In 1949, Merritt and Bernice Tice commissioned architect Charles H. Umbrecht to design a motor hotel for them, one that would be built at 94 West Genesee Street in Skaneateles, just a block or two down from the Krebs, on busy Route 20.
In choosing Umbrecht, they went top-shelf. After graduating from Syracuse University in 1910, Umbrecht had apprenticed with Henry Bacon in Washington, D.C. Bacon had been working on the Lincoln Memorial since 1897, and it is said that he put young Umbrecht to work on drawings of the exterior columns and the frame that would surround the Gettysburg Address inside the Memorial.
It was an epic start, but Umbrecht’s fame was to come from private residences. He designed approximately 50 homes in Syracuse and its eastern suburbs – DeWitt, Manlius and Fayetteville – as well as in Cazenovia, Skaneateles and Pompey. In May of 1949, House & Garden magazine ran a feature on an Umbrecht project, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Green in Fayetteville.
Umbrecht’s style was referred to as Colonial or Colonial Vernacular, with a generous dash of Cape Cod. His homes, always distinctive, looked like enchanted cottages. He loved natural materials: stone walls, wood shingles, wide plank floors, “door yard gardens.” But before he put pencil to paper, he studied the family who would live in the home, so he would know how their lives would flow through their new house. He also acted as the general contractor on his projects, and he did not just hire carpenters; he taught them. He insisted that his masons work without a level, doing everything “by eye.” He was a true craftsman and involved in every aspect of a project.
Ground was broken for the Tice Motor Court on June 27, 1950, and it opened in July of 1951. Merritt and Bernice Tice ran the motel for the next 11 years, selling it in 1962 to Clare and Fern Fuller. In the summer of 1964, the Fullers hosted the motel’s most famous guest: Robert F. Kennedy stayed there while campaigning for New York’s U.S. Senate seat.
Fern Fuller died in 1970, but Clare Fuller kept the motel open. In 1971, he hosted members of the Antique Car Club of America who fascinated the villagers with their vintage autos. In February of 1972, he provided respite for the Pee Wee Hockey team of Clinton, N.Y., whose legs were rubbery after two games; the team credited Fuller’s hospitality with their championship victory in the third game. That summer, Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist was taking a nostalgic trip along Route 20, and stayed at the Tice Motel with his daughter, Nancy. They dined at the Krebs, of course.
In 1973, Mr. Fuller decided to retire and the Tice Motel became something of a hot potato. Fuller sold the property to Dan and Linda Driscoll; they managed it for a short time before Fuller came out of retirement and bought it back in 1975. But he died in 1976. The property was next purchased by William Murray, who planned on turning it into the Skaneateles Guest House. In October of 1978, vandals helped with the name change by stealing the Tice Motel sign. In 1979, Hilda Coppola of Auburn, N.Y., purchased the property and renamed it Ashton House. The following year she announced plans to convert it into a retirement home, but the zoning board objected and the bank foreclosed on the property before she could see her plans through.
In May of 1980, New York State began surveying the property as a potential group home, and in 1982, they bought the property for $100,000 and spent another $100,000 to convert it into a community residence for up to eight developmentally disabled adults. The Skaneateles Garden Club pitched in and created gardens for the residents, and has helped to maintain them since.
The home is today run by the Central New York Developmental Disabilities Services Office (DDSO), an agency of the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, and walking by one can still see the outlines of a Charles Umbrecht gem.
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The postcard at the top was produced from Umbrecht’s original drawing.