Sunday, February 17, 2008

Anchorage Fire

Anchorage Fire – Old Hotel has Storied History

In Somers Point September 11th would be remembered for not only being a day that lives in infamy, but as the day of the Anchorage fire, if the historic century old building was totally destroyed. As the oldest, continually operated business in town, the historic Anchorage Hotel and Tavern has been a local landmark for as long as anyone can remember.

If the building is not rebuilt and restored, it would be a sad obituary for a place popular with many generations.

Built in the 1880s, the hotel was advertised in Philadelphia newspapers as a pleasant place to seasonally visit, and for the early part of the last century was frequented by fishermen and bird hunters. The hunters supplied duck to fine restaurants and the bird feathers were sold for display in fashionable women’s hats. Like the Deauville Inn in Strathmere, the Anchorage became a more refined, first class hotel during the Roaring 20s and Prohibition, when tuxedoed men and women in fancy dresses graced the ballroom dance floor and relaxed on the front porch.

Later it was owned by Mrs. Thompson, and her cousins the Carnaglia family from South Philly, when Italian dinners were served with red wine over checkered tablecloths. It was a family place then, until Mr. Carnaglia passed away in 1964 and his son, Andrew took over. Only 20 years old, when the drinking age was 21, Andrew kept the place the same for awhile, but began attracting more of a younger crowd. They enjoyed the cheep beer and shots before heading to the nightclubs that had live entertainment - Bayshores, Tony Marts and Steels Ship Bar, but also had a cover charge and more expensive drinks.

Because the rooms upstairs were only five dollars a night or twenty five dollars a week, they were booked for the summer season by seasonal employees of the other clubs, bartenders, cooks, waitresses and musicians. The legendary Tido Mambo played Nat King Cole’s Tom Thumb piano and Jim Croce is said to have penned “Time in a Bottle” while sitting in the corner on the shuffleboard.

The Anchorage, already nearly a hundred years old, took on a new, younger spirit, featuring seven draft beers for a dollar, special theme nights and popular t-shirts with the 7-1 logo. The Anchorage heyday lasted from the late 60’s through the late 80’s, when Andrew, like his aunt, expanded his interests to include the My Way Lounge and the Bottom Line in Atlantic City and Mothers on the causeway in Egg Harbor Township, all after-hours joints, open all night.

In the early 1990s, the Anchorage was listed for sale with former Somers Point mayor George Roberts, who accepted a down payment from Bill Morris, who owned a trucking company. While Andrew didn’t know his building was sold, George Roberts ponsie scheme came unraveled and he eventually served time for illegal real estate deals, including the sale of the Anchorage.

Morris and contractor Dave Tyson remodeled the Anchorage and converted it from a shot and beer bar to a restaurant, the old ballroom a dining room and upgraded the kitchen. After the first chef, Tyson Merryman, left to purchase and run the equally historic Tuckahoe Inn in Beesley Point, Don Mahoney took over the kitchen.

A chef who learned a lot from Daniel Antolini at Daniel’s, once one of Somers Point’s finest restaurants, Mahoney eventually purchased the Anchorage from Morris, and continued to work it as the owner-operator. Mahoney is well liked as a local guy who worked his way up and continues to work hard, treats his employees right and loves the Anchorage and Somers Point. Don’s brother Jim works as general manager and his wife Michelle, a former waitress, continues to work whenever she is needed. With its fine food, great atmosphere and convenience, and under Mahoney’s stewardship, the Anchorage gave the Crab Trap a run as the best restaurant in Somers Point.

If the Anchorage is totally destroyed, it will be the third recent loss of an historic structure in Somers Point, after the hundred year old Angler’s Club was developed into condos and the two centuries old Bethel Road Church was destroyed by arson, a crime that has not yet been resolved.

When Steels Ship Bar had a kitchen fire back in the 1960s, the nightclub next to Tony Marts was demolished beyond repair, not only by the fire, but by the water damage in putting the fire out, and was raised to become a parking lot.

The centuries old New Gretna House was torched by arson last mischief night and is now a vacant lot, with only the old sign left. That cannot be left to happen to the Anchorage.

If there is a heart and soul to the city of Somers Point, it’s the Anchorage, and all possible efforts must be undertaken to save and salvage whatever is left and restore the building so future generations can enjoy it in their own way.

