Historic Structures

Marlborough Hotel, Atlantic City New Jersey

Date added: July 7, 2017 Categories: New Jersey Hotel

In 1900, nearly a half century after the Dennis was established, Josiah White, owner of the Luray Hotel and a Quaker, acquired the property of the school and the Convent of the Sacred Heart for a new hotel. That year, he retained Philadelphia Quaker William L. Price (1861 - 1916), previously designer of additions to the Luray as well as architect of the new dining room for White's cousin Daniel White's neighboring Traymore Hotel. Price had already established a reputation as a hotel architect with the chateau style Kennilworth Inn of 1890 at Asheville, North Carolina, which received much attention in the architectural press. During the last decade of the nineteenth century, Price's various firms provided plans for the additions to several Atlantic City hotels as well as another in Asbury Park, New Jersey in 1897.

Price's decision to design a shingled chateau style hotel on the beach may seem something of an anomaly, particularly in light of his theories about the Kennilworth Inn, whose similar style was influenced by the mountainous site. The obvious conclusion is that the hotel's style was determined more by the now conventionalized use of the chateau style, which had spread from the Kennilworth to the 1892 wing of the Dennis, and beyond to Bruce Price's great Chateau Frontenac in Quebec. Moreover, the style had a significant advantage for the hotel's operation, for the variety of spaces and porches, and the hierarchy of spaces rising up into the great roof all made for a visual representation of status, emphasizing the social eminence of the guest as clearly as the various classes of accommodation on an ocean liner.

The design of the Marlborough was largely conditioned by the nature of the site. The street front was placed along the Park Place edge, taking advantage of the open space permanently assured by the Park, while the Ohio Avenue side was given over to lawns framed by the long wing of the hotel and the ell.

The new hotel was more innovative in its overall mass and style than as a structure or in detail. Quarry faced ashlar masonry bearing walls sheathed the lower stories, and similarly rustic stone formed the columns and arcades that supported the porch The motif of the arcade of porches supporting the upper stories of the hotel can be traced directly to Price's own house in Overbrook, Pennsylvania of 1898-99. Above, the frame walls were covered with red slate shingles, worked out in various decorative patterns in the manner of the "shingle style". Deep eaves and a three story high pyramidal roof, rhythmically articulated by great dormers, provided the crowning elements for the ballooning volume of the building. Exterior decoration of the building was limited to the quality of the materials and little more. John Ruskin argued for the use of real carving, or none; Price here followed his argument.

Within, however, the building was richer, showing hints of the originality that would characterize Price's later hotels. The first hint to the guest was received at the entrance level, where a great fireplace confronted the door. Above its severe stone planes, a painting in the mode of the Brandywine School, by George Harding, made an ironic comment on the role of the Atlantic City innkeeper. It portrayed three city slickers fleecing a country bumpkin, while above was written the laconic comment, "I was a stranger and they took me in." Unfortunately, the smooth fresco-like surface of the painting was achieved by a heavy gesso coating on a burlap type of material, and when attempts were made to remove the painting, it was destroyed.

The remainder of the lower levels of the hotel served less grand purposes, with beach entrance, children's playroom and laundry taking most of the area. A grand stair, once lighted by leaded glass windows, ascended on the left to the hotel lobby, where more of the architect's originality was displayed. Dominating the hall was a splendid polygonal core of fireplaces, surrounded by a cylindrical colonnade, as if this were a tholos in the heart of the building. From that center radiated the beams, disguised by cornices, of the spine of iron columns and girders lower stories of the hotel. This traditional use of modern materials characterized Price's work at the end of the nineteenth century. Four years later, at the Blenheim, Price's techniques had changed,

Other rooms in the front of the hotel were without the focus of the fireplace, but had elements of interest. Of note in the rooms near the ocean was Price's direct handling of the cast iron columns, which were left unclad, adorned only by flat disc capitals that recall the first attempts of John Nash to use iron at the Brighton Pavilion in England. An echo of Price's interest in Art Nouveau is evident in the flaring plaster cones that form a transition from those capitals to the plane of the ceiling. Those rooms opened onto large porches which looked out to the ocean across the hotel lawns. Unlike the later hotels of the beachfront» this one never had a solarium attached to the front; thus part of the site remained open for a 1950's motel wing.

The other great public room of the hotel was placed on the southwest, where a one story dining room wing formed an ell that provided large windows on to the side lawn. The dining room was framed by the same structural system as the remainder of the building, masonry bearing walls along the perimeter, and a grid of cast iron columns within. In the center of the dining room, the grid was disguised by a curving entablature forming a large circular space, recalling the tholos fireplace of the lobby, the whole being roofed over by a glass dome mounted within an exterior conical glazed roof. The result was a splendidly lighted dining room whose general motif was a delicate "colonial," appropriate to the shingle style of the hotel. Furniture, particularly the handsome fluted leg dining tables and Chippendale Revival chairs, completed the effect.

In later years, the dining room was altered, first by the insertion of the bridge that connected the Marlborough to the Blenheim, which blocked the view of the ocean. More recently, the room was repainted in a wedgewood color scheme, which was appropriate enough for the finish of the room. Unfortunately, the great dome was painted over, destroying the quality of light for which the room was once justly famed.

The game room, also originally skylighted, served as an annex to the dining room and continued the column grid and the detail of the dining room. To the east, another smaller public space, the Chevy Chase rooms, opened through a triple arcade into a large pleasant bay. All were served directly by the enormous kitchen to the rear.

Above the Exchange floor, the hotel reverted to the simple details and small rooms that characterized the seashore hotel. Corridors were lacking in almost all relief, save for a flood of light in the center, at the stair, and at the inland end, where it flared into an octagonal space. The sparest of wood surrounds, devoid of all molding, framed the doors to the guest chambers; and the remainder of the trim was no more elegant. Of interest is the use of a pressed metal cornice, supported on wood blocking, that served as a pipe chase for the plumbing.

The Hotel was demolished in October 1979 to make way for the Bally Hotel and Casino.