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Ocean City’s Historic Hotels

Ocean City’s Historic Hotels

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Ocean City’s Historic Hotels

179 pages
59 minutes
Jul 7, 2014


Ocean City, New Jersey, was founded as a Christian seaside resort in 1879. Soon thereafter, it became a vibrant year-round community and a highly desirable summer retreat. Hotels were integral to the city s success. The most famous of these was the Flanders Hotel, which opened to much fanfare in 1923. It was built in the Spanish Mission Revival style and named after Belgium s Flanders Field; today, it is in the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to other stately hotels, such as the Brighton, the Biscayne, and the Bellevue, many smaller hotels and guesthouses, like Jernee Manor, the Castle Inn, Locksley Hall, and the Scarborough Inn, were also established. Ocean City s Historic Hotels features the rich architectural and recreational history of this New Jersey coastal town and its many hotels.
Jul 7, 2014

À propos de l'auteur

Fred Miller, a retired teacher and Ocean City lifeguard, is the president of the Ocean City Historical Museum and secretary of the Cape May County Cultural and Heritage Commission. He is a director of the Ocean City Lifesaving Museum and a member of Ocean City's Historic Preservation Commission. Also the author of Ocean City: America's Greatest Family Resort and Ocean City Beach Patrol, Miller brings a unique perspective to the history of this impressive community.

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Ocean City’s Historic Hotels - Fred Miller



It has been said that hotels helped build Ocean City into the successful community that it is today. Ocean City was founded in 1879 by five Methodist ministers—the Reverends William H. Burrell and William B. Wood and brothers S. Wesley Lake, Ezra B. Lake, and James E. Lake—and the Lake brothers’ father, Simon Lake. Their aim was to build a Christian seaside resort, much like that of Ocean Grove, New Jersey, several miles to the north. But the men envisioned one big difference between Ocean City and Ocean Grove: theirs would be a year-round community as well as a summer retreat.

To that end, they quickly organized a government run by the Ocean City Association, brought their families to live here, started a school, printed a newspaper, and encouraged tradesmen and businessmen of all types to move to the fledgling city with their families. They recognized that transportation would be necessary to bring people from surrounding communities, so they built a railroad between Pleasantville and Somers Point, New Jersey, and bought a steamship to bring passengers across Great Egg Harbor Bay to Ocean City.

To introduce the new resort community, they organized excursions to bring people from as far away as Philadelphia, 60 miles to the west.

While building a community was uppermost, religion was never far from the minds of the founding members. They stipulated in all property deeds that there was to be no production or sale of alcoholic beverages, and they passed ordinances banning amusement and commercial activity on Sundays. During the summer, they organized religious retreats centered around a large tent on campgrounds between Wesley and Asbury Avenues and Fifth and Sixth Streets, where services and prayer meetings were held and different ministers spoke to the crowds. Visitors were able to bring their own tents to the campgrounds or rent tents for a small fee.

As the camp meetings grew in popularity and transportation to the island became easier, there was a great need to house the summer visitors. The first hotel, the Piqua, opened in 1880. Soon, more hotels and guesthouses were built. Many of the hotels stayed open throughout the year. By 1900, some 29 hotels had been built on the island. The seaside resort was a success!

But more than simple hotels were needed to keep the community flourishing. With the year-round population increasing, the school open, businesses of all kinds thriving, and a government working well, it was still felt by many residents that something was holding the city back from all that it could be. After much discussion and a study by a committee appointed by the chamber of commerce, it was decided that a new, large, modern, oceanfront hotel should be built. Such a structure was deemed necessary if the community was to keep up with its resort neighbors.

In 1922, the Ocean Front Hotel Corporation of Ocean City was organized, led by prominent local businessmen. It was charged with finding a location, constructing, and operating the new hotel. All city residents would have the opportunity to buy shares in the new corporation and thus participate in this endeavor. It was decided that the hotel would be built at Eleventh Street and the boardwalk. Ocean City native Vivian Smith was chosen as the architect. On July 28, 1923, the Flanders Hotel opened with much fanfare. Dignitaries from as far away as New York City attended the gala dinner, and newspapers from up and down the East Coast raved about the new hotel.

On October 11, 1927, the well-being created by the prosperity of these years was shattered by a devastating fire that started under the boardwalk at Ninth Street and spread west toward the central business district of the city. Many stores, businesses, and homes were destroyed before the blaze was brought under control. Flames could be seen in Somers Point across the bay, and fire companies from all over rushed to the city’s aid. When the fire was finally halted, two of the largest and most opulent hotels, the Traymore and the Normandie-on-the-Sea, were gone. The Flanders Hotel, fortunately, had been spared.

As the city struggled to recover from the fire, it was found that nearly 500 hotel rooms had been destroyed. There was a great need for more rooms, but by late 1929, when the country was overtaken by the Great Depression, only a few new hotels had been built. The owners of those hotels made sure that they were advertised as fireproof. World War II followed the Depression, and during the war, the federal government ordered all building be halted as the materials were needed for the war effort.

Although No Vacancy signs were commonplace in the summer after World War II, as the country slowly recovered, many families found themselves without the resources to spend their usual week or two at a hotel in Ocean City. Guesthouses were less-expensive alternatives that still allowed families to spend their vacations in their favorite seashore resort. Many of Ocean City’s summer homes were very large houses, usually three stories, with numerous bedrooms and large living rooms. These were easily converted into guesthouses, which had the added attraction of making patrons truly feel like guests in the host’s home. They offered a personal touch rarely found in a hotel.

Even though the hotels and guesthouses were doing well, there was concern about the future: modern motels were being built in neighboring resorts, giving the older hotels serious competition. In the spring of 1950, the local hotel and guesthouse owners, concerned that this would happen in Ocean City, convinced Mayor Edward Bowker and Commissioners Augustus S. Goetz and Henry Roeser Jr. to adopt an amendment to the zoning ordinance, forbidding the building of motels. Few new hotels were built during this time, possibly because developers were leery of building hotels at a time when motels seemed to be more desirable

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