Ooo La La…Memories of the Shangri-La
By Kathi Caldwell-Hopper
Photos courtesy of Robert Ames, webmaster of WeirsBeach.com
It was originally operated as the Winnecoette (hotel), located in the bustling Weirs Beach area. Each summer, guests arrived for a short or entire summer’s stay and enjoyed the delights of the beach, Lake Winnipesaukee…and the large and beautiful Winnecoette.
Imagine staying at the Winnecoette, where you could relax on the hotel’s spacious porch and enjoy breezes from the lake cooling you on a warm summer evening after a home cooked meal in the dining room.
The hotel was well known in Weirs Beach for many years; it opened in 1879, and overlooked the area from its vantage point high on a hill. In 1952, it was purchased by George and Mary Spanos and renamed the Shangri-La. Change came slowly and a visitor in the 1950’s might have assumed George and Mary were going to continue with the original hotel structure and layout. But things changed over time and the new resort was expanded…and modernized.
An early brochure from the era of ownership by Mr. and Mrs. Spanos tells us the motel and cottages were “Truly a Shangri-La; with an unparalleled view of lakes and mountains – set apart with a unique atmosphere all its own. Large hotel rooms with private bath; attractive cottages, and modern new Motel. Excellent Dining Room and Scenic Cocktail Lounge on premises. Sports including tennis and shuffleboards. Golf and Playhouse nearby. ½ mile north of Weirs Recreational Center.”
Indeed, the Shangri-La, which encompassed 220 acres, was unlike other vacation spots, and if you stayed there, you could enjoy just about every summertime activity you might wish for. Or you could simply sit by the pool and relax. The resort’s most luxurious attractions to guests were the two pools: one, a large outdoor swimming pool located on the lawn with a panoramic view of Lake Winnipesaukee and the mountains; the other, a large, L-shaped indoor pool, with large picture windows to the outside.
Brochures of the Shangri-La show the greatly enlarged hotel high on the hill. If you knew what the original Winnecoette House looked like, you could see that the new hotel retained some of the original design, but with more rooms and modernization transforming it into a full-fledged resort.
Guests also enjoyed the New Mermaid Lounge, Panorama Restaurant and Coffee Shop serving a variety of cocktails and “imaginative” cuisine. Numerous picture windows only added to the treat of eating in the restaurant, no matter the time of year.
The resort was a wonderful place for families, with two large heated pools, tennis, badminton, croquet, ping pong, archery, horse shoes, shuffleboard, outdoor barbecues, dancing, movies, bingo and even vaudeville! The Shangri-La also was the headquarters for photography classes taught by “a world-famous authority” although brochures do not identify who that photographer might have been.
Referring to old pamphlets, we see photographs of the hotel/motel rooms, and while they look simple by today’s standards and styles, at the time they were the height of luxury. These rooms actually had televisions at a time when that was not always the case when staying at a motel; the views were incredible from the picture windows in the rooms, and the food and variety of activities were unsurpassed.
Another brochure exuded the delights that awaited those who stayed at the Shangri-La: “A recreational Motel Resort, a celestial retreat of 200 beautiful acres for your uncrowded enjoyment, 2 king-sized swimming pools with water warm as the South Seas, indoor and outdoor. An American Shangri-La for leisure, play and rest.” Who could resist all that?
Added to this list of recreational fun, in the winter the Shangri-La offered skiing. A rope tow was added along with a lighted slope by the late 1960’s. Although this was not a full-fledged ski resort, it added fun for guests who wanted a wintertime get-away in the Lakes Region.
With an extensive resort established, the Spanos family eventually sold the property in the spring of 1970. The new owners renamed the business the Brickyard Mountain Inn. One of the things added was extensive skiing on the property. The owners acquired snowmaking pumps and lights, and a new 1,357 ft. long Borvig double chairlift was installed, which greatly added to the size and capacity of skiing at the resort. According to www.newenglandskihistory.com, new trails were opened and night skiing was added. Those who wanted to try out skiing could sign up for lessons at the resort’s ski school, and rent equipment there as well. The ski area lasted about a decade before closing permanently in the early 1980’s.
The inn and property were sold in 1981 and in 2001. With 220 acres in Weirs Beach, the property was divided into several parcels and one became the Village at Winnipesaukee condominiums and another, Cedar Lodge. In 2004, the Meredith Bay housing development began construction on land in the area.
If you have memories and/or photos of a stay at the Shangri-La, The Laker welcomes them for a future story on this important Weirs Beach landmark. Please email to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Thanks to Robert Ames, webmaster of weirsbeach.com, and The Lake Winnipesaukee Historical Museum for information for this article.)