Visitors from every part of the world have made their way to Saratoga Springs for myriad reasons, but mainly for their health or their hippic interest.
They have been accommodated in fabulous structures, but unfortunately most of these great hotels have been lost. In their time they established a superior level of service, dedicated to sybarite satisfaction which help make Saratoga a resort destination. They mainly stood along Broadway.
The Kensington Hotel however, stood away from the others. Its location was on fashionable Union Avenue, the splendid thoroughfare which reaches from the village to Saratoga Lake, with the race track in between.
In 1877 Dr. W. J. Haine purchased property on the northwest corner of Union Avenue at Regent Street, and planned to build a sanitarium for the treatment of his patients. This structure would be of masonry construction, being configured as an “L” in shape, with an entrance on both Union and Regent. Bricks were delivered in the spring of 1878, and the new building was underway. By mid-May the Union Street section of the Haine Sanitarium had one story complete and the Regent Street wing stood at two stories.
The progress on the building slowed with the winter seasons as the masons stopped, and the carpenters and joiners moved to indoor shops to fashion interior pieces. Both 1879 and 1880 passed with the structure still incomplete. In the summer of 1881, James H. Rodgers, the proprietor of the Coleman House in New York City, visited Saratoga and inquired about the still incomplete sanitarium. He found that an offer to exchange real estate in Ogdensburg was acceptable, and the structure was repurposed as a hotel.
The pace of construction increased with the new ownership, and the unfinished building allowed Rodgers plenty of latitude for reconfiguration, and his largest revision was adding a fifth and final floor. The reception area with marble floor and cherry panels and desk was most welcoming, and rich Wilton carpeting was used in the well-lighted halls. Three large stairways and an elevator connected the upper parts of the house, with communication provided by an electric annunciator and speaking tubes.
The guest chambers were furnished in black walnut and Brussels carpets, and period plumbing. The rooms facing Union Ave and Regent Street were provided with balconies or loggia, which were joined together across the front by a colonnaded piazza. The shape of the building allowed for a lovely front garden with the word KENSINGTON spelled out in blooming flowers. The Hotel could accommodate 300-400 guests, and welcomed the first of these visitors in June 1882.
Like many of the other grand accommodations in Saratoga Springs at the time, the Kensington was seasonal, closing in the late fall and winter, with reservations for the spring and summer being made at a companion hotel in New York City. By 1885 Rodgers found enough success to add 103 rooms to the north side of the structure, along with another large dining room, barroom, billiard room, barber shop, smoking and reading room and children’s play room.
This expansion placed the Kensington as the forth in size of the local establishments, behind the Grand Union, the United States and Congress Hall, all on Broadway. The babblings from the springs of the nation’s finest Spa, and sporting interests, ensured prosperity during the Gilded Age. Early in 1887 Rogers found it time to turn over his investment across from Congress Park, once again in exchange for other property, this time on Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn and $200,000, transferred his title in the Kensington to German émigré Paul C. Grening.
The elegant nature of the Kensington was further fostered by Grening, who added one of the most sophisticated music-boxes ever constructed to the main parlor; it was said to be the size of a piano. His new chefs and bakers found wide acclaim amongst the patrons. Grening took to the waters of Saratoga and the social mobility of his position. He became the treasurer of the Saratoga Association for the Improvement of the Breed of Horses, and the Kensington Hotel, like its Broadway competitors, sponsored a stakes race on the local oval for many seasons.
In 1889 Mr. Grening acquired another resort hotel, the Glen Mountain House, in Watkins Glen, and for a few years, he was able to keep all the balls in the air. The wolves that gather at the door indicating financial vulnerability growled at Greening following the 1892 Saratoga season. A meeting of his creditors took place in New York with the treasurer of the Saratoga Racing Association listing his assets in Saratoga, Watkins Glen and embarrassments engendered by a Brooklyn real estate development. In the fall of 1893 foreclosure proceedings were commenced on the Glen Mountain House, yet Grening, with some payments and many promises, managed to stump up and forestall them. The Elmira Telegram described him as; “rich in real estate, but poor in spot cash.”
The continuing financial woes went sideways in the spring of 1894, spinning out of control and foreclosure of the Kensington Hotel by three different banks took place and Grening, who had been raising his children in Saratoga, vacated for Brooklyn, where he went on to political office. All through the rest of the 1890s, the multiple financial institutions which took control through foreclosure, leased the Kensington annually to various operators. This same period saw the Saratoga Race Track’s reputation slip under the management of Gottfried “Dutch Fred” Walbaum, who offended many horsemen and punters. William C. Whitney and a syndicate of like-minded investors turned that around as the twentieth century began. In this same time period Lucy Skidmore Scribner, widowed in 1879 with no children, established her Young Woman’s Industrial Club in 1903, across from Congress Park, on the same block as the Kensington Hotel.
The July 20th, 1902 New York Sun published a ringing endorsement, “The Kensington has, in many ways, the finest location of any hotel in Saratoga. It is on the crown of Union Avenue, overlooking the valley of the Springs, within two blocks of the race course and on the direct road to Saratoga Lake.”
Most of the local press in the early years of the new century detailed the great orchestra’s performing at the Kensington and the fine meals offered and Japanese gardens, with a seemingly endless mention of being under new management. By 1905 the ownership of the Kensington Hotel building was held by the National Savings Bank of Albany, while the furniture was the property of Citizens’ National Bank of Saratoga, who agreed like a harp and a harrow and was not an ideal business arrangement.
Local management returned in 1907 with Joseph Kelly, the manager of The Worden House on Broadway, and his son, Worden Kelly taking charge. The summer season of 1908 was the final year of operation of the Kensington Hotel, and in 1909 demolition was begun. Advertisements were run in the local papers offering “second hand building materials of all descriptions for sale cheap,” at the former Kensington site.
The old pile came down a lot faster than it went up, as what had occurred was that a group of prominent residents, Douglass W. Mabee, D. P. McQueen, Capt. John K. Walbridge and Hiram C. Todd Sr., all on the que vive denizens of Union Avenue, became involved under the corporate name of the Neighborhood Realty Company. Fearing what could become of the Kensington property and the potential problems that could be posed in their posh neighborhood, they purchased the hotel from the bank and had it razed.
After the Kensington was demolished, the Neighborhood Realty Company leased the vacant lot to Mrs. Scribner for athletic fields for what had evolved into the Skidmore School of Arts, and by that time occupied nearly the entire block formed by Union Avenue, Circular Street, Spring Street and Regent Street. The January 29th, 1916 Saratogian mentioned that the Neighborhood Realty Company gifted the property to Skidmore, reporting that, “the names of the donors of which are not to be made public.”
The property on which the Kensington Hotel once stood was used by Skidmore College for a track, tennis courts, and an ice rink during the winter. In the early 1920s Skidmore’s Margarette E. Griffith Hall, at the corner of Circular Street and Union Avenue, was expanded to the east on a portion of the previous Kensington property. The former Griffith Hall is the present day 1 Union Avenue address of the Empire State College’s Administrative offices, and the next door down at 3 Union Avenue at Regent Street, occupies the site of the former Kensington Hotel.
Photos, from above: the Kensington Hotel on the north side of Union Avenue between Circular and Regent Streets courtesy Lucien R. Burleigh 1888 bird’s-eye-view map of Saratoga Springs; and the Kensington Hotel on Union Avenue at Regent Street in Saratoga Springs courtesy Detroit Publishing Company catalogue (1901-1906).