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Saturday, July 29, 2017

The "The Flanders Hotel: Part I - Ocean City Boardwalk Grandeur" Story

Postcard of The Flanders Hotel in Ocean City, New Jersey
It was an ordinary day.  Talking with my daughter-in-law's mother, Etta, about her experiences in 1963 when she worked at the Flanders Hotel in Ocean City, New Jersey.  She and her sister Betsy were in college at the time and decided to come to Ocean City to work the summer at the Flanders to make a few dollars to help pay for their college tuition.  
Click to enlarge and you can read the date on the photo.
They both were waitresses in the main restaurant of the hotel that year.  The Flanders Hotel was built by a group of New Jersey entrepre- neurs in 1923 who wanted to build a seaside hotel that would be the talk of the entire United States.  It was to be built by the Ocean Front Hotel Corporation to accommodate businessmen, travellers and families who wanted to spend their vacation at the seashore.  They decided to name the place The Flanders after an American Cemetery in Belgium, Flanders Fields, where U.S. soldiers killed in WWI were buried.  
Could my daughter-in-law's mother be in this photo?
The hotel carried the same  Spanish Mission Revival style as other hotels in the area.  The designer was Vivian Smith and was constructed with steel girders and concrete which would hopefully make it indestructible.   The elegant seaside hotel faced the Atlantic Ocean and was directly on the Ocean City Boardwalk.  
Devastating fire on the Boardwalk in 1927.
The original manager of the hotel was J. Howard Slocum who happened to be in command when a devastating fire broke out on the Boardwalk and destroyed most of the Boardwalk to the north of the hotel.  Twelve blocks of Ocean City's waterfront was wiped out while The Flanders miraculously survived the fire in October of 1927.  
Entrance to the Hotel as it appeared years ago.
When the Boardwalk was rebuilt, it was built a block closer to the sea, thus giving space to the hotel to build a large saltwater swimming pool in front of the hotel.  In 1932 the hotel was purchased by Elwood Kirkman and he maintained the hotel's grandeur and first-class status.  Hotel suites came with private bathrooms and full-service kitchens, central heating as well as air-conditioning.  
This view shows patrons of the hotel sitting in chairs
that are directly along the boardwalk.  This must have
been taken before October of 1927 when the Boardwalk
was moved closer to the water and a pool was added
in front of the hotel.
More than likely most hotels of that era did not feature some of those features.  The hotel featured room for weddings, meetings, exhibitions and conferences as well as family vacation lodging.  It had an ornate ballroom and banquet facilities for up to 500 guests and featured in-house wedding coordinators, an award-winning chef and trained staff.  In 1996 the hotel was purchased by James M. Dwyer who converted it into luxury condominiums for daily rentals.  
Another photo postcard that shows the hotel directly
next to the Boardwalk.
Mr. Dwyer eventually suffered financial setbacks and he was removed from his involvement in the hotel due to bankruptcy.  In 2005 a board of trustees was installed with Peter Voudouris as President of the Board and General Manager.  He now holds the title of Director of Hotel & Banquet Operations.  Eight years ago The Flanders Hotel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  
This photo shows the pool shortly after it was added.
My family has been coming to Ocean City for over ten years now and I always wonder what it would be like to stay in The Flanders Hotel.  It fills the skyline in the middle the Ocean City Boardwalk with its elegant facade.  A few years ago the swimming pool was removed and there is now an amusement area and shops in front of the hotel.  
Another postcard showing the pool in front of the hotel.
I often wondered what the place was like inside, so one day during my recent vacation I borrowed my grandson's bike and rode down the Boardwalk from our rental on 8th Street to The Flanders at 719 11th Street.   My visit was for more than a look at the interior of the hotel, but to see if I could find the mysterious Emily who happens to be the resident "Ghost" of the hotel.  Check back in tomorrow and find out what I discovered and how I made out during my search for elegance and the whimsical spirit known as "Emily."  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

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