Johnny Seesaw's historic district will be redeveloped into a mixed use property


PERU>>Since 1938 the roaring fire in the center of Johnny Seesaw's dance floor was home to skiers' wet boots and gloves.

Families stayed at the popular ski lodge next to Bromley Mountain until it closed in 2014.

On Sept. 22, Project Manager Ryan Prins of JS LLC proposed redevelopment of the vacant property at an Act 250 hearing with the District 8 Environmental Commission in Peru. Town planning, zoning commissions and select board members were present as well as Elizabeth Peebles, historic resources specialist at Vermont Division for Historic Preservation.

Prins wants to turn the 6.8 acre parcel into a mixed use, residential and commercial space. He acquired it at a public auction in 2015 for about $200,000.

The new site, with the same name, will include a three-unit residential building, artisan shops, a craft distillery and a 60 seat restaurant.

The existing inn will be demolished. A parking lot will takes its place. The restaurant will be built next to it on the former site of a pool.

The cottages directly above and behind the pool will allow for lodging on the second story and operate as a retail space on the lower half. They'll be elevated, excavated and a walk-out foundation will be installed, Prins said.

A shed on the southeast side will be turned into a coffee shop.

The residential units will be built in the furthest building that used to be home to manufacturing and shipping ski bindings. It is now considered a barn used for storing equipment and items from the vacant inn.

While the inn will be demolished, Prins plans to salvage as much as he can, including the notable fireplace. Non-damaged wood and other items will be used to detail the restaurant and inns. The Act 250 committee suggested photographing the old inn to use as decor in the new buildings.

Prins predicts the restaurant will require 10 to 15 employees. If his plans work out accordingly, the restaurant will be open at the end of 2017 and the rest to come winter 2018.

Prins moved to Arlington, Vt., four years ago. He grew up learning how to ski on Stowe Mountain and saw Seesaw's as an opportunity for redevelopment.

"I have just been learning through locals what it was all about and the history," Prins said. "I obviously saw the value in the property. From everyone we've gotten positive feedback. It's just something this area needs and something southern Vermont needs."

Alan Parish and Paula Chadis own land near the Seesaw's property and see the project as an appropriate use of the land.

"We've had extensive discussions," Parish said. "We support this."

"It's the best thing that could happen [for the property and town]," Chadis said.

Seesaw's is considered a national historic site, a designation that will be removed as Prins breaks ground.

"With the loss of the inn, we're not going to look at the designs of the remaining cabins and the alterations to that," Peebles said. "We really appreciate that the applicant is interested in the history of the property and there will be deconstructing and using elements in the new structure.

Unfortunately it will be an adverse affect to the current site. The site without the historic inn will no longer be a historic district on the national register. If they were to retain the historic inn building, the changes they would need to make it up to code would also significantly damage the historic structure."

After consulting with the project review team, Peebles declared the site previously disturbed.

Ivan Sesow, a Russian immigrant, built Seesaw's in 1920. The 'legend' on the inn's website explains that Sesow called the property "The Wonderview Log Pavilion." He held Saturday night dances with homemade moonshine and catered to the folks of the Prohibition era. In the early 1930s, Sesow lost the dance hall in a poker game. The buildings were vacant for eight years.

In 1938 Bill and Mary Parish bought the property, fixed it up and added electricity and plumbing. Johnny Seesaw's then became the first ski lodge in the U.S. Since then, thousands of skiers have visited the site, including a former president of the U.S., Charles Lindbergh and other historical celebrities.

Over time, the establishment became an upscale lodge based on referrals.

Gary Okun bought the lodge in 1980. It was closed more than 30 years later and put up for auction in 2015.

Contact Makayla-Courtney McGeeney at 802-490-6471.


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