THE Flanders Hotel just celebrated its 100th anniversary
With roots that go back to the early days of Ocean City tourism to decades of housing hidden speakeasies to struggles during the economic downturn at the turn of the century, The Flanders Hotel has a rich history that has stood the test of time.
An entire century of time, to be more specific. The Flanders Hotel just celebrated its 100th anniversary.
Having opened its doors in 1923, the historic structure at 719 E. 11th Street marks its 100th anniversary later this year. And what 100 years it has been.
To say the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce had foresight in 1923 would be an understatement. With World War I hardly in the rearview mirror and plans for a new bridge to be built between Philadelphia and South Jersey underway, Ocean City businessmen came together and decided that building a brand new, full service hotel would be the best way to draw visitors to their shore town instead of other nearby communities such as Atlantic City.
The hotel’s namesake harkens back to the days of the Great War. The founding committee chose “The Flanders” as a nod to Allied troops who fell in battle in Flanders, Belgium.
The hotel was billed as fireproof, boasted 200 rooms, a pool and a bathtub in every room. But part of what made the hotel unique is the catacombs that ran underneath the establishment.
“I don’t think people realized how formal it was back then in the ’20s and ’30s,” Peter Voudouris, director of hotel and banquet operations at The Flanders, explained. “In the ’20s and ’30s you couldn’t walk through the lobby in a bathing suit.”
A Peek Into the Past
Instead, Flanders visitors would venture down into the catacombs, change out of their formal suits and gowns into their swimwear and walk through an archway in a cement wall that led right out onto the beach. Then, when they were done laying in the sun and swimming in the ocean, they would walk through the same archway into the catacombs and take advantage of the showers and changing areas, re-entering the hotel once again in their formal attire.
If the walls of the catacombs could talk, they would certainly have some interesting stories to tell. The catacombs doubled as speakeasies during the 1920s and 1930s, too.
Foresight isn’t a strong enough word to describe the founding committee of The Flanders Hotel. And while there’s simply no way they could have predicted what would come of the island in the following century, suffice to say they would be happy the building is not only still standing, but a focal point of Ocean City to this day.
“I think they would be very pleased,” Peter said. “We really stayed with a lot of tradition. We kept the common elements and basic structure of the hotel the same. We’re working very hard to give great customer service and great food.”
She’s a bit of a (former) fixer upper.
It hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows for The Flanders Hotel since its doors opened in 1923. In the early 2000s the hotel went into bankruptcy, and when Peter came on board in 2005 he made it his sole mission to keep the hotel going.
“I was very fortunate to get a $2 million loan to get us out of bankruptcy and start doing renovations to the hotel,” he shared. “My heart is in this facility. It’s a big part of Ocean City.”
Peter admitted the hotel was struggling when he took over, noting the banks owned just about all of the hotel, from the front desk to the restaurant, the elevators to the garden room and parking lot. Peter worked day and night to restore the hotel to its former glory.
“Little by little we put the hotel back together,” he said.
The modern-day Flanders.
And put it together he did. He developed a restaurant called Emily’s, added a coffee shop and boutique stores that take up parts of the upper lobby and first floor. They serve high tea daily and have made capital improvements such as a renovated exterior, lobby upgrades and modernized elevators. They have a 20,000 square foot banquet center, a salon and spa, fitness center and pool. Peter’s goal was to make The Flanders the only full-service hotel on the island, and he succeeded.
“We want to make our amenities really shine and stand out,” Peter added.
Thanks to his wife, Arlene, who Peter said does all the designing with the hotel, The Flanders toed the line between being an updated building but still a classic structure.
“She’s the designer for all the services, it’s a thankless job,” Peter said of his wife. “She deserves credit.”
While The Flanders Hotel is the perfect place for families to visit for a week or weekend or for beachgoers to grab a cup of coffee or bite to eat, according to Peter, the extravagant facility also plays host to roughly 70 weddings per year as well as other notable events such as proms, religious retreats, the Porsche convention, Mary Kay’s regional convention, birthday parties, retirement celebrations, and everything in between.
Peter estimates more than 100,000 people come through The Flanders year after year.
“It’s amazing to me,” he said.
As a final nod to the past, with a combination of rich history and a passion for the hotel, the Voudouris family earned The Flanders Hotel a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.
The next 100 years.
Peter is proud of how far the hotel has come over the years. From its humble beginnings – but big vision – in the 1920s and 1930s to the bankruptcies in the early 2000s, the hotel has seen its fair share of ups and downs.
But with 100 years down, the historic hotel has established itself as an iconic Ocean City tradition – hopefully for 100 years more to come.