Homestead Hotel reborn as condotel in Ocean City
The devastating fire of 1927 destroyed large portions of the Ocean City Boardwalk and left residents and visitors yearning for modern, fireproof hotels. Seeing this opportunity, the Hanscom brothers (bakers and restaurateurs by profession) began plans for a new hotel with contemporary amenities. While not rivaling the Flanders Hotel, Ocean City's luxury accommodations, the Hotel Hanscom added much needed first-class guest rooms to the growing resort.
Now known as the Homestead Condotel, the hotel's early history is briefly stated on the building's plaque. It says, in part, "Formerly Hanscom Hotel, established in 1928 by the Hanscom Baking Company." However, the hotel opened Monday, July 22, 1929, according to the Ocean City Daily.
"The owners, having many years experience of understanding and satisfying the wants of summer hotel guests, planned the hotel as ideal for the seashore," stated the newspaper. "The place they conceived had to be comfortable in size and arrangement, attractive in design, within and without, tasteful in furnishing and complete in service. It was to be neither ostentatious nor expensive; it must wholly satisfy those of moderate means, but not oppress with over-lavishness. All this they materialized in the form of the new Hanscom."
However, in 1968, Friendly Homes, Inc., a group of Methodist laymen and clergy, purchased the Hanscom, changed its name to the Homestead Hotel and turned it into a retirement home. Although the company was based in Philadelphia, Friendly Homes' president William G. Luft was also president of the Ocean City Tabernacle Association, the city's first religious institution. After some renovation, the establishment was ready for occupancy in late summer of that year.
It remained a retirement residence for many years until purchased by a local entrepreneur. "Renovated in 1997 by James M. Dwyer, proprietor and real estate developer" (the plaque continues), the home again became a hotel. Dwyer's idea was to renovate the Homestead and eventually turn it into a condominium hotel (or "condotel"). After some legal difficulties, Dwyer sold the hotel. Currently Ron Giglio is the owner and developer.
"A lot of the musicians who played at the Music Pier would stay there," says Colin Hansen, who worked at the Homestead during the Dwyer days. "Arlo [Guthrie] stayed there, as did the contestants for the Miss New Jersey Pageant, particularly Jill Horner. There's been a few people who came through its doors."
Now, the hotel may finally break free from its retirement home image and move forward to a new era. Real estate agent Brandon Longstaff of ReMax of Ocean City described the fascinating property and its upgrades. It's in the process of renovation and is finally being marketed as a condotel, he said.
"These affordable units are sure to grab the attention of new and seasoned investors alike!" reads Longstaff's promotional materials. "These spectacular units combine the amenities of a hotel, with the freedom of owning your very own shore condo."
I observed a work in progress when Brandon's lovely sister, Stacy, gave me a tour of the historic hotel. The common areas (lobby and library) are large and inviting, while the attached restaurant is under renovation and for sale. I wanted to see the 7th floor solarium, since Hansen sang its praises. However, the spacious area will eventually be transformed into a penthouse and no longer be accessible as a common area. All condo units are being refurnished with separate electric utilities, individual air conditioning units, electric heat, and kitchenettes. Their private baths offer either stall showers or tubs. One I viewed had a small whirlpool tub.
Buyers are purchasing individual units for investment purposes only and having Ocean Property Management rent them out as if they were hotel rooms. The management company charges owners a fee of 20 percent for its services. Monthly condo fees are $238 and include water, sewer, hot water, in-house telephone service, maintenance and basic cable. Owners can stay no longer than 120 consecutive days or 200 days total in their units.
While that seems restrictive, the question is, "Would they want to?" While the units may be moneymakers that could conceivably pay for themselves and gain equity, they are more attractive to the vacationer than to the long-term resident. Bathers would love staying at the property, since the Homestead is less than a block from the beach and Boardwalk. Ocean views range from excellent to mediocre depending on the location of the condo. Parking is limited; owners must negotiate with local lot owners for space.
Built to 1929 standards, the units (formerly hotel rooms) are understandably small. (There are only two two-room apartments.) Although the new management is making efficient use of the available space, each unit is the size of a small to medium-size bedroom, ranging from 161 to 254 square feet. Closet space is also limited. In the smaller units, a double bed and furniture leaves room for little else. Some owners have addressed the size issue by installing higher beds with storage space beneath them or using sofa beds, giving their unit the look and feel of a living room.
Considering the renovations, the Homestead has the potential to return to its stately days as the Hanscom. "With the restaurant downstairs, it's really a nice property," agrees Hansen. "But, with the lack of parking and no pool, guests were disappointed."
The Homestead Condotel is located at 805 E. 8th Street, Ocean City. Units range in price from $124,900 to $249,900. Contact Sales Associate Brandon Longstaff of ReMax of Ocean City, 3301 Bay Ave., Ocean City at 398-7100 or 602-4311.
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