Atlantic City’s neon-splashed skyline will shine a bit brighter when the iconic sign atop the Madison House hotel is relit, symbolizing the revival of one of the most historic buildings in town.
The sign, spelling out “Madison Hotel” in giant, red letters, has been dark while the 14-story landmark remained shuttered for the past seven years and attempts were made to sell it.
A new owner quietly reopened the Madison on Jan. 25, but the real celebration will come when the sign — still awaiting final repairs to fix the broken lights — is illuminated again to welcome guests.
“We’re going to keep the Madison House name,” said Nishith Desai, the hotel’s general manager. “Here, everyone knows the Madison name, so I can’t take that sign out.”
Hotel guests also will see another sign at the front entrance identifying the Madison as a Baymont Inn & Suites property. Desai explained that the hotel is affiliated with the Baymont chain, giving it marketing support and the power of a national reservations system to help the Madison re-establish itself.
Ratan Hotel Group, which bought the Madison in November for $2.5 million, has done some renovation work to get the property back in working order. Desai said the building remains well-preserved and needed only some cosmetic touches.
When guests enter the quaint lobby, they will experience some of the genteel charms that date to the Madison’s construction in 1929. A sweeping staircase modeled after the one in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall climbs gracefully to the second floor. Ornate chandeliers hang from the lobby ceiling above marble floors. Stained-glass windows frame the arched front doorways.
“It’s historic,” Desai said of the decor. “There are some new things, but we also have the old chandeliers and the old windows. You can’t find those things anywhere else. When guests see it all, they will say, ‘Wow.’”
The Madison’s red-brick Colonial Revival architecture and upscale appointments allowed it to operate as a luxury hotel decades ago. Anthony Kutschera, co-founder of the Atlantic City Historical Museum, said the Madison recalls a bygone era of well-dressed guests and linen service in the hotel restaurant.
“I love that hotel. I grew up a few doors from there,” the 69-year-old Kutschera said. “I used to walk by that property all the time. People were always dressed very nicely in that era. It was nice to see people sitting outside because the hotel had a sidewalk cafe at that time.”
The Madison overlooks the beach block of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, just off the busy Pacific Avenue casino strip. When Kutschera was a child, the street was still called Illinois Avenue. He remembered how the Madison served as one of the anchors of a then-thriving enclave of family owned hotels and shops in that part of town.
“It was very elegant,” Kutschera said. “They catered to upper-middle-class and middle-class guests.”
The Madison’s new room prices, however, suggest that the hotel will no longer be marketed as high-end lodging. Baymont’s website lists weekday rates as low as $49.99 per night and weekends at $79.99.
Ratan has kept the modest furnishings that decorated the lobby and guest rooms in recent years. Some updating has been done by adding new mattresses and replacing the boxy, old TVs with flat-screen models, Desai said.
Plans are being discussed for reviving the lobby bar and now-empty restaurant space on the first floor. Desai noted that Ratan may consider a more comprehensive makeover as part of a long-range strategy for the hotel.
“It will come slowly, but not now,” he said.
Some of the guest rooms retain a throwback feel. A peek inside Suite 1453 revealed a retro-chic atmosphere. One of the rooms that embody the Madison’s old splendor is Suite 259. French-style doors swing open to a sitting room that features an old fireplace trimmed in wood and marble and a soaring ceiling decorated with crown molding.
Altogether, the Madison has 126 suites. The property was transformed into all-suite, boutique lodging in 2004 when it was given a $7 million facelift by the old Sands Casino Hotel.
The Madison had been affiliated with the Sands as a companion hotel. But when the Sands shut down in 2006, so did the Madison. Since then, the Madison had been sealed up, except for a brief time when it served as a youth hostel for foreign workers holding seasonal jobs in Atlantic City’s tourism industry.
Although the Madison is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, there were fears that it would be demolished. Pinnacle Entertainment, a Las Vegas-based company, once had plans to buy the Madison and then tear it down to make room for a proposed $1.5 billion casino megaresort. Pinnacle later abandoned the casino project, giving the Madison another chance to reopen as a hotel.
The Madison has proved to be Atlantic City’s ultimate survivor. Most of the other posh old hotels from its day have long since disappeared. But the Madison survived the Depression shortly after it first opened in 1929, weathered a bout with bankruptcy in the 1960s and continued in business even after the casinos arrived in Atlantic City in the 1970s and '80s.
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