Historic Structures

The Shelburne Hotel, Atlantic City New Jersey

Date added: December 7, 2016 Categories: New Jersey Hotel

The original Shelburne Hotel was a frame structure, described as "sprawling...with wide porches and sun parlors." This hotel was reknowned for its cuisine, and it attracted such patrons as James Buchanan "Diamond Jim" Brady, who paid $1000 /week for his apartment facing the ocean and who died in the Shelburne in 1917. In 1922, the section nearest the Boardwalk was replaced by a 9-story structure (the existing front section). The architect of this section is not known. The 12-story center section, designed by Warren and Wetmore of New York City, was built in 1926. During this period, Atlantic City was still primarily a health resort, catering to the demand for the regenerative effects of sun and salt water bathing. As salt water baths were considered healthy, the Shelburne's rooms had hot and cold running salt as well as fresh water. The interiors were opulent and eclectic, and the hotel continued to receive such notables as Lillian Russell and Irving Berlin.

The hotel was taken over by the military during World War II. After the war, the hotel was returned to civilian use and more of the old frame building was demolished, leaving only a small wing to the rear of the 1926 section. This wing was described as asphalt sided, with a mansard roof and "a dining room designed as a ship" to the south. It was demolished in 1979, along with the interiors and Boardwalk arcade of the main building.

In 1950, the Shelburne was purchased by National Inns, Ltd., and the building was renovated to cater to the rising sales convention trade. A ballroom was built in 1953 to provide more display space. The Shelburne was later a focal point of the 1964 Democratic National Convention. William White in his book The Making of the President-1964 reports "...the hawkers, the knockdown discount auctions, the hotels where room service did not function and where prices soared, the restaurants where one could not be seated and food was bad, the honky-tonk and the tawdriness combined to produce an immediate aphorism: 'This is the original Bay of Pigs'. One or two of the hotelsnptably such hostelries as the Shelburne and Haddon Hall- rose to the occasion with grace and efficiency. But most accustomed to smaller conventions., broke down under the demands of a political convention." The Shelburne was still open and basically intact in 1977, two years before its demise.

The old Shelburne built its reputation on its cuisine. One of its most famous residents was James Buchanan Brady or "Diamond Jim". He paid one thousand dollars a week for his enormous apartment which faced the ocean, and an additional 36 thousand dollars for a glass veranda to be built around it. In the autumn of 1916 Brady became ill with gastric ulcers and died the following April in the Shelburne.

In the 1920's a rebuilding program began and the section nearest the Boardwalk was demolished and replaced by the nine story structure. The architect of this section is not known. In 1926 the twelve story mid-section was built, under the architects Warren and Wetmore of New York.

The Shelburne continued to cater to the health resort business which built many of the early Atlantic City hotels. People came and stayed the entire summer, ostensibly to bask in the sun, bathe in the health giving waters, and regenerate themselves. Early brochures clearly emphasize this aspect rather than vacationing for pleasure, though the later aspect received attention as well. Each room had piped in hot and cold salt as well as fresh water. Taking extended salt water baths was considered healthy, but the pipes rusted and ultimately the salt water system was removed. The military took over the hotel in World War II after which it was returned to civilian occupancy. The owners at that time set about demolishing most of the remains of the old frame structure, leaving only the aforementioned rear wing. In 1950 the hotel was taken over by National Inns and renovations began on the building to accommodate a rising new market, the sales convention trade.

The aforementioned ballroom was built and decorated by Dorothy Draper, in 1953, to answer the need for more display space. A number of modern hotel rooms were a.lso built to the rear of the property.

In November, 1979 approval was given to a joint project (National Inns Ltd. and the Benihana Corporation) to renovate the Shelburne Hotel and to build an adjoining casino-hotel to the north. This project was discontinued in 1981, after demolition had already begun and the interiors had been gutted. As the building was left in vacant and dangerous condition, it was demolished by the City of Atlantic City.