Normandie-by-the-Sea Hotel — SB Spent Splendor
The Normandie-by-the-Sea Hotel of Sea Bright was “exclusive and expensive” in its all-too-brief prime. And it involved another “Sea Bright character.”
This spectacular Gilded Age lodging place could accommodate 300 guests in its sprawling layout — offering both ocean and river views. Considered a showplace of the upper shore, the massive hotel entertained many of the country’s elite in its glory days. Built by Lemuel Smith, it opened in July 1877, first known as the Hotel Bellevue. Then on it was remembered for its “big verandas and pretentious architecture.”
Later on Richard “Boss” Croker acquired control and made big changes, according to an Asbury Park Press story from October 1979. Born in Ireland the son of a blacksmith, Croker came to American in 1846. A part-time mechanic, fireman and boxer, he became a street enforcer for the Boss Tweed gang. By 1891, he was head of New York City’s corrupt Tammany Hall political gang.
While climbing as a power broker, he acquired a taste for fashionable hotel life at the beach from his 20 summers spent at the elite Mansion House hotel down the road in Long Branch. The law and times ultimately caught up with Croker and he fled the country in 1905 moving to England. He returned to Ireland where he died in a Dublin castle in 1922.
In 1887, General Ferdinand P. Earle, who came from a family of hotel proprietors, acquired the hotel for $115,000 and changed the name to the Normandie (after a hotel he owned on Broadway in NYC). The Normandie (it had a railroad depot too) was located a mile north of today’s Sea Bright-Rumson bridge on the west side of Ocean Avenue. When it burned down in September 1916 the hotel was vacant for two years.
The Ocean House, the first hotel on the Jersey Shore in 1840, previously covered the grounds. (Normandie is an unincorporated community located within the borough of Sea Bright, NJ).