March 31, 1923, marks the 100th anniversary of the day The Belvedere Hotel was destroyed by fire. The hotel was situated on a hilltop that overlooked the Bay in Chesapeake Beach, MD. It was an elegant four-story Victorian-style building completed in 1900. Its stay was short, but what a story it had!
PART 1: THE CLUB HOUSE
The Belvedere’s story begins as a key player in the “American Monte Carlo” scheme for Chesapeake Beach, MD. The hotel was originally named the Club House and envisioned as a members-only establishment intended to house high-stakes gambling, such as roulette, poker, and farro (a fast-paced card game). It was built to support the patrons of the racetrack, giving them a place to rest and relax once they were finished gambling on the horses. [*note* the racetrack was never used, a complicated story of its own]
Newspapers ran articles across the country in 1900 describing the luxurious Club House. The articles boasted that no expense was spared in the furnishings, which included lush velvet carpets, broad stairways, massive oak furniture, and costly pictures on the walls. In addition, The Washington Times [10/31/1900] reported, that the Club House had the “most approved sanitary and electric lighting appliances.” [*note* electric lights were a novelty during this time frame].
The Baltimore Sun [12/11/1900] reported that the colors of the décor were red, gold, green and silver, and “blended in such a taste…that is not likely to irritate the nervous man as he risks his cash.” Another article in The Topeka Daily Capital [11/07/1900] assured readers that the décor was a “cozy lair for the ‘tiger’ that will take up his habitat there.” Ladies were not to be forgotten; they would have a retiring room as well.
The first floor had offices, reading rooms, an elegant café, and smoking rooms. Towards the back there was a large domed room with stained glass ceiling that was set aside for roulette. The upper floors contained rooms for sleeping, card playing, billiards, a large saloon and other entertainment approved by members. The third and fourth floors had sixteen bedrooms with a view of the bay.
PART 2: REALITY HITS!
By 1903, it was realized that the Monte Carlo of the East was not to be. There was a strong anti-gambling sentiment growing at the turn of the century, and to top things off, management never acquired the necessary gambling license thinking their company’s charter was unrestricted. Much of the management resigned at the end of 1902 and gears shifted from a gambling hub for high-rollers, to a family-friendly resort.
In 1904 the Club House was renamed The Belvedere Hotel and remodeled to increase available hotel rooms. The Belvedere went on to serve the community in a variety of ways, as a hotel, office space, a restaurant, and as a gathering place for entertainment for many years.
Sadly, on March 31, 1923, a fire broke out in town. The fire was believed to have started at a nearby store and threatened much of the resort. There was no local fire department at the time, however a bucket brigade was formed that was able to stop the fire from spreading throughout the town. Despite this effort, the hotel was destroyed. Nobody was harmed, as the hotel was vacant, but it was a tremendous loss for Chesapeake Beach.
The land was left dormant for several years. However, in 1930 a lovely ballroom and salt-water pool were installed not far from the location of the Belvedere for the next chapter of Chesapeake Beach, named Seaside Park.
BELVEDERE INTRIGUE & UNANSWERED QUESTIONS!
There is a rumor that the grand Tiffany & Co. screen that once greeted visitors at the White House was installed in The Belvedere Hotel. The origin of this rumor is not 100% clear; however, we do know that in 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt began renovations of the White House. We also know that the unwanted furnishings and relics were sold to the highest bidder. One clue that links the screen to Chesapeake Beach is from a 1903 newspaper article (see below). The article has a well-known Chesapeake Beach businessman, Turner A. Wickersham, purchasing cathedral glass doors from the White House lobby for $275.00 at a public auction presumably held by the White House. From here the trail goes cold. Were these glass doors the same as the grand Tiffany & Co. screen? Were they transported to the beach along the Chesapeake Beach Railway? Were they installed in The Belvedere Hotel? Many theories and stories remain, but unfortunately, the answers may have forever gone up in smoke.