|If it wasn't written
down, it didn't happen ...
by Patricia and Edward Shillingburg ©2005
This is what the New Prospect Hotel look like the
day before it burned to the ground on June 26, 1942. She had 150 rooms, a
dining room, ball room, and a grand foyer. Management took great pride in
its excellent cuisine and gracious service. She was a premiere resort hotel,
though a short season made a profit difficult.
From the New York Times, June 27, 1942:
78 FLEE HOTEL FIRE
The New Prospect at Shelter
Island Heights Is Destroyed
SHELTER ISLAND HEIGHTS, L.I., June 26 -- The main building of the New Prospect
Hotel, a 160-room frame structure built about 50 years ago, was destroyed
early this morning by a fire of undetermined cause.
The blaze, discovered at 4 A. M., routed eighteen guests
and sixty employes. One of the guests, Mr. Frank Ivers of Boston, suffered
a leg injury in jumping from a second-story window. The occupants lost most
of their personal effects in escaping. Volunteer firemen from several commmunities
fought the flames and succeeded in saving the large annex.
The hotel, one of the best-known Summer hostelries in
Eastern Long Island was scheduled to have its formal opening today and sixty
guests were expected to arrive tonight. The loss is partly covered by insurance.
The Prospect House was built in 1872 and had served
as the social center of the Heights for nearly 70 years. During the first
19 years of the 20th Century it had been allowed to deteriorate, but in
1920, after extensive renovations, it reopened as the Poggatticut. It had
a fire in 1923, and when it opened in 1924, it was renamed the New Prospect
Hotel. For the next two decades, it was constantly updated and modernized,
under the careful attention of the Heights Association presidents, Charles
A. Angell from 1925 until his death in August 1933, and then by his wife
Ida Louise Angell, who died in February 1942. The hotel survived the Depression
when many people, who would otherwise spend time at the hotel, didn’t have
discretionary income. Then, it survived the rationing of gas and rubber,
in the early years of the war.
The hotel was a first class establishment. It had a
full orchestra which played at both lunch and dinner. There was a formal
dinner dance every Saturday night. There was now a cocktail lounge and a
beauty parlor and barber shop. Tea was served on the veranda in the afternoon,
and lunch was also available on the upper floor of the Beach Club. The hotel
management prided itself on its reputation for the very finest cuisine and
There was a time in the past when the Heights excluded
the Island folks from participation in hotel social events, but by the 1930s,
this was no longer true. Everyone was invited to dine and dance at the hotel.
So, the fire was a major blow to the social fabric of not just the Heights,
but of the whole Island.
Because the kitchen was gone, the Annex could not be
used for guests, and Beach Club activities were curtailed. Because no one
was coming to the Prospect Hotel and gas and rubber were rationed, Ferry traffic
was seriously diminished.
An interim report to Stockholder from the new President
of the Heights Association, Waldo Kraemer, dated October 15, 1942, tells
The fire occurred at an unfortunate
time. The bookings were the largest that we have had in many years, and
were of a character that insured a very good year’s business, as most of
them were for considerable periods, which would have been distributed more
evenly rather than peaking at each weekend as in previous years. This would
have enabled the hotel to operate more efficiently and it would have been
reflected in a very good sized profit. Also, the hotel was ready to open
on the day in which the fire occurred. All pre-opening expenses had been
incurred, and these, as may be imagined, were quite considerable, as they
included advertising publicity, manager’s expenses before opening, house-keeper,
handy-men, and so forth.
The fire insurance policy payment of $140,325 allowed
the Association to pay all of its debt including the first mortgage of $31,742.50
with the Peekskill Bank and a second mortgage of $46,871.66 with the Estate
of Charles A. Angell.
The report continued:
In regard to the future, the Board
has considered many alternatives. Even if it was considered economically
sound, no steps can be taken at present toward rebuilding the hotel. It is
well realized that the hotel represented more than a mere business enterprise
to the Heights, and more particularly to Shelter Island as a whole. The Board
has long felt that with the excellent management and reputation the hotel
enjoyