|Bon Ton Tea Room, c. 1920s|
Miss Elsie Cleveland opened the Bon Ton Tea Room sometime in 1914. By November of that year, she found it necessary to enlarge her restaurant and moved into a new space on the second floor of 323 East Water Street over Terbell-Calkins’ Drug Store. The new tea room had sixteen tables and was decorated with Japanese novelties and furnishing she had recently purchased in New York City. The restaurant was open every weekday from 11:00am until 8:00pm and offered special noon lunches for shoppers downstairs.
The Bon Ton Tea Room became a popular location for parties, wedding receptions, graduation dinners, alumnae gatherings, weekly club meetings, annual banquets, and political gatherings. The open space on the third floor of the building, also operated by Miss Cleveland as an extension of the tea room, was used for dance lessons and Christmas parties for as many as 60 children and their families.
|Bon Ton Tea Room, c. 1920s|
On November 5, 1925, an advertisement stating that the space occupied by the Bon Ton Tea Room was available to rent must have caused some concern that the popular restaurant was closing for good. Four days later, another advertisement assured the public that the tea room was not going out of business. It was, in fact, moving to a new, larger location on the second and third floors of 325-327 East Water Street.
Bon Ton Tea Room advertisement,
Elmira Star-Gazette, November 9, 1925
Advertisement for Bon Ton Tea Room soda
fountain, Elmira Star-Gazette, May 28, 1926
Unfortunately, in March 1932, the Bon Ton Tea Room was forced to close after 18 years because of financial difficulties. Elsie Duncan (formerly Cleveland then Marinan) had owned and run the business for all those years. Miss Ruby L. Tallent had joined her as a business partner around 1924. Plans for the future were indefinite for both the women when they closed the tea room. In May 1932, Mr. Rudolph Hertz, Sr. purchased the business and reopened the Bon Ton, but it closed again less than a year later. In 1942, the Harry B. Bentley Post of the American Legion opened its new quarters in the space.
It was great learning so much about the Bon Ton Tea Room from the newspapers. I also gathered some information about the restaurant’s owner, Miss Elsie Cleveland. Various articles and announcements provided some brief glimpses into her personal life. Born in Elmira, Elsie attended the Lady Grey School in Binghamton then graduated from the Cook Academy in Montour Falls in 1911. She worked as a pianist in Elmira after graduating, and in the summer of 1914, she was in charge of the music at Rorick’s Glen dance pavilion.
In 1919, Elsie married James H. Marinan, an employee of the Elmira Water, Light and Railroad Company. She wore a handsome gray panne velvet gown, embroidered in blue and silver, with hat to match. They had two daughters, Kathryn and Mary Ann, who died in 1926 at just 11 months old. James died at his sister’s home on December 2, 1928 after a long illness. Elsie’s name does not appear in the article about his death or in the funeral announcement.
William Young Duncan and Elsie Cleveland Marinan,
Elmira Star-Gazette, August 15, 1930