Ocean City will lose a historic structure when the Bellevue Hotel is demolished, but locals said the building has been crumbling for years anyway.
The structure that dates to 1908 has been closed for a year. Nearly three weeks ago, the city found severe structural damage due to hundreds of gallons of water pooling on the building’s roof. Officials closed off parts of Eighth Street and Ocean Avenue for fear of its collapse. Recent rain storms caused further damage, and on Thursday the city ordered the Bellevue demolished immediately.
At least four nearby property owners met that news with excitement Friday.
“It’s been an eyesore for a couple of years,” said Carl Glanzmann, owner of Ocean City Bicycle Center, which is around the corner on Atlantic Avenue. “The roof had problems enough that it was blowing tar off on windy days.”
Roofing tar is used to protect flat roofs from the elements, and the fact that it was blowing off in the wind likely contributed to the roof’s problems.
“It’s owner neglect,” said Dave Liess, who owns the adjacent Ocean City Surf Café. “It’s amazing to me they’ve been able to get away with it.”
“It’s full of mold,” said his wife, Libby Liess, “Ugh, it’s gross.”
The owner of the property was Ocean City Plaza, a company based in Brook Haven, Pa., but Fox Chase Bank gave notice earlier this year that the property was going through foreclosure proceedings.
An owner of the property could not be contacted by The Press of Atlantic City.
The city said it will solicit quotes from contractors about the demolition and proceed with it as soon as possible. If the owner is unable or unwilling to carry out the demolition, the city will do it and put a lien on the property to recoup the cost.
Jack Ball, chairman of the city’s historic commission, said the structure is one of the most important historically in the city, but all its owners’ plans to rehabilitate never happened.
“They wanted to do all kinds of things with it,” he said. “They did nothing with it.”
In the spring, the city solicited several contractors to restore the building and convert it into affordable housing for senior citizens. That plan is no longer viable.
Ball said the historic commission may meet next week to discuss what it believes should be done. He said there had been talk about only part of it being knocked down, but he isn’t sure that’s possible.
Chris Pirone, the owner of the Great American Chicken Co. across Ocean Avenue from the hotel, was the first person to call the local fire department and tell them he noticed a crack in the structure. He explained that the weight of the water, which he said exceeded 500 gallons, was so great that it caused the roof to bow inward and start to break the support beams.
Only recently, he said, a South Jersey Gas worker was on the site to turn off the gas to the building when a piece of the cornice molding fell off and nearly landed on top of him.
“It’s a shame it couldn’t be repaired,” he said. “It’s one of the most historic buildings in Ocean City.”
Pirone said he thought the building should be knocked down and rebuilt into another hotel, or maybe even a parking garage.
“Definitely not another restaurant,” he said, laughing.
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