WEST MILFORD. Richard Zampella is planning a restaurant and guest house at the historic landmark. –––RICH ADAMONIS WEST MILFORD / | 25 MAR 2023 | 01:47
The next chapter in the 120-year history of Idylease, West Milford’s first historic landmark building and estate, is taking shape.
Owner Richard Zampella is aiming for New Year’s Day 2025, which would be 122 years after Idylease opened its doors.
“Idylease will reopen a guest house and retreat for visiting guests,” he said. “We’ll have a full-service restaurant with a classic dining room and sun porch to accommodate over 60 guests and bar service.
“Idylease will be a cultural and social center, venue for the arts and theater, special events, weddings, and holiday and country get-aways - not a bed-and-breakfast, as I don’t like to apply the term to our unique environment.”
Zampella said he’s making progress toward those goals and is “in a position to be ready for the public despite the many challenges and heavy workload that comes with restoring a place that is more than a century old and on several occasions was dormant.”
He continues his effort to place Idylease on the National Register of Historic Places.
To win that designation, a property must meet criteria related to its age, significance and integrity.
New Jersey’s Historic Preservation Office has offered its support to Zampella, who is weighing a final submission based on his holistic plan for Idylease.
“The historic designation would help preserve and protect Idylease for future generations,” he noted.
A public open house at Idylease is planned in September.
Zampella, 57, is the son of Dr. Arthur Zampella, the estate’s third owner, who purchased the property in 1954 and operated his medical practice there until he died in 1992.
Richard, who was born in West Milford, bought the estate in 2016 from his family trust. He has focused on preserving Idylease and sustaining its value for future generations.
“Like my father and the owners before him, I’m only a temporary steward of Idylease,” he said.
“As a preservationist, I am a proponent that the past can educate. Architecture, as an example, is a direct and substantial representation of history and places that can teach us about our collective past. By preserving historic structures - whether related to someone famous or recognizably dramatic - we share the very spaces and environments in which the generations before us lived. Strangers can witness the aesthetic and cultural history of an area.
“Old buildings maintain a sense of permanency and heritage. You can’t renovate or save a historic site once gone. And we can never be certain what will be valued in the future.”
To that end, Zampella embraces adaptive reuse, or finding a new purpose for the structure and land to be preserved.
“There are inherent risks to an old structure as it can’t be replaced,” he said. “Adaptive reuse ensures that it can be sustainable, financially and more, to both protect the past and ensure a valued future.”
He embraces the journey with his long-time life partner, Shannon.
Film on Idylease
Zampella grew up at Idylease and graduated from West Milford High School in 1984. At Rutgers University, he earned a degree from the Mason Gross School of Arts and produced an award-winning film on Idylease.
After four years of active-duty military service in the Intelligence Corps and during 12 years in the Army Reserves, he lived in New York City as he pursued a multifaceted career as a documentary film maker and cameo actor (credits include “The Guiding Light” and “The Thomas Crowne Affair”) and as a professional in the food and beverage and hotel industries.
His company, Transmultimedia Entertainment, has produced and aired film documentaries on PBS and elsewhere.
He worked at several well-known restaurants and hotels, including the Essex House and the Plaza Hotel’s Oak Room. For 15 years, he worked at Rockefeller Plaza’s Rainbow Room for renowned restaurateur Joe Baum.
Baum urged Zampella to create a business plan for Idylease.
Zampella also engaged famed architect Hugh Hardy, who provided valuable insights now being applied in the restoration.
“Hugh wondered how we could express an urbane concept and idea into a rural setting. He left me in awe and along with Joe (Baum) and others influenced my life and work at Idylease.”
Combination of old and new
Located on the western end of Union Valley Road just a quarter-mile from Route 23 in Newfoundland, Idylease boasts an iconic four-story 50-room Dutch revival main house with neo-classical elements.
Its spacious porch with 40-feet-wide steps and distinctive columns, which Zampella has restored personally, is 100 feet long with two 50-foot sections on the north and south sides of the house.
“One of my favorite pastimes, both today and as a youngster, is sitting on the porch with a cold drink and taking in the surrounding beauty,” he said.
Atop a 30-foot pole mounted on the front lawn flies an American flag - in part recognizing the military service of the Zampellas father and son.
The building’s interior is a throwback in time.
The entrance’s large foyer, with ornate dark oak trim, paneling and floors, gives way to a sizeable dining room, sewing and sitting rooms, and private alcoves as well as a double-wide wooden stairway to the floors above. Original paintings and photos adorn the hallways and rooms.
The 100-acre property has five other last-century buildings, a heliport used by West Milford and local area emergency services, and well-manicured lawns, gardens and stately trees that include lines of Evergreens planted by young Rick at his father’s behest.
The house’s 24 guest rooms serve 17 long-term tenants who by design are largely creative types, including artists who help make Idylease a reinfusing place, Zampella said.
“Idylease offers a rural and historic living opportunity, so our tenants need to be the right fit for our house and our community, people who have a reverence for Idylease and its history.”
Edward Karas, 62, occupies a newly renovated room on the second floor.
“Richard and Shannon are kind and welcoming very intelligent people who care about Idylease and everyone here as well as this town - its history and its future,” he said.
“Richard has done a beautiful job in renovating and preserving the house, including the floors and woodwork, furniture and artwork, plumbing and electric - things are original as original could be,” he added. “When you care about something and put your heart and life into it like Richard does, that’s what you get: something very special.”
Inspired by his father
During its first 50 years, Idylease served as a resort for those who sought a country getaway and a hostel for individuals seeking restorative health and medical services, including those suffering from autism, tuberculosis and other conditions.
“My father saw the unique setting and opportunity in Idylease,” Zampella said. “Very important to dad was creating a distinctive environment for his family and medical practice, and building on the foundational work of his physician predecessors at Idylease.”
He proudly describes his father as a Jersey City kid who became a country doctor, a dedicated public servant, a lover of the arts and culture, and an innovator who augmented his on-site medical practice with a nursing home for the infirmed elderly that operated until 1972. At any given time, there were more than 70 staff, patients and guests at Idylease.
“My father believed that art and culture need to be essential in our daily lives and can teach us about ourselves. He thought that the arts can be transformative, take us out of our normal lives and change our thinking. He felt sometimes medicine was more art than science. That it wasn’t always about what you prescribe but how you prescribed it.”
Idylease was built by New York City physician Edgar Day in 1902 as a tribute to his daughter, who died in Newfoundland at the age of 16. After Day’s death in 1906, his mission continued with Dr. Drake, who took ownership of Idylease until his death in 1952.
“When railroad service ended in 1930s, effectively, too, did the area’s robust tourism business,” Zampella said. “Most other hotels and inns closed, and Idylease was unoccupied and dormant for many years. Further proof that change is a constant, and you must adapt to thrive, grow and succeed.”
A quintessential do-it-yourselfer when it comes to the restoration, he looks to the estate’s future with confidence and optimism. Yet the past often drives his work, passion and commitment to Idylease.
“Every day I think about my dad, Doctors Day and Drake, and those who have passed through Idylease,” he said. “They would be proud. When my hands run down the stairway banister, I smile knowing that their hands, along with Thomas Edison and other luminaries, have also touched them. We have a great past and look forward to a great future here.”