Friendship Lodge to close in November
Friendship Lodge in Ridgecrest is a bed and breakfast and a museum of 1950s memorabilia. Bob and Sara LaBrant have owned and operated it for 27 years and will close it for the final time in November 2015.
Even before you open the side entrance door to Friendship Lodge, you know it is different. A hand-lettered sign at the driveway tells you that you have arrived. When you read the humorous sign on the door, you know you are lucky to have Bob or Sara personally greet and welcome you to the lodge.
"This is our last year to open Friendship Lodge," Bob said. "We have been innkeepers for 49 years, of which 27 have been here in Ridgecrest. It is bittersweet, because we love what we do and love the people. But at our age, it is time to go."
The LaBrants are in their 70s and are looking forward to another phase of life living at Friendship Lodge without being innkeepers.
"We are really going to miss the people, but not the work," Sarah said.
Bob and Sarah were no strangers to innkeeping, having helped run Balsam Mountain Inn in Balsam for 20 years. That inn dates back to 1908 and has 52 guest rooms. The corridors were built extra wide to accommodate streamer trunks of the extended-stay summer guests.
"It was just too much for us to take care of, and we were tired," Sara said. "We wanted a place of our own."
"I did the cooking at Balsam Mountain Inn, came up early to open it for the season, and did the repairs," Bob said.
The LaBrants found their 1950s two-story house in Ridgecrest and turned it into a bed and breakfast, naming it Friendship Lodge. The house was perfect for their extensive collection of 1950s memorabilia, which became the focal point of the décor.
"We have never advertised, because we didn't have to," Bob said. "We have provided lodging for $65 a night for a long time, because we serve the ordinary, everyday people on vacation. The room fee covered my special breakfast of biscuits, sausage and gravy, cantaloupe, orange juice, jam, home fries and grits. Nobody ever left my table hungry."
The combination living/dining room ceiling is covered with 1950s 45 rpm vinyl records. Bob's musical instruments collection of guitars, banjo, fiddles, dulcimers, piano, and Sara's childhood vintage mother-of-pearl accordion, as well as an antique clarinet, are the focal point of the living room.
The dining room is graced by two primitive wide-board tables from a sale at Ridgecrest Conference Center years ago. They are accompanied by collectible bentwood dining chairs.
Bob has a musical ear. If he hears a tune, he can duplicate it.
"I play by ear," he said. "Show me a little of what makes an instrument work, and I can play it. We had a guest from Dollywood, and he played my old fiddle beautifully. By the night's end, I could play it also."
In the museum room, there are albums from the '40s, '50s and '60s. There are record players, cassette players, posters, pictures, typewriters and too many other items to enumerate. An oversize Chippendale antique chair reigns over the room from a corner. It belonged to Bob's grandfather, and Bob painted it blue. Whatever caught Bob or Sara's eye in the 1950s is at Friendship Lodge to be shared with guest.
The stairway leading to the seven bedrooms on the top floor are lined with early kitchenware. Country décor is the theme of each room. There are over 200 Life, Look and Saturday Evening Post magazines for guests to peruse.
The LaBrants open Friendship Lodge to 275-300 guest each year, and many are return visitors. The lodge is open from the first week of May until November.
The LaBrants spend winters in Florida where they used to work at one of the dog tracks. Sarah worked in the gift shop, and Bob cooked.
"Neither of us ever placed a bet," Bob said.
"We aren't going anywhere after November, but we won't be innkeepers any more, and it makes us sad," Sara said. "What we have we love to share with our friends, guests and community."
For more about Friendship Lodge, contact Bob and Sara at 669-9294 or visit by appointment. The inn is located at 693 Old Highway 70 East in Ridgecrest.
See a photo gallery of Friendship Lodge at blackmountainnews.com.