CAPE MAY — The former Shelton College building on the east side of town must be demolished, officials said.
Built in 1964 by radio evangelist the late Rev. Carl McIntire, the building partially collapsed Feb. 23, and neighbors have been demanding the city take action.
Located at Baltimore and New York avenues, the building had been vacant and run down in recent years and was used for storage by owner Gus Andy, who owns the nearby La Mer Beachfront Inn. Andy purchased the building from the Christian Beacon Press in 1995.
City Construction Official Bill Callahan on Monday said the city recently made Andy put a fence around the building and has pushed for its demolition. Callahan noted the building is surrounded by “$1 million dollar houses” and neighbors are saying it’s an eyesore that harbors rats.
“People are getting unnerved that it’s just sitting there,” Callahan said.
Andy is in Florida and did not return phone calls this week.
Callahan said Andy was sent a notice that the building is unsafe and he is now in violation for allowing the building to remain in that condition.
Callahan also said the delay is not necessarily Andy’s fault, as he needs approvals from the state Department of Environmental Protection because the building is next to freshwater wetlands. He said Andy had been trying to save part of the building, a section that includes classrooms, to continue using at least part of it for storage. He said Andy is looking into getting two 40-foot trailers on the La Mer Beachfront Inn site to store items now in the college building.
Saving part of the building appears to no longer be an option, however. Callahan said Andy has a signed contract for a complete demolition. He noted Andy already has approvals to build 15 single-family homes on the site, which is larger than 4 acres and covers an entire city block.
“He has a signed contract, and once it’s cleared out I’ll issue a demolition permit. He doesn’t have an exact date, but I’d say within 10 days to two weeks,” Callahan said Monday.
Shelton College has a long, colorful history. McIntire, once called the “dean of right-wing radio preachers,” was a fundamentalist Christian who beamed his program, “20th Century Reformation Hour,” from atop his Christian Admiral Hotel on the beachfront to 150 stations throughout the country. He was one of the first nationally known radio evangelists.
McIntire, who died in 2002 at the age of 95, got his start preaching on the Atlantic City Boardwalk but came to Cape May after the 1962 storm, buying up properties at bargain prices and launching his ministry. He railed against Communism, beach fees, Russian fishing trawlers, Congress and many other issues until the FCC took away his broadcast license in 1973. He blamed then-President Richard Nixon.
McIntire built Shelton College but fought unsuccessfully to get state accreditation for it. He argued the state had no right to regulate religious schools.
The college at its height had 200 students and 20 faculty members, but the 24-acre campus McIntire envisioned never got off the ground. He once sent students from the college to Washington to support the Vietnam War, countering an anti-war rally at the time, and the school’s soccer team one year won the North Atlantic Christian College Conference title.
The campus eventually got embroiled in a controversy over back taxes and other issues. McIntire argued as a religious institution it should be exempt.
The college building found many other uses before Andy purchased it. It briefly hosted the Cape May Stage and classes for Atlantic Community College. It was used for a variety of seminars and workshops under the name Cape May Institute of Shelton College. The city discussed buying it for a new city hall, convention hall or police station at one point, and the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts wanted to turn it into a cultural center. It was also discussed as a possible site to park tour buses.
Andy purchased it with plans to develop the site into 17 units but went to court with the DEP over the required buffer to wetlands on the adjacent lands owned by East Cape May Associates. Callahan said it is approved for 15 units. City Tax Assessor Michael Jones said the property is assessed at $3.25 million, but most of that is the land. The building is assessed at $461,600.
City Manager Bruce MacLeod said Andy still needs to move storage items from the building and make sure all utilities are turned off before the demolition can go forward. He also has to notify nearby property owners of the demolition. The Christian Admiral Hotel was torn down years ago to make way for upscale housing, and the long-vacant college, one of the last vestiges of McIntire’s era in Cape May, may follow suit.
“I’m sure the surrounding property owners will be happy it’s coming down and something nice, houses or an open view, will replace it,” MacLeod said.
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