Motel on the Mountain

View of the Motel on the Mountain's open-air dining area.

View of the motel's restaurant and Tatami Lounge bar area.

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Illustrated postcard showing the raised walkways between motel buildings.

Illustrated postcard that shows the raised walkways between motel buildings.

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Newspaper clipping with headline

Newspaper clipping from the Philadelphia Inquirer on October 6, 1977.

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Newspaper photograph of three attendees of the Motel on the Mountain's

Image from the Philadelphia Inquirer on October 6, 1977, showing three attendees of the Motel on the Mountain's "Gayla" event.

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Known Name(s)

Motel on the Mountain


N. Y. Thruwy Suffren Rockland, NY (Primary) (1963, 1964, 1966)
(296 NY-17 Hillburn, NY 10931) (Secondary)

Establishment Type(s)


Physical Status



It is difficult to determine the exact architectural features that existed during the period this establishment was listed in the Green Book. Many of the images come from the 1950s, upon initial construction, and from the 1970’s, when the building had been renovated many times over. This site consists of commercial buildings in a rural residential area, set back from a major road and situated on top of a hill. The framing was built using glued laminated timber beams, which run alongside the foundation and through the interior rooms according to Junzo Yoshimuro’s Japanese architectural style. The motel actually consists of sixteen distinct buildings, connected by raised covered walkways. Each lodging building contained around three rooms and was topped with a gable roof, which came to a more obtuse angle than traditional Western gables, reflecting its Japanese design style. The restaurant and bar building was larger than the lodging buildings, with two stories and retractable, semi-transparent screens instead of solid walls in the dining area. This building had two gabled dormers on the roof and overlooked a manmade pond.

Detailed History

Originally built in 1955, the Motel on the Mountain was a longstanding tourism icon of Rockland County. Designed by Junzo Yoshimuro, a Japanese architect who achieved fame in the United States for designing the Japanese house in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art, the Motel on the Mountain was a central focus of the small neighboring community of Hillburn, NY. This site, only 45 minutes to mid-Manhattan by car, was the first major commercial design in the United States by a Japanese architect based in Japan. After the initial construction of the Motel, visitation was so high that Yoshimuro was invited back within a year to build additions to lodging and the on-site restaurant. The Japanese style and engineering techniques provided each room with a view of the wooded valley below and won the motel several architectural awards. At its peak, the Motel on the Mountain consisted of sixteen separate buildings connected by walkways, with a motel pool for the summer season, a restaurant, and the Tatami Lounge bar. Its position, sitting above the NY Thruway and visible from the road because of its large sign, ensured a steady stream of travelers stopped at the site. It is unclear exactly when the Motel began to decline in popularity, but by the late 1960s and early 1970s, visitorship lagged and the property changed ownership rapidly.

One new owner proposed a controversial new strategy to revitalize the motel’s visitorship. Thomas Esposito, who managed the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village at the time of the Stonewall uprising, took over the motel in 1974. In 1977, Esposito rebranded the Motel on the Mountain as a “homosexual resort,” offering safe vacation refuge for the queer community of the area. This shift in clientele drew significant media attention, with one reporter claiming this conversion would be a “crucial breakthrough in the social liberation of homosexuals and, most important, a tremendous commercial success.” This commercial success would not come to fruition, in part because of the response by the surrounding community. Residents of Hillburn pushed back with pickets and protests of this shift towards a queer clientele. One resident argued that it would be irresponsible to allow “these people [to] get a foothold” in the Hillburn community, and residents of the region invited anti-gay activist Anita Bryant to come and “defeat” the hotel’s new audience. It should be noted that some Hillburn residents, such as Wilma Powell (speaking to The Nyack Journal-News) refused to participate in the town’s picket of the motel, stating “I can’t see where the homosexuals will interfere in my life in anyway and... I can’t see where gays coming into the town will harm it. What do we have here for them to harm?” This new strategy did not prove commercially successful— on February 1, 1978, the New York Times reported the Motel on the Mountain was officially closed. Today, the site goes by the name Mt. Fuji Japanese Steakhouse. A large number of “classic” Japanese elements were added to the site as part of its transition to being a Japanese steakhouse full time—some features, such as red torii gates, concrete statues of yokai, and major interior renovations to the dining area, are documented as later additions. It was reported in 1973 that the “Japanese slant” of the site had been stripped down by its owners, existing at that time only in the exterior architecture. As an example of this, the bar—known as the Tatami Lounge—featured no Japanese design elements by the 1970s. With Mt. Fuji “restoring” the Japanese character, it is difficult to determine which elements were added when.

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