Little remains of Atlantic City's Boardwalk Empire days. Most of the grand old oceanfront hotels from the first half of the 20th century are long gone.
But there are reminders of the city's notorious and glorious heyday. The Knife and Fork Inn, opened in 1912, still stands at the corner of Albany and Atlantic Avenues. Boardwalk Hall, formerly known as Convention Hall, was built in 1926. The Claridge, which dates to 1930, found new life as a casino hotel after undergoing major renovations.
A lesser known landmark, a private residence known as Chelsea Manor, has occupied the corner of Tallahassee and Atlantic avenues since 1910. Located in the city's Lower Chelsea section, a block from the beach and three blocks from the border of Ventnor City, the Tudor style mansion has Downton Abbey- like dimensions - nine bedrooms, six full bathrooms and more than 6,000 square feet of living space. Adding to its elegance is a circular driveway that leads past an ornate fountain that once stood outside the 400-room, 14-story Ambassador Hotel, which was built in 1919.
The early history of the Chelsea Manor is unclear. But former owners included prominent businessman Michael Lubik, who owned a Cadillac dealership on Albany Avenue. According to urban legend, Lubik's guests included Frank Sinatra, who is said to have played craps at Chelsea Manor in the days before gambling was legalized.
"There were a lot of lavish parties at that house," recalls Frank Ferry, a longtime Atlantic City attorney who recently published a book on the life of Enoch "Nucky" Johnson, the political boss immortalized in Boardwalk Empire. "I remember seeing a lot of Cadillacs parked in the driveway. Maybe they came from Lubik's dealership."
The house is currently owned by Florence Topial, her daughter, Beth and her sister, Marion. The three women, originally from Philadelphia, bought it from Lubik's son, Scott, in 1998.
"We all loved the house and my sister and daughter were thinking of turning it into a bed and breakfast," recalls Florence, a longtime Ventnor resident. "But we decided to use it as a rental property until we figured out what to do with it."
The front door opens into an enormous three-story center hall tiled with imported custom marble. The first floor features a spacious living room with a coffered ceiling, a large formal dining room, an enclosed sun room, a study, two fireplaces and a modern kitchen.
Off the dining room in what once was a breakfast room is a game room furnished with a regulation slate pool table. A full bar that also used to be in the basement now stands in the living room. The craps table where Sinatra once threw dice remains in the basement game room.
Four bedrooms and four baths are located on the second floor and while five more bedrooms and two full baths are on the third floor. There are two powder rooms and a second staircase in the kitchen that leads down to the basement and up to the third floor servants' quarters.
The property also includes a two-car detached garage.
While Florence never hosted Sinatra, she has rented the house out to groups and families, including the families of Miss America contestants.
"The contestants never stayed in the house – they all had to stay in the same hotel," says Florence.
Florence, who is managing the sale of Chelsea Manor for her sister and daughter, says a buyer could use it as a private residence or keep it as a rental property.
"We have a lot of repeat customers who say it's so much more enjoyable when you have a family get-together," she says. "They like the comfort of staying in a big home rather than staying in various rooms at the casinos."
For more information on this property, which is listed for $749,000, call Susan Gardner of Weichert Realtors Asbury Group, 609-425-5337, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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