The Sarafian Family at the Idlewild Hotel (Photo Courtesy of Project Save)

Remembering a Special Hotel that Made Armenian-American Travelers Feel at Home in Plymouth, Mass.

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By Stephen Kurkjian

MANOMET BLUFFS, Mass. — In late 1940, Michael Saraf and Elmas Saraf, an Armenian couple from Wellesley who dabbled in real estate, purchased a lot of land on Manomet Bluffs in Plymouth and turned it into the Idlewild Hotel. For decades, the hotel remained a vacation draw for Armenian families, many of whom were survivors of the Genocide of 1915, all of them working hard to make it in America.

Even though the dozen or more rooms in the wood-framed, three-story buildings may have been small, no one minded the close quarters — the hotel offered three full meals a day rich with Armenian specialties, a Saturday dance with Armenian music playing loudly into the night, an extraordinary view that had attracted people as far back as the Pilgrims sailing towards Plymouth Rock, and as beautiful beach as any in nearby Cape Cod.

And it didn’t matter if the beach was accessible only by a long flight of stairs, more than 100 in number, the structure was safely maintained and the several rest stops along the way allowed travelers to catch their breath or even look for that night’s meal – vines rich with grapes leaves perfect for making Armenian favorite dishes of yalanche and sarma miraculously lined both sides of the stairs.

And it was along that long flight of steps as much as on our blankets on the beach below, that we would mingle with the numerous odar families from the neighborhood and share stories about how cold the water was, which stretch of the beach was best to fish and where to go digging for the mussels that would make for that night’s midia dolma.

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The Idlewild was one of several that attracted Armenian families throughout New England and as far as District of Columbia to Boston’s South Shore for summer vacations in during the mid-20th century. If you want to appreciate the remarkable story of the assimilation of the Armenian people into American life, it would be interesting to understand why those early generations sought the welcome of such hotels. And then realize that at some point the next generation no longer needed to seek out such vacation sites.

The Idlewild closed as a hotel catering to Armenian families in the 1970s and now operates as a functions center. But there are still families like mine, the Asadoorians and the Kalajians who live here full-time or during the summer. Over the years, I have found countless others who when they learn where I now live remember summering at the Idlewild and ask me if the stairs are still there.

Well, climate change has brought on many punishing storms that have taken its toll on our flight of stairs as well as the several others that line the sandy bluffs along a three-mile stretch of Manomet Beach. But I am pleased report that through the leadership of brothers Mal and Richard Asadoorian, the Idlewild Beach Association has raised sufficient funds both to rebuild the steps and secure our beach with a stone seawall which should stave off further erosion of the sandy bluffs for at least a few more years. I am also proud to report that in spirit of neighborliness, the carpentry that went into the stairs was done by Rob and Glenn MacGregor, whose family now owns the Idlewild.

There may be a few more steps to get to the beach — 162 by my count — and the water may be as cold as ever. But the vista is as stunning and, you would see if you returned for a visit, the memories are as fulfilling and important as ever.

Mail comments or requests for more information to Idlewild Beach Association, PO Box 322, Manomet, Ma. 02345.

(Stephen Kurkjian, whose family has summered in Manomet Beach since 1948 and is now a full-time resident, is an acclaimed reporter and editor for The Boston Globe. He will be honored in September at a gala celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Armenian Heritage Park.)

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