In Another Time > Hotels were a key part of resort’s development

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There was no great rush, of course, to build hotels when the Wildwoods emerged as a seashore resort in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

Atlantic City had arrived earlier with its boardwalk and some of its grand accommodations, and the Wildwoods had a lot of catching up to do .

It’s not that some were not trying. In 1880, for instance, five years before Holly Beach officially became a borough, The Inlet House, looking more like a farm house, was built on what is now Rio Grande Avenue. It is claimed it to be Holly Beach’s first hotel.

Up to the north a bit on the same island, Anglesea, also to become an official borough in 1885, had two hotels which were to serve double purposes. In 1883 the 50-room Anglesea Hotel sprung up at Walnut and Pennsylvania avenues, later to be renamed New Jersey Avenue. Tourists shared the hotel with those in government because early on it also served as a municipal building. Two years later, when Anglesea officially was incorporated, the first official meeting of the new borough council was held at the hotel on June 3, 1885. On the day earlier, on June 2, another new hotel, the Hereford House at 112 Walnut Ave., served as the polling place for the first municipal election in Anglesea.

Soon in Anglesea was to come the Hotel Germantown, whose proprietor George Ent apparently advertised for males to visit. He emphasized that his hotel had “a gentleman’s barroom,” a billiard room, shuffleboard court and “one of the biggest selections of cigars on the island.”

It wasn’t long before Wildwood broke out with one of the biggest hotels in its history. In 1890, still five years away from Wildwood’s official status, the Hotel Dayton at Wildwood and Atlantic Avenues was dedicated. It was large enough to accommodate 250 guests and it advertised that it featured private baths, running water and telephones, not all that usual in those times. There were big doings to celebrate its opening in the summer of 1890. President Benjamin Harrison showed up with an entourage of national government officials to participate in the event.

He was to be the only president to visit Wildwood while in office.

Other improvements emerged as the new century approached. Guests at the Hotel Sheldon no longer had to climb the stairs to get to their rooms. Thanks to Thomas Edison and others, an electric elevator was installed to help them on their way. Private bathrooms were new then and the Edgton Inn advertised them and electricity as some of the reasons people should stay at its hotel.

Even during those early days of 1903, beauty pageants were held on the island, decades before the Miss America Pageant debuted in Atlantic City. The first pageant, considerably more modest than those later held in Atlantic City, was held at the Hotel Sheldon and was won by Anna Klienz. The Sheldon was sold in the 1950s, as motels began to make inroads, for $100,000, not a bad price for those times.

The Hotel Ruric, started in the 1890s, was to lead a fiery and stormy life. Three times, in 1904, 1928 and 1960 it was consumed by fire and during the heart of Prohibition early warnings were said have saved it from the raids of federal agents while others were less fortunate.

Hotel construction really started to grow between 1903 and 1904, when the number of rooms in the Wildwoods increased by 30 percent. One of the big new hotels during that period was Anglesea’s 75-room Hotel Ottens, which opened on July 2, 1904 and was owned by the Five Mile Beach Company. A principal stockholder was Philip Baker, one of the three brothers who founded and developed much of Five Mile Beach. Soon to be described as “the showpiece of resort hotels,” the Hotel Ottens was a sign of the times because it featured an electric elevator, fire escapes and modern plumbing.

Wildwood Crest, meanwhile, still four years away from official incorporation in 1910, prepared for its expected tourism growth by opening its large Ocean Crest Hotel at Buttercup Road and Pacific Avenue. It was a time when liquor was sold in that community, all of which was to change in 1940 when the voters opted to go dry.

The hotel lasted 95 years, its demise coming when it was torn down in 2001.

Not all the hotels were as successful in longevity, however. The perils of the economy, bad weather and mismanagement shortened some of their lifelines.

One of the longest runs of land used exclusively for hotels was at 3400 Atlantic Ave. in Wildwood. The site has been the land for hotels for at least 103 years until this day. The early ones, according to the information of the George F. Boyer Museum of the Wildwood Historical Society, have been variously described as the Hotel Wayne, which advertised itself as being “strictly Kosher;” Wexler’s Hotel, Wexler’s Wayne Hotel and the Seaside Hotel. Their origin goes back to the 1900s.

Some of those early hotels lasted until the big depression of the 1930s, a time that the famous HofBrau House arrived under the ownership of Bernard Solomon. It was to acquire its fame not only from its boast that it was the most spacious hotel and café in Cape May County, but that it featured some big name entertainers including Bill Haley and the Comets who launched the 1954 season with a Saturday performance before an audience of 500 on a Memorial Day weekend. Their big hit was ”Rock Around The Clock,” which they had recorded the previous April.

Some have claimed that the Comets gave birth to rock ‘n’ roll music in the Wildwoods with their song hit but others contend that it was part of a continuing process that included Wildwood on the way.

During the 1980s the HofBrau surrendered to Urban Renewal and was demolished as a new era of high rise hotels-motels arrived. Perhaps to follow was a symbol of the successes and failures of the past and the hopes for the future. Replacing the HofBrau on the same land where it all started was he eight story Duval Motel with 78 rooms, two elevators, a swimming pool, a restaurant and cocktail lounge. Sadly it encountered financial problems and the building was sold. Today, the Beach Terrace Hotel stands there, a reminder in its modernity of the long-running history of boarding houses, hotels, motels and condominium that have housed millions of visitors since the Wildwoods were discovered more than a century ago.

 


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