Red Apple Rest

by James V April. 20, 2021 105 views

I must have driven up Route 17 North countless times. I never saw this building, and frankly, it's not that hard to miss. It sits in an open parking lot, cones at one of the lot's entrances. The sea of paving extends around the structure eventually reaching hundreds of feet to the South to an adjacent auto body shop.

Recently, I took a lazy drive up 17 and drove right by the building. Unlike previous drives, my quick sideways glance left me with a visual impression before the colorful rust disappeared behind a tree-line in my rearview mirror. Something in that glance looked interesting and I decided after a few minutes of more driving, to make a U-Turn and return for a closer look. I approached from the auto body shop entrance and felt like a fish swimming up to a decade-old moldy and discolored aquarium ornament.

The building displays vivid colors of various states of decomposition. Close inspection through a wire and barbed wire fence reveals materials that have begun to delaminate/decompose and rust through their various half-lives of usability. Yet the building remains standing. And the question I asked myself: "In such a place as Tuxedo, New York, why would this building, an eyesore (that is ironically, somewhat attractive), remain in this state of festering disrepair without the local authorities demanding its demolition? What is special enough about this place for it to remain standing in all its rotted colored glory?

From the 1920, the Catskill Mountains became a popular vacation destination and getaway location featuring resorts with live entertainment. The roads leading to the commonly referred to "Catskills" became populated with unique structures and support services/businesses. In the 1930s it could take more than 4 hours to make the trip from Manhattan to the resorts. The towns along Route 17, the main road leading to the Catskills, became unique unto themselves. As the Catskills lost their popularity for live entertainment and instead, became a ski destination, the traffic along Route 17 diminished and the towns along this major thoroughfare quieted. Many famous comedians from decades ago played in the Catskills until the late 1960s.

After the mid-1950s, Route 17 was supplanted by the New York Thruway as the major North/South highway leading to the Catskills. But a drive along Route 17 North reveals some faint signs that remind us of this bygone era. One of the towns on this old highway, Tuxedo, New York, (itself with a long history worth a deep dive as it was part of a research project that included Albert Einstein... but I digress) still retains many of the buildings and original architecture from the early part of Route 17's heyday.

One of these structures is the former Red Apple Rest Stop Restaurant. Constructed in 1931, it was a very popular stopping place between New York City and the Catskill mountain resorts. The Red Apple Restaurant is (note the lack of past tense) about 40 miles distance from Manhattan. It is rumored that comedians discussed their acts with each other as they shared meals in the Red Apple while passing each other in their travels. In 1965 it is rumored the restaurant served a million customers. The restaurant was sold by its founder, Rueben Freed, in 1984. The building operated as a restaurant under new management until 2006. The restaurant still stands...just barely. The property or structure has a "for sale" sign on it and frankly, as the popularity of Route 17 has diminished with the introduction of the faster moving Thruway, the allure of a business drawing from road traffic in this location is limited. Aside from the local population between the two Thruway exits, Route 17 primarily accommodates the apple pickers in the fall and shoppers heading to Woodbury Commons shopping outlets or car dealerships to the North.

After taking photos and researching the building, I found that the motel across the street was a popular rest stop for musicians and performers playing New York City. It was called the Red Apple Motel (big surprise) and perhaps hides more unique/crazy stories about its guests when compared to the restaurant. I read that George Carlin stayed there before his opening night on Saturday Night Live and various directors filmed movies at the facilities including the Woody Allen movie, "Deconstructing Harry," as well as the movies "Tenderness" and "Oliver's Story." (Wikipedia is your friend, if you can trust it).

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