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Preservationists worry as West End Inn goes up for sale

Desmond Quinn and his family consider themselves "caretakers" of a Village of Hamburg landmark that dates to the Civil War era. Now they are prepared to pass the torch, putting the West End Inn up for sale.

Quinn, president of the corporation, describes closing the business at 340 Union St. temporarily and then permanently Aug. 15 as "a family decision."

He described the business as "very viable" and said he already has received several inquiries from interested parties. The asking price is $795,000.

"It's had a long, wonderful history, and we hope someone picks up and moves on with it," said Quinn, 43, who acknowledged he isn't sure what he will do now.

A picture in the bar shows Rin Tin Tin, the canine star of movies and television, "registering" at the front desk sometime during the 1950s.

Milton Berle and Kate Smith stayed there as vaudeville performers, and legend has it that architect Frank Lloyd Wright slept there during a visit to inspect the construction work on Darwin Martin's Graycliff residence in Derby, which he designed.

The hotel was built in 1865 as a two-story rail hotel across Union Street from its present location and named the J. Drummer Hotel, after founder Joseph Drummer.

In 1932 it was moved to its current site and joined to another hotel, doubling its size.

Allen Knapp bought what was then the West End Hotel in the early 1940s, and after his death in 1959 his widow, Pearl, took over the operation and continued to run it until her death in 1996.

The Quinn family -- Desmond, his father, brother and sister -- acquired the hotel and reopened it as the West End Inn after an 18-month renovation.

The work included restoration of the second floor, and it operated as a bed and breakfast for a time.

Two banquet rooms could handle up to 150 people, and it served as a popular gathering place and meeting location.

A couple who had been married in the hotel came back to celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary a few years ago, Quinn said.

"The place has a soul," and Pearl Knapp's presence can still be felt, he said.

Although imagining a different use for the property would be difficult, the expected change in ownership has raised concern, according to Village Trustee Laura Hackathorn, liaison with the Historic Preservation Commission.

"It's a beautiful, historic building that needs to be preserved," she said.

The commission could designate the building a landmark, which would prohibit exterior alterations or demolition without first receiving a certificate of appropriateness from the commission.

Hackathorn said she plans to talk to Quinn and would like to work with him on preserving the building.

The inn had built up a loyal following, and Quinn said he already misses many of them.

"I very much hope the West End will live on through someone else," he said.

e-mail: ternst@buffnews.com

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