A history of Sunnydale
Published 6:42 pm Thursday, December 22, 2011
Sunnydale, the well-known log cabin building on S. Trade Street in Tryon, is a Rustic Revival style design that was popular in the mountainous regions of western North Carolina in the early 20th century. It is said to have been designed by local architect J. Foster Searles, who also designed the Lake Lanier Tea House. It was built by local contractor J. S. Kell, who also built the Tea House in the mid 1920s and the clubhouse at the Tryon Country Club in 1921, both examples of the Rustic Revival style.
Harold Shelnutt, who lived in the brick house behind the IGA, had Sunnydale built in 1930 as a dance and recreation center for his daughter and the neighborhood residents. At about that same time, another family built a theater/recreation building for their daughter, who was an aspiring actress; that building has since burned down. Shelnutt named the building for his daughter’s friend Dale, who was known for his sunny disposition. He also started construction of a swimming pool where the IGA is but never completed it.
Shelnutt later operated a restaurant in the building known as Sunnydale Refectory. Almost from the very beginning, Sunnydale was a community gathering place as it hosted dinners, events like wedding receptions, proms, Rotary Club meetings, New Year’s Eve celebrations, and theater in-the-round performances. An advertisement in the Tryon Daily Bulletin indicates that Tryon’s movie theatre showed films at Sunnydale in 1937 while the theatre was being rebuilt after a fire.
Shelnutt served as Treasurer of Jackson & Jackson Cloth of Gold, a local textile manufacturer. His family was known for being up-to-date on popular culture and entertainment, regularly traveling to Spartanburg to see the latest movies. In a dispute with his employers, Shelnutt lost Sunnydale to the owners of Jackson & Jackson in 1938. As a result of the court settlement, the property was sold to local businessman Ernest Kerhulas.
At the time, Mr. Kerhulas operated the Trade Street Cafe, a popular eating establishment and meeting place. In addition to operating Sunnydale, he purchased the Lake Lanier Tea House in the 1930s. Before the crash of ‘29, prospective buyers brought to Lake Lanier to look at property had been treated to sandwiches and tea at the Tea House. Kerhulas operated the restaurant at Sunnydale during the winter months, and in the summer months moved his operation to the Tea House.
Advertisements for Sunnydale proclaim “since 1938 a favorite Carolina pleasure retreat specializing in fine foods” and “catering to parties of all kinds. For reservations call 170.” “Dine & Dance — where you find good food.”
During WWII soldiers came by train from Camp Croft in Spartanburg and other nearby bases to dances held at Sunnydale. Referred to as Tryon’s Night Club, it was the place to be on New Year’s Eve. Many people have fond memories of junior-senior proms, wedding receptions, parties and dances at Sunnydale. By 1948, the Tryon Little Theater presented plays in the round there.
Ernest Kerhulas and his son Theo continued to operate both restaurants until 1971, when Ernest divided his properties, giving the Tea House to Theo and passing Sunnydale to his three daughters. His wife died in 1958, and Ernest died in 1979. Theo, along with his sons, continued to run the Tea House until his death in 2005.
The Kerhulas daughters discontinued operations as a restaurant, but continued to rent the building for events such as hunt balls, junior-senior proms, Calcuttas, golf and steeplechase dinners. They then leased the building to George and Maggie Howze and John and Debbie Hoffman from 1976 to 1979, who operated it as the Hearthstone until George opened George’s Restaurant. A few months later Richie Grenemeyer reopened the restaurant as the Hearthstone and ran it from 1979 to 1986.
In 1986 the Kerhulas daughters sold the building to Norman and Marian Brannon, who opened it as the Vineyard Restaurant. The Brannons sold the building in 1991, and a series of subsequent owners and eating establishments – El Jalisco, El Chile Rojo, and Plenty of Fish – occupied Sunnydale until 2009, when the building was vacated.
Bob Lane of Lane-Tryon LLC purchased Sunnydale in July 2010 and began a complete rehabilitation of the building, now complete.
– Compiled by Bob Lane