By Steven Froias
Special to The Coaster
Ocean Grove is rightfully celebrated for its quaint Victorian-era architecture. It’s stick-style cottages define the place – so much so that the Grove became a National Historic District in 1975.
Another distinguishing feature of Ocean Grove architecture is its numerous hotels, Inns, guest houses and bed & breakfasts. They, too, date back to Victorian times and exemplify the period’s love of the seaside.
Sadly, many of the Grove’s historic hotels have been lost over time. Tragically, some beloved spaces have literally gone up in flames in some spectacular fires over the years. Indeed, the fear and reality of conflagration runs throughout Ocean Grove’s story. In 2010, hearts were broken when The Manchester Inn on Ocean Pathway gave way to this sorry history.
It was another victim of capricious fate, engulfed in the same flames which seem to regularly sneak into town and snatch away some bit of the past that is quintessentially Ocean Grove. Unlike the vibrant Manchester, some of these structures had long ago abandoned their original purpose. Yet collectively they remained part of the emotional infrastructure of “God’s Square Mile.”
One noteworthy hotel, however, suffered a very different fate from the Manchester and the others that constitute the terrifying tale of conflagration in the Grove.
The venerable Queen Hotel didn’t ignite.
It simply fell down.
The Queen Hotel sat at the corner of Ocean Pathway and Ocean Avenue on the north side. An imposing multi-story structure, it’s front turret seemed to stand as a bulwark against the mighty Atlantic at the very edge of Ocean Grove. A masthead to defend the town against nature’s sometimes savage fury, as detailed in Part I of this special series.
But on the morning of Saturday, October 21, 1995, the bulwark buckled.
Erika Medynski, owner of the Laingdon Hotel at 8 Ocean Avenue, reported hearing, “A weird noise, like a truck coming through, and seeing pieces of debris flying through the air and onto her property,” according to a newspaper account.
It went on, “Mrs. Medynski said her husband, George, was working on the second floor of the Laingdon shortly after 11 AM, when he called to her that the Queen had fallen…” A further call to the Neptune Police Department alerted authorities, and soon a plethora of agencies rushed to the scene of the building collapse.
Responding to the scene were: the Neptune Emergency Management Dept., Dept, of Public Works, Code and Construction Dept., Neptune Police Dept., Ocean Grove Fire Dept., Ocean Grove First Aid Squad, Ocean Grove Fire Police, Neptune Fire Police, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, NJ Natural Gas Co., Jersey Central Power & Light Co. and … Mazza & Sons, Inc., Demolition & Recycling.
The Queen was a total loss – bits continued to fall over the weekend. By Monday, Mazza & Sons, of Tinton Falls, proclaimed all that remained was rubble and that they would expeditiously remove remnants of the building and recycle whatever material possible.
The once glorious Queen had been empty since 1988. Plans had been on the drawing table to renovate it before the collapse, officially termed the result of heavy, damaging winds and rains the night before the cataclysm on the corner of the Pathway.
The earliest recorded mentions of the Queen were published in the Ocean Grove Record newspaper almost a century before 1988. It was then known as the Ocean Queen.
The soaring Queen Hotel which almost reached the turn of the millennium most likely began life in 1899, when it reopened after extensive renovations. A newspaper advertisement on March 25, 1899 heralded the rebirth and renaming of The Queen with the following copy…
“The Queen Opens Today. Entirely refitted, re-furnished, with electric lights, electric bells, steam heat, and all the appointments of a strictly first-class hotel. The Queen (formerly the Ocean Queen) will open its hospitable doors to guests today. Added to the Interior attractions possessed by this well-known and popular house, it has the further advantage of a choice location, being directly on the oceanfront; and to still further increase its attractiveness it occupies a corner of Ocean Avenue and Ocean Pathway, with southern and eastern exposure. Miss M. Clement is again in charge of the house, and patrons may be sure they’re looked after.”
Whether it fell due to structural problems or just collapsed under the weight of its own history, the “appointments of first-class hotel” came crashing down in 1995. Today, single family homes have been built on the lots which once accommodated a Queen.
There’s a happy ending to this story, however. In recent years, Ocean Grove hotels have enjoyed a renaissance. Who needs AirBNB when you can experience all the charm of late-Victorian oceanfront architecture – now with WiFi! The Ocean Grove Chamber of Commerce website, oceangrovenj.com, lists no fewer than 20 buildings devoted to lodging in the Grove boasting extraordinary appeal.
Among them is the Laingdon Hotel. Built in 1875, it underwent a renovation in 2004 and like the others, is now posed for the 21st century and just maybe Ocean Grove’s next 150 years.
Though its owner may have thought the sky was falling one day in the 1990s, it wasn’t.
It was only the demise of a Queen.