Perched on the hillside overlooking Seneca Lake, just outside the village of Watkins Glen, is a quaint, unassuming motel. Driving by you’ll see low-slung buildings, including a glass-fronted check-in area, flanked by hotel wings, and that view – it’s incredible. What you won’t see is the story behind the buildings and it’s an incredible story, indeed.
Watkins Glen’s racing heritage is no secret. But the stories that aren’t so widely known these days are the stories about the people who have been a part of the very fabric that is our storied racing history. Families like the Argetsingers, the Brubakers, and the Franzeses. These families are more than people, they are more than stories. They are history. We must continue to tell their stories, lest we forget…
One such story is that of the Franzese family, who first came to Watkins Glen in the late nineteenth century. In 1895, Nicholas Franzese left Italy to pursue the American Dream. He, his wife Nicolina, and their children settled on the land that today is the Glen Motor Inn.
Nicholas and Nicolina’s son Joseph, the second youngest of 12 children, and his wife, Helen had been married only two weeks when they rented their bedroom out to travelers for 50 cents a night in 1937. Two years later they built two small lodging cabins offering overnight lodging. By 1947, Joseph and Helen had expanded the lodging facilities to twelve rooms and added a gas station. Over the next few years the gas station transitioned to a coffee and souvenir shop, and eventually became a full service restaurant.
When the green flag fell over the U.S. Grand Prix on October 2, 1948, the race brought people from around the world to Watkins Glen. Joseph and Helen soon became internationally famous hosts to celebrities from the world of entertainment, politics, sports, and high society. Many of the auto racing drivers and their teams stayed at the Inn, and they continue to do so today.
A pictorial history of the Glen Motor Inn and its intimate relationship with racing can be enjoyed in the lobby, where autographed photos of the past champions, famous persons, and personal friends are on display.
Victor Franzese, current Innkeeper, was a spectator at the very first race in 1948 at the age of 8 and has been passionate about racing ever since. He even competed in vintage and historical events at Watkins Glen International. Victor, his wife Linda, daughter Nancy, and grandson Joseph continue to offer warm hospitality to vacation travelers and race fans alike. “We are committed to this land, our family, and this community,” shared Victor. “My grandfather chose this land, my father began this business, and my family and I want to continue the tradition.”
Driving past the Glen Motor Inn today, you might not realize the stories and the incredibly rich history behind these humble buildings. The motel rooms are clean and simple, but – that view! Each room has a lakefront balcony to take full advantage of those gorgeous Seneca Lake sunrises. Plus, there’s the pool that overlooks the lake, the proverbial cherry on top. Their rates are incredibly affordable, even during peak season, making this the ideal place for the budget-conscious traveler.
Even if you’re not staying at the Glen Motor Inn, you can still experience a bit of the Franzese story and their hallmark hospitality, by dining at The Montage Italian Grill. Passing through the lobby to your table in the dining room, you’ll see that this building is wallpapered with history. Once you’ve been seated, you’ll again be taken to that amazing view. Their menu (Italian-themed of course) is full of delicious dishes. Then there’s the downstairs bar, which is reminiscent of a mid-century-styled grotto, with black and white checkered flooring (only appropriate, right?), curved doorways, black vinyl booth-style seating, and a classic bar, it oozes cool, vintage charm. The restaurant and bar will open for the 2018 season on Mother’s Day Weekend.
Whether your visit is overnight or just to dine, you will find so much more than a room and a meal at The Glen Motor Inn and Montage Italian Grill. Indeed, you will find living history and 100% Watkins Glen heritage, brought to you by a dedicated, endeavoring family. Born of immigrants, succeeding with lots of hard work and a love of what they do. We should all be so lucky as to pass through their doors. Our hats off and many thanks to you, Franzese family. You are a treasure.