Maybe Donald Trump will buy it now. Atlantic City's most celebrated rooming house, known locally as the Vera Coking House, is on the market for $995,000. That's $4 million less than the previous listing price. But it's still more than Trump was willing to pay when he tried to have the property condemned 15 years ago.
The Coking house is nothing like the elegant Victorian B&Bs found in Cape May. It's a modest 1940s-era boarding house that Vera Coking and her husband, Raymond bought for $20,000 in 1961. But it happens to be located on a beach block smack in the middle of the Trump Plaza casino hotel property. Trump wanted the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority to condemn the house so he could use it to park limousines. Coking didn't want to sell. In a landmark 1998 court case, a judge refused to allow the CRDA to seize the 30-by-63-foot property.
"That was a great victory for her," says Ed Casey, who is Coking's grandson. "They wanted to take her house for pennies and throw her out on the street."
Coking and her guest house first generated headlines in the late 1970s when Penthouse magazine publisher Bob Guccione tried to buy the property so he could build a casino hotel on the site. When Coking refused his offer, Guccione started building the casino around her house. In 1980, Guccione ran out of money and halted the project. But the steel frame surrounding the house remained until 1993, when Trump bought the Penthouse property.
Coking lived in the house until 2010 when she transferred ownership to her daughter, Claudia Casey. Now 85, she lives in an assisted living facility in California.
"She's very comfortable, very happy and healthy," says Ed Casey, who lives nearby. "She's well taken care of."
Casey says the guest house was a dream come true for his grandmother, who was born in Florence, Italy and grew up in Philadelphia. "She worked multiple jobs and saved for a long time to buy that house," he says. "My grandfather was against it but it's what she wanted to do. After she bought it my father, who was in the Navy, had a lot of his Navy buddies come by to help her fix it up."
Casey has fond memories of the 29-bed guest house, which was called The Sea Shell Hotel.
"I was born in Philadelphia and from the time I was 13 I spent weekends and summers at that house," he recalls. "It was a lot of fun. Back then, in the 1960s and '70s, you could see all the way to Convention Hall from the porch. There were a lot of kids and families would return year after year. In the 1980s my grandmother closed off the porch and she and my uncle ran a little steak shop. She stopped operating it as a guest house about 20 years ago."
While most contemporary accounts lauded Coking as the "little old lady who beat Donald Trump," there were also reports that she was a publicity seeker who was demanding an unreasonable price for her property. Casey dismisses those reports.
"My grandmother wasn't looking for publicity and she wasn't opposed to selling," he says. "There were lots of rumors that she was offered millions of dollars. None of them were true. There was never a serious offer made."
Casey says his family is looking forward to selling his grandmother's property and putting an end to the 35-year-old saga. He says potential buyers would include real estate investors, business owners, restaurants - even Donald Trump.
"Maybe a casino will make an offer and everybody can finally part ways," he says.
For more information on this property call Nate Chait (609-742-5896) or Jerry Barker (609-481-7745) of Weichert Realtors, The Asbury Group.
What: Rooming house
Where: Atlantic City
Lot size: 30x60 feet
Taxes (2013): $12,553
Photos courtesy of Weichert Realtors, The Asbury Group