Bellevue aftermath

Ocean City residents Sonya Bertini and Rich Tolson outside the site of the Bellevue Hotel Saturday.

Joel Landau

OCEAN CITY — Reading, Pa., resident Janet Martz has fond memories of the historic Bellevue Hotel when she was a “young mom” taking her children on vacations.

“It was a comfortable place,” she said. “It was very homey. We all loved going to the pool.”

But Martz, 69, as well as other local residents and business owners did not have any feelings of longing Saturday as they viewed the rubble off Eighth Street after the hotel suffered a large fire Friday. They were happy to see the structure — which they said had been in disrepair and had many problem tenants over the past several years — finally being torn down.

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Passers-by stopped by the structure all day to see the 104-year-old building at Eighth Street and Ocean Avenue. The back portion of the building was demolished and the east side of Ocean Avenue was closed off.

The city had condemned the property and it was ordered to be demolished by the end of October. On Friday, the second day of the project, a fire started in the morning and damaged the back portion of the building.

The city’s Fire Department said the fire started accidentally when a blowtorch was used during construction to remove fire escapes.

Ocean City Fire Capt. John Murphy said the existing front structure did not suffer significant damage from the fire, and investigators are trying to determine if there should be changes to the demolition schedule.

Ty Borkowski, a resident of Conshohocken, Pa., who has a summer home in the city, saw the media reports of the fire Friday night and visited the building when he arrived in town Saturday. Borkowski said he never went to the Bellevue before and was amazed to see the amount of debris in the middle of the business area.

But others more familiar with the hotel were happy to see the building finally coming down and hoped the fire meant the demolition would be expedited.

“Will I miss it? No,” said Gus Bruno, owner of the Scarborough Inn across Ocean Avenue. “It’s been a problem for years.”

Michael Steelman, manager of the Ocean Breeze Hotel across the street from the Bellevue, said he would often warn his guests to walk in the opposite direction to avoid the people there. Steelman said he had guests who were going to arrive Saturday and hoped the demolition across the street would not affect his business.

There was a constant sound of beeping at the site from battery operated smoke alarms.

“It’s driving me nuts. I can’t be outside for more than five minutes,” he said. “I’ve got to put the air on so I can’t hear it.”

Ocean City residents Sonya Bertini and Rich Tolson live a few properties over from the hotel and said they had reached out to the city for years about the structure.

 “It should have been torn down a decade ago,” Tolson said. “They had a lot of horrible tenants, and the city’s Police and Fire departments had to go there a lot.”

Bertini said she feels the city put area residents in danger by not addressing the hotel sooner.

“This was our greatest fear,” she said. “It’s not like we didn’t know about this, and the city knew it, too, because we addressed them about it.”

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