Thursday, November 15, 2018

When Stars Twinkled Nightly Atop Cherry's Hill

Once upon a time there was a dream world that overlooked cherry blossoms at the top of what passed for a hill in South Jersey.

At night, this magical place came alive with melodious tunes, fine food and the iridescent twinkle of thousands of tiny lights. It all happened at a time when people actually dated; when there was something called romance; when song lyrics boasted of "starry eyed" moments and dining and dancing were going steady. The dining was leisurely, the dancing was graceful and the music was heavenly.
The Starlight Room with its brightly lit ceiling and distinctive zebra rug.

This was the Starlight Room at the Cherry Hill Inn. Nearby, one could find Cinelli's, Henry's, Sans Souci and the Rickshaw Inn. But the Cherry Hill Inn and its Starlight Room stood out atop all the rest. In fact, the Inn was so synonymous with the town that many people credited it with giving the town its name.

The Cherry Hill Inn was built and opened in 1954 by businessman Eugene Mori who also owned Garden State Park race course. The hotel, restaurant and nightclub received its name because it was located on the site of Abraham Brown's Cherry Hill Farm, dating back to a time when Delaware Township (the predecessor to Cherry Hill) was largely rural. When the Inn opened, there wasn't very much in the way of buildings or businesses between the Inn and Garden State Park. And when you looked out from the front of the Inn, there was no Cherry Hill Mall. Instead, you simply saw empty land and Haddonfield Road leading from Route 130 (or thereabouts) to Haddonfield.

Inside, the Cherry Hill Inn had the flavor of a British country lodge. It was all very proper and incorporated an equestrian theme that also featured a collection of jockey statuettes that welcomed you in colorful attire. If you were running your horses at Garden State Park or participating in the track's daily activities during the racing season, this was the place to stay. And even if you weren't lodging there, this was still the place to see and be seen. Of course, you didn't enter or leave the Cherry Hill Inn unless you were properly attired. And you didn't go to the spa, pool or workout room without a coverup of some sort.

Into the 1960s and 70s, the Cherry Hill Inn continued to thrive, especially after a massive expansion in 1962 that added two wings to the property including spacious banquet and meetings facilities and the Starlight Room. Even a three-alarm fire in 1978 failed to dim the Inn's storied luster. On New Year's Eve, for example, it was impossible to get a reservation at the Inn and everyone wanted to be in the Starlight Room which featured dinner, champagne and a New York style floor show.

In 1985, the Inn undertook a $4 million restoration program. But the booming '80s brought new competition not just in Cherry Hill and other nearby suburbs but also from Atlantic City where big, flashy casino hotels popped up like sandcastles. As the instant gratification of legalized gambling took hold in New Jersey, the allure of betting on thoroughbreds waned. Why wait around for a horse race when you could try your luck at a slop machine?

The Cherry Hill Inn evoked the slow pace of a lazy afternoon, the enjoyment of a succulent Sunday buffet, the welcoming of spring blossoms and the sheer fun of dressing up. Plus, it had the room with the twinkling lights -- the closest thing you would ever find to the Rainbow Room, the legendary haunt of the elite high atop Rockefeller Center.

But as the Beatles once declared in 1969 "All Things Must Pass". The Inn closed in 1992 and was eventually left to deteriorate to the point where it became an unsafe haven for homeless people. Finally, it was demolished to make way for a multiples cinema and a TGIFriday's.

But if you gaze up past the nightly congestion of current day Route 38, you may still see some of those twinkling lights or detect the faint scent of Chanel No5 or English Leather. 


RoccoC said...
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RoccoC said...

I was just reminiscing with a visiting cousin and her husband about their wedding I had attended that was held at the Cherry Hill Inn in “The Starlight Room.” I was so happy to find your photo of the room. I was only 12 or 13 at the time but the reception was so memorable for me, I can still see the ceiling lights in my mind’s eye. It was a big affair and my cousin married a Greek gentlemen so they had both a “Regular” wedding band AND a Greek band that night.
It is a shame there are no places like this any longer, and few people who would appreciate a night out in a place like this.
I do have to ask though, “SLOP MACHINE.” Legitimate typo or a Freudian slip?