The Normandie Hotel — Sea Bright’s Wooden Palace
The magnificent Normandie-by-the-Sea Hotel in Sea Bright was “exclusive and expensive” in its all-too-brief prime. It had a lot to live up to. The Ocean House — the Jersey Shore’s first official hotel which opened in 1842 — had previously covered the same grounds.
“The Normandie” — a spectacular Gilded Age lodging place — could accommodate 300 guests in its sprawling layout and offered both ocean and river views. Considered a showplace of the upper shore, the massive wooden hotel entertained many of the country’s elite during its glory days. Built by Lemuel Smith, it opened in July 1877 first known as the Hotel Bellevue. From then on the location would be remembered for its “big verandas and pretentious architecture.”
Later on Richard “Boss” Croker acquired control and made big changes, according to a 1979 Asbury Park Press retrospective. Born in Ireland the son of a blacksmith, Croker came to American in 1846. A part-time mechanic, fireman and boxer, he became a New York City street enforcer for Boss Tweed. By 1891, he was head of the city’s corrupt Tammany Hall political gang.
While rising as a political 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 later returned to his native Ireland and 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 pledged “only the best of everything.” He changed the name to the Normandie after a hotel he owned on Broadway in NYC. The Normandie (it had a nearby 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 in September 1916 the hotel had been vacant for two years.
(Normandie is an unincorporated community located within the borough of Sea Bright, NJ).