance. Arriving in town had quite an impact on me. We had been winding through beautiful semi-forested countryside, dotted with occasional buildings, when, after jogging around a tree-shrouded bend to skirt the rear of a large, old wooden building, we were suddenly there, in Skaneateles Junction, alongside the old Martin's Hotel. The transition from placid countryside to town was swift, and before I fully realized that we had arrived, Dave had pulled over and parked along the side of the hotel. Abruptly, there it was, the "hallowed place," neon beer ad signs blinking in the dingy barroom windows.
Not far from the hotel, alongside the main rail tracks was a large white sign with bold, black lettering bearing the name "Skaneateles Junction." Although this sign, the only obvious landmark providing a name for the locale, has perhaps mistakenly been used to denote the geographic location where the PianOrchestra was discovered, the term Skaneateles Junction, in actuality, only denotes an old station stop and railroad junction where the New York Central and Skaneateles Railroads met. The area is more generally known as Hart Lot. A single track heading off toward the town of Skaneateles curved around the front and side of the hotel and then following along the far edge of Hartlot Road it seemed to disappear straightaway into a thicket of dense trees. From the hotel Hartlot Road curved to the right, behind the town buildings, and went off in another direction. The roads were basically dirt, with some signs of having been graveled, or if paved they were in very disintegrated condition. It was all very picturesque.
We entered the bar, going in the side door. It stank of a musty, grimy odor. Apart from a bartender, we could see no one else in the place, but behind a small partition against one wall we could clearly hear someone peeing. Dave asked the bartender if it was okay for us to look around and take some pictures, explaining why we were there. Grunting us permission, we moved down a dark hallway toward the grand staircase that lead up to the second floor ballroom. The decor was heavy and genuinely atrocious. The lower part of the hallway wall was painted purple, with a perhaps eight-inch high horizontal, dingy gold stripe that separated the purple from the faded lime-green upper wall color. The gold banding was itself highlighted every eight feet or so with a large golden triangle that extended upward from the band. Everything felt greasy, grungy, and grimy, and was literally filled with the dank, rotten, stench of decay. It seemed to be a classic "dump," in the true sense of the word. I remember walking up the wide, grand staircase, going up to the second floor. I reached for the banister, the steps creaking and feeling unsteady, but immediately withdrew my hand after touching it. The wooden banister was repulsively sticky. I never wanted to touch the walls or fixtures after that.
At the top of the stairs one could go one of three ways. To the right were bedrooms that could be accessed from the stairway landing and a long hallway. Straight-ahead was a door, no longer in use, that led out onto the top of the front porch. To the left was the double-door width entrance to the ballroom. The upstairs walls were painted dark green, except for the ballroom, which was the most cheerfully painted room in the whole place. My heart fluttered with excitement as I entered the ballroom. It was immense. Two or three tall windows along each of the two outside ballroom walls admitted a dusty light, the windowpanes being filthy. Sunlight could be seen peaking through a few of the larger holes in the ballroom ceiling. A couple of surprised bats darted about the room and quickly disappeared. It was a very large room, perhaps almost square, with a 16 or 18 foot high ceiling, which was much higher than the PianOrchestra was tall. A clearly defined outline made of relatively clean wall next to the main entrance door showed exactly where the 30A PianOrchestra had once stood. Evidently the machine had been pushed up close to the wall, as the outline of the case was sharply distinct and unmistakable, even to the outline of small moldings on each side of the case. This would have made it nearly impossible to service the piano, as there were no casters on the PianOrchestra to enable moving it away from the wall for piano tuning.
As large as the PianOrchestra was, its outline did not seem so big when compared to the overall extent of the room and its high ceiling. Junk and trash was strewn everywhere, scattered and piled in heaps over the wide planked, sagging wood floor. The "grand ballroom" was not so grand anymore. The room had a dank feeling, although it had obviously once been very elegant, probably quite spectacular when new. The plastered walls and ceiling were painted a richly hued blue, with the window frames and wainscoting being an off-white. The drooping ceiling, although pocked with several gaping holes that leaked tiny beams of golden sunlight, was still beautifully decorated with an ornate and vibrantly colored design, delicately painted a long time ago. Underneath, a tired wooden floor drooped so much between supporting timbers that I wondered if it might collapse under my added weight.
After spending some time in the ballroom looking for any forgotten Wurlitzer parts or rolls, we ventured down the upstairs hall looking into a few of the guestrooms. They all appeared about the same. The walls were painted a medium shade of green that had darkened with grime and time. Each room had a single window, and each room was cold, dark, and dreary. There was an iron bed, a mattress fitted with a green bedspread (similar to the color of the walls), and a few odd pieces of simple furniture. The bedspreads were snugly fitted, some with many spots and soiled areas that were plainly evident. I would not have stayed overnight in this place!
After we had finished our exploring and were standing along side Dave's car, getting ready to leave, a nattily dressed man rushed up to us, loudly demanding that we hand over the photographs we had taken. He looked like a well-dressed gangster, right out of an old Hollywood movie. Dave, with some quick thinking, pulled out a copy of "Put Another Nickel In" and showed the man that we were just photographing the ballroom for historical reasons. The man finally relented, becoming somewhat relaxed and friendly, introducing himself as, if my recollection is correct, Frenchy DeVoe. We presumed he had probably arrived in one of the "fancy" automobiles that had parked alongside the hotel after we had entered. At the time, we thought it strange that expensive cars with extravagantly dressed people were pulling up to such a dumpy place, but decided that we best leave things alone and get out before something unpleasant happened. We never went back.
As of July, 2012, the old Martin's Hotel building (at Skaneateles Junction/Hart Lot) is reported as still standing, but no longer operating as a hotel and/or bar. It has been converted into an apartment building, but still in what was described as in dumpy condition.
The Coade collection consisted of many fine coin pianos and several large orchestrions. The PianOrchestra, situated in a newly constructed "piano house," was featured in many local tours and Musical Box Society and AMICA meetings.
The PianOrchestra remained housed with the Coade collection until July of 1979, whereupon, after Al Nielsen made the final payment for the machine, it was trucked to Berkeley, California, in time for the Musical Box Society Convention, which was being hosted by the Golden Gate chapter. The PianOrchestra was set up in the Albany Middle School library, Albany, California, where it entertained school children and other visitors for many years. Then it was moved into a storage building, located only a few blocks away from the school, where it remained until recently, when it was shipped back to Southern California for safe storage.
The PianOrchestra remains in excellent playing condition, requiring only minor tuning and normal maintenance. It sits alongside other beautifully restored automatic musical instruments of the same general era.
Information provided by Terry Hathaway, Larry Givens, Dave Bowers, Al Nielsen, Cayuga County Historian, and Mike Roseboom.
Circa 1912 Wurlitzer catalogue; Don Pease; Dave Bowers; Terry Hathaway, Cayuga County Historian, and John Stewart - Western New York Railroad Archive.