In its day, Ventnor's Monaco Motel was a popular spot, standing just a few steps off the Boardwalk, a few more off the beach and a bit more than a mile from the closest Atlantic City casino.
But the Monaco's day ended more than five years ago, when the sprawling motel locked its doors for good.
Since then, its rooms have stayed empty, and boards have covered many windows as pieces of its exterior have slowly crumbled. An old stairway sits on the ground near the front lobby. A long crack runs between the first and second floors near that lobby.
Within a week or so, that gradual demise of the old building should come to a stop - by turning into a sudden demise. Developers of the property, between Weymouth and Little Rock avenues, have scheduled a public groundbreaking ceremony today on The Waves. That's the project they plan to replace the beat-up old motel with 27 fancy new townhomes, some of them five stories high and carrying a price tag of almost $1.3 million.
The developers had hoped to have their workers start right into ripping down the Monaco today, but Ventnor Mayor Mike Bagnell said Sunday that the demolition probably won't begin until after July Fourth.
"We're all anxious to get it done, and I'm hoping that by Monday (July 8), we should be ready to roll," the mayor said. The main problem, he said, is that several utilities still haven't cleared their equipment and signed off that the site is safe.
Once the job starts, Pelican Properties developer David Perlman said, the demolition should take about eight weeks - because work will go on only every Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. through 4 p.m. this summer, as an accomodation to the project's neighbors.
"What you see above ground, the building, is probably the easy part" to clear away, Perlman said. "Below ground, there's a seawall buried, and a lot of ... careful work with people living on either side. And with all the incidents that happened in Philadelphia" - meaning last month's collapse of a Center City building during its demolition - "we are going to be overly cautious."
After the site is all cleared, around Labor Day, "then we go right into construction and start building the Boardwalk units first," Perlman said. The Waves' seven Boardwalk-front units will be five stories tall and sell for $1.3 million apiece, starting in the spring.
The rest of the project includes 10 townhouses on each side street - all of them five bedrooms and four stories, with rooftop decks. Perlman estimated finishing all 27 homes should take 18 months to two years. All 27 homes will have ocean views. The starting price for those beach-block units is $749,000.
He added that the new homes - one of which he wants to buy for himself - "exceed all (Federal Emergency Management Agency) ... maps by importing material to the site and raising the elevations of the homes."
The plans for the project call for the base elevation of the townhouses to be 12.2 feet to a finished floor. Developers "are happy to be able to reduce flood-insurance rates" for potential buyers, he said.
Speaking of heights, the developer added that one piece of standard equipment is a private elevator in each townhouse.
Ashley Franchini, the lead real-estate agent for the project, said another selling point is that there are no commonly owned areas for the buyers. There is a homeowners' association, but the condo fees will be just $500 per year, she said.
"There are decks on every level," she said, "and the first floor is your yard" - all of which are privately owned. "You can sit in your living room, sit on your deck and feel the ocean breeze. And you're all brand new. That's what everybody is looking for now."
Meanwhile, outside the old Monaco, neighbors and others passing by Sunday were generally happy to hear the building is about to disappear.
"I felt it was a public nuisance," said Jerry Kline, who splits his time between homes in Radnor, Pa., and at 5000 Boardwalk, a high-rise condo building a few blocks from the Monaco. "The city should have forced them to knock it down a long time ago. ... It would be better as an undeveloped piece of land."
But Kline, who remembers the motel being build, said the Monaco "served a tremendous purpose" in its day.
"This is really the last of the Boardwalk beachfront hotels" in Ventnor and its Downbeach neighbors, Margate and Longport, Kline said. "I wish they'd put up another one, a state-of-the-art place."
Bill Altman lives in Hilton Head, S.C., but he and his wife used to live in Philadelphia. He remembers the Monaco as a place they enjoyed more than 30 years ago, when they were still dating.
Now their getaway is going away, which is bittersweet, no matter how bad the building has gotten.
But the mayor, a Ventnor native, has no mixed emotions.
"I've been ready to see it go for almost 10 years," Bagnell said. "And I think the people in the area have been ready for even longer than that."
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