By Tim Kelly
Ocean City has its Historical Museum at the Community Center. It also has another museum of sorts operating at 11th Street and the Boardwalk – The Flanders Hotel.
For more than 93 years, the hotel has survived hurricanes, floods, intense competition and near-financial ruin. Today, the venerable landmark doesn’t just endure, it thrives as a true gem of America’s Greatest Family Resort. The nine-story, 117-condominium facility of one, 2, 3 and five bedroom luxury units is instantly recognizable on most postcards and aerial views of the city. It is a mixed-use facility consisting of condos, a full-service resort hotel, banquet, catering and special events venue, and home to a variety of retail shops and businesses. It hosts weddings, charity events, business luncheons and dinners.
The Flanders remains a main artery in Ocean City’s heartbeat.
“It’s an amazing place,” said Peter Voudouris, President of the Flanders Condominium Association. “When we started coming down here as a family (in the 1980s) my wife said ‘we have to be a part of this.’ We bought two units.” The Voudouris family has been a big part of the Flanders ever since. They were instrumental in restructuring the ownership to a condo association, securing major financing several times to restore what had been a deteriorating physical plant, and overseeing the day-to-day operations.
Today, the Flanders boasts all the modern amenities hotel patrons expect, free wi-fi, flatscreen high definition television, a 24-hour business center, full service gym, day spa, coffee shop and much more. However all these features coexist with many historical and low-tech quirks of its Roaring 20s roots.
A chat with Voudouris, viewing a video he produced on the history of the property or reading a historical booklet he compiled with historian Alex Bethke reveals some surprising Flanders facts.
1. The Flanders “Catacombs” colorful history included playing host to a Prohibition-era speakeasy and meetings of organized crime.
Atlantic City’s reputation for such activities is well-known, but “dry” Ocean City had an active speakeasy of its own located below sea level in a maze of seven expansive rooms known as the Flanders’ Catacombs. Bars, card tables and other equipment normal found only in taverns prior to the 1919 passing of the 18th Amendment, or “Prohibition” was installed below ground at the Flanders. Organized crime figures from “families” of New York and Philadelphia were said to have had meetings in the Catacombs.
2. The Flanders lobby still has two telephone booths.
Common through the 1970s, “pay phones” and telephone booths were common throughout the world. “If I’m giving directions around the lobby, young people don’t know what I’m talking about if I say “Over there by the phone booths,” Voudouris said. Today the phones are gone from the booths, but Voudouris is planning to re-install vintage phones soon. In the meantime, patrons can be seen taking selfies in the relics, or sitting inside to take cell phone calls.
3. The Flanders has its own on-site well and operates its own water system.
New Jersey’s oldest and deepest well runs 840 feet beneath street level at the Flanders. The H2O is drawn from the well and chlorinated in the hotel’s first floor boiler room and pumped to two 5,000 tanks on the ninth floor. “From there, gravity does the work,” Voudouris said. “The system supplies the entire building and we don’t have a water bill. We pay for sewage, but not water.”
4. The Hotel is named for a famous World War I battle.
Then known as “the war to end all wars” or simply “the great war,” World War I was still fresh in the minds of most Americans when the hotel was constructed in 1923. The Ocean Front Hotel Corporation, an organization of civic and political leaders who oversaw the building’s original financing and construction chose to name the new hotel “The Flanders.” This was to be in honor and memory of the allied troops who lost their lives in the Battle of Flanders, fought in Belgium, nine years prior.
5. The Flanders former swimming pools were a mecca for entertainment and special events.
Ocean City residents and visitors of a certain age remember the site of Playland’s Castaway Cove amusements once was the location of three salt water swimming pools belonging to the Flanders Hotel: an Olympic-sized main pool, a kiddie pool and a deep-water diving pool. The pools were at first open exclusively to hotel patrons and they were mobbed with guests during the summer season. Poolside chairs gave the swimmers great views of the beach and boardwalk. And strollers on the boards could look in and observe the fun.
The main pool hosted competitive swimming meets and exhibitions including one featuring Olympian and future star of “Tarzan” movies, Johnny Weismuller. Water shows and the Miss New Jersey Pageant took place there and bleachers were erected to accommodate several thousand spectators. Decades later, the pools outlived their usefulness. They closed in the late 70s and the land was filled in with sand. The three-acre site was eventually sold and Playland’s Castaway Cove rose in front of the hotel. The massive pool complex has since been replaced with a state-of-the-art heated outdoor pool for use by guests and condo-unit residents.