Bellevue Hotel Was Once a Portrait of Elegance
Cousins recall an era when the hotel was a vibrant part of summer in Ocean City.
Demolition of the Bellevue Hotel began on Thursday and the building burned on Friday. The scene at Eighth Street and Ocean Avenue offered a portrait of decay and devastation: asbestos removal signs, one side of the six-story building bulging at unnatural angles, and finally smoke and flames pouring from the dilapidated century-old structure.
But when Sandy Adolf and Scott Adams look at the Bellevue, they see something quite different.
They see men and women dressed for dinner, bellmen in starched jackets operating an elevator, a baby grand piano in the lobby and guests in rocking chairs on a large front porch. They see an "old-world classic," Adolf says.
Adolf and Adams are cousins who spent summers living in a hotel their parents helped operate from the 1930s to 1960.
Adams, a retired Ocean City police officer, had returned to the Bellevue in more recent years to break up fights and respond to noise complaints, and like most people in Ocean City, he was aware of what the Bellevue had become. But he is one of the few who recognize the hotel as an elegant spot at the heart of Ocean City's downtown beach and boardwalk district.
The hotel had been closed for more than a year when a neighbor noticed the strange bulge in the side of the building earlier in September. That led to an inspection, discovery of a pond of water on the roof, the quick condemnation of the structure and an order for the owner to demolish it. The city took responsibility for the demolition when it became clear the owner could not. And on Friday, firefighters spent the day battling a blaze at the site. One way or another, the Bellevue will soon disappear from the Ocean City skyline.
William Gorman, grandfather of Adolf and Adams, bought the Bellevue in the late 1930s. The six-story hotel was first constructed in 1909. A four-story addition was later added to the back of the building.
The children of William and Elizabeth Gorman inherited hotel operations and three families and their eight children (Adams and Adolf among them) lived on the second floor of the hotel every summer.
It was an era when everything had its time and place. Residents dined at the hotel. Female wait staff served breakfast. But dinner servers included only men.
The kitchen staff and had their own quarters in the back of the hotel as did other hotel employees.
Hotel guests returned from the beach to a bath house adjacent to the hotel. Staff members put bathing suits through an old-fashioned wringer and hung them up on clotheslines.
The hotel had one TV in the lobby, and that was rarely used. The lobby floors included oriental rugs.
Families stayed for a week or a month, and many returned year after year, Adolf said.
The Baker family bought the Bellevue from Elizabeth Gorman in 1960, and owned it for about 30 years. In May 2011, Flora Baker donated $50,000 to the Ocean City Pops, and the atrium of the new Shore Medical Center is dedicated to Flora and her late husband, Ben; in honor of their $3 million donation to the new wing.
Adolf, now 66, and an artist from Doylestown, Pa., visited Adams, 59, earlier this week. The cousins wanted to take a final glimpse of the Bellevue before demolition began.
The timing proved fortunate. They were able to share memories of the once-proud building, not knowing that a fire a few days away would expedite its demise.