Neighbors happy to see dilapidated Bellevue go

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Ocean Avenue is filled with smoke from the fire at the Hotel Bellevue Friday, Sept. 28. The wind blew the smoke into homes and businesses north of the fire, causing damage. Ocean Avenue is filled with smoke from the fire at the Hotel Bellevue Friday, Sept. 28. The wind blew the smoke into homes and businesses north of the fire, causing damage.

OCEAN CITY – Gus and Carol Bruno arrived at their bed and breakfast, the Scarborough Inn, shortly after 10:30 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 28 to find flames bursting from the back of the neighboring Hotel Bellevue, just across the street.

“Unfortunately, the wind was blowing the smoke right at us,” Gus Bruno said.

The Brunos had a long list of guests arriving the following day; some had already checked in. As the billowing smoke covered the inn they’ve owned for 25 years, they grew fearful.

“As soon as we got here, the fire department sounded an additional alarm,” Bruno said. “The flames were going up pretty good and some of the stuff on the Bellevue started blowing, cinders were landing on our porch roof, and more than likely on the top roof. We couldn’t even see outside. It was very, very scary.

“So we decided to close, we didn’t want to take a chance, put our guests in jeopardy,” he said. “We were very, very concerned; didn’t want to risk it. We started taking our personal things out, the computers, things like that. The power went off.”

ServPro arrived late Friday to begin cleaning the Scarborough where soot and smoke took a toll. Bruno hopes to reopen Thursday, in time for block party weekend.

Richard Tolson, who lives on Plymouth Place with his wife, Sonya Bertini, behind the Bellevue, received a call Friday from his neice, Roxanne Smith, informing him of the fire.

“Someone called Roxanne, she was at Stockton,” Tolson said. “I was in Bordentown, I headed home immediately.”
Tolson’s brother, Tommy Tolson, quickly arrived and evacuated the family’s dog, Zeus. He also closed the windows, which Tolson credits with minimizing smoke damage.

“Luckily, Tommy was in town,” Richard Tolson said.

Tolson and Bruno spent the rest of the day watching in fear as firefighters fought the blaze. Both said they were relieved that no one was killed or injured, but not in the least sad to see the aging hotel about to go down.

Demolition of the Hotel Bellevue began this week. Last month, the west side of the century-old structure began to bow as water that had pooled on the roof began to seep through the building.

City officials immediately cordoned off the Ocean Avenue side of the building and ordered the demolition. The hotel sits in limbo between the owner and a bank.

“It’s been a decade, worrying about this place,” Tolson said. “We worried constantly about a fire, especially during the night.”

The once-elegant hotel fell into disrepair. As the aging hotel languished, problems – including fights, drug crimes and prostitution – started.

“It has been a nightmare,” Bruno said.

“Several years ago the neighbors got together and talked to former Mayor Sal Perillo on two or three occasions,” Bruno said.

The police and fire department were there on a consistent basis, he said.

“We requested copies of the police and fire department records, including all of the ambulance calls. The file was an inch thick. It was a constant battle,” Bruno said.

“It’s what happens when a city turns its back on blight,” Tolson said.

Bertini said both she and her husband were “furious.”

“For a long time, there was a woman who would scream obscenities,” Bertini said. “At least this administration was trying to do something about it. The owner let the whole thing go to pot. The lawn was grossly overgrown, it was a mess. Even our dog didn’t want to go on the grass.”

Meredith Harvey, co-owner of the Forum Motor Inn across Eighth Street, said it was time for the hotel to go.

“After the Bakers sold the Bellevue, the new owners totally neglected it, and ran it into the ground,” Harvey said. “We had to call the police numerous times. The Bellevue guests would come over to the Forum so upset and tell us about the horrible condition the rooms were in.”

Harvey said the Forum guests would not walk on that side of Eighth Street, and often sat on their balconies “watching the sideshow” across the street.

“It was a huge relief for us when they closed the doors two summers ago,” she said.

“I truly love historic buildings that have been properly restored. The Bellevue was way beyond repair. It will be bittersweet for me when the Bellevue finally is demolished.”

“It’s a shame to see an old building like that go, but it’s time has passed,” said Bruno. “People say they remember when people wore suits and ties and it was so elegant, but times have changed. When we came here almost 40 years ago people dressed to go to the boardwalk, it’s not like that anymore.”

Bertini, whose home was built in the late 1800s, appreciates historic structure.

“I love my home, it’s our treasure, and it’s well maintained,” she said. “I lived in Europe, I believe in preserving what’s meant to be preserved. It’s ludicrous to think that this building could be preserved. I’m sad that it was left to decay, but not one of us, the neighbors, wants to see it saved. The place was run into the ground.”

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