The Mohawk Teepee was the brainchild of Myron and Lidia Bazar, both natives of Ukraine. Myron was born in Ternopil and Lidia in Boryslav, according to Ukrainian Weekly.
In an interview with the New York State Military Museum, Myron Bazar said he came to Amsterdam at age five, graduated from Amsterdam High School in 1941 and served as an engineer in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
After the war he worked at General Electric. He and his wife noticed that motels, with easy automobile access, were replacing hotels in Florida, NY. The Bazars built their home and the Mohawk View Motel in the abandoned Amsterdam limestone quarry in 1954.
The motel grew, going from an original 15 to 36 units. In 1961 the Bazars hired local architect William Cooper to design a restaurant for the site. The Bazars were becoming art collectors at that time and collaborated on the design with Cooper, a childhood friend of Myron’s.
Cooper proposed the idea of a tepee for the restaurant, which he translated into an A-frame. Lidia said she had wanted an A-frame all along.
The 400 seat restaurant, opened in 1962, was named the Mohawk Teepee and featured wooden carvings made by Mohawks and live trees inside.
Lidia hired waiters from Schenectady’s Hotel Van Curler which was going out of business as the Tepee opened. The first chef previously worked at a private club that served President Eisenhower.
The next year Cooper and the Bazars designed an expansion that made the rock wall of the quarry the back wall of the restaurant, a difficult engineering feat.
Weddings and other elegant functions took place at the Teepee. Governor Nelson Rockefeller visited six times. In March 1966 Rockefeller addressed a joint meeting of Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions and the Chamber of Commerce at the Teepee, pledging support for restoration work at the Erie Canal’s Schoharie Crossing site in Fort Hunter.
The Bazars displayed some of their art work at the restaurant and motel complex starting in 1971.
In 1989 fire destroyed a motel building where the Bazars had living quarters in front of the restaurant. The fire apparently started from disposal of fireplace ashes. The family escaped but art works were destroyed.
After the fire the Bazars moved to Saratoga Springs and pursued their art business. Their son Peter operated the restaurant and motel; the facility closed in 1993.
Amsterdam native Mike Hastings bought the property in 1999 and, helped by government loans, hired original architect Cooper to restore the restaurant. Renamed the Cliffside the elegantly refurbished facility opened in 2003 as a dance club and function space.
The city foreclosed on the property in 2006 and it was purchased by prominent businessman John Tesiero in 2008. Tesiero hopes to sell or rent the property.
Architect Cooper died last year. City officials continue to watch the structure. A small fire was reported there earlier this month.
The new Amsterdam Icons calendar pays tribute to eateries ranging from vanished Italian restaurants (Pepe’s, Isabel’s and Barney’s) to diners (Carmel’s, DiCaprio’s and Tullio’s), one of which is still operating.
The late Tullio DeMartinis’s diner, previously the Maxwell House and the Raywood, is now Emmy Lou’s. The classic structure, built in 1948, hugs the Chuctanunda Creek on the aptly named Chuctanunda Street in downtown Amsterdam.
The Amsterdam Icons calendar is available at three Amsterdam locations: Old Peddler’s Wagon, 175 Church St.; The Book Hound, 16 East Main St. and Amsterdam Free Library, 28 Church St. Order by mail information is online at Historic Amsterdam League.
A version of the this story first appeared in the Schenectady Gazette.