In the aftermath of the fire, most of which was recorded on videotape for posterity, the building inspector saw that the foundation of the building was almost non-existent, and was about to condemn it, when an alternative plan to save the building was devised.

All Risk people were on the scene while the fire was still burning. When the foundaiton damage was discovered, they suggested that a new foundation of cement be funnelled into the basement to shore up the century plus old building.

With city inspectors issuing permits on the spot, the rescue effort began almost immediately, and great cooperation between the city, the insurance agents, the insurance agency and contractors faciliated the resoration, so the Anchorage could reopen within four months of the fire.

Although Mahoney had the best insurance coverage, and could have accepted the condemnation of the building, and retired to Florida on the insurance money, he decided to restore the place because of the employees and their families depended on their jobs.

God bless Don Mahoney.

Here's a link to All Risk, the company that saved the Anchorage.

Here's an article by Phil Zinkewicz on how the insurance claim worked.


The Anchorage Tavern is the oldest, continuously operated business establishment in Somers Point. Built (circa) 1874 during the Victorian era, it was first known as the Trenton Hotel and catered to seasonal visitors, mainly fishermen and bird gunners. The sheer numbers and variety of the avian species produced the eggs that gave Great Egg Bay its name, and attracted duck hunters and birders who collected the bird feathers for hats of fashionable women of the day.

Known as the Anchorage Hotel since 1888, elaborate spindles lined the porch railing at the turn of the last century when the ballroom, now the dining room, was built as an addition. For a time the hotel catered to Philadelphia and New York society, when men dressed in tuxedos and women wore long gowns to dinner and strolled the porch to enjoy the summer breeze.

In August, 1905 a newspaper clipping announced the proprietor, Daniel Reagan, had "cheerful rooms" available for $8 and $10 a week, with "fish, boating and bathing" being the main attractions.

On a Sunday in 1910 the pastor of St. Augustine’s Church took the ferry from Ocean City to Somers Point, walked down Bay Avenue and served the first public mass on the bar of the ballroom of the Anchorage Hotel. Charles Collins was the owner of the record at the time.

The Anchorage was not always a saintly haven however. Prohibition rum runners used the same small inlets ands side creeks that were used by Colonial smugglers and Revolutionary war privateers. The rum runners found great Egg Bay a friendly port, and the Anchorage a popular tavern. At times the Anchorage was known to sport slot machines and its patrons were known to enjoy games of chance.

For awhile the hotel and tavern was owned by Judge Larry Brannigan, who was known as a local Judge Roy Bean and "the law east of Patcong Creek." Hannah Somers, a descendent of the town’s founding family, was also a proprietor for many years. Her longtime bartender John Coyle kept a parrot named Teddy, which picked up an atrocious vocabulary from the regulars at the bar.

After prohibition, the Anchorage was issued the fifth city license C-5. In 1938 the hotel was purchased by Lucille Cornaglia Thompson, who operated the hotel until she sold it to her brother, Andrew "Henry" Cornaglia in 1945. The Three Keys, who once performed before the Queen of England, were the house band for many years when the Anchorage was known for its fine Italian pasta and sauces, shuffleboard and juke box.

The hotel rooms upstairs, once reserved for tourists, were primarily rented to seasonal workers, bartenders and musicians who worked at Tony Marts, Bayshores and Steels Ship Bar, the rock n’ roll nightclubs down the street.

With the death of Mr. Cornaglia in 1965, his son Andrew assumed the business, although he was not himself old enough to drink. With drink specials and a popular juke box, under Andrew the Anchorage began to attract a younger crowd who made it a tradition to stop by the Anchorage before going to the rock n’ roll clubs. The Anchorage became famous for serving seven draft beers for a dollar, and the 7 for 1 t-shirts of that era are now collector’s items.

Bill Morris purchased the Anchorage in 1993 through realitor George Roberts, a former mayor who went to prison over shady real estate deals. Morris and his partner Dave Tyson renovated the place, reopened the old ballroom as the dining room, and leased the kitchen to Tyson Merriman. Dave Tyson then moved down the street and opened Caroline’s, while Merriman purchased the Tuckahoe Inn.

Don Mahoney, who had started out working at Daniels restaurant, took over the Anchorage kitchen, and eventually purchased it from the Morris family.

On the morning of September 11, 2006 and electrical spark started a fire that severely damaged the building almost beyond repair, but a concerted effort was made to restore the building and reopen the business.

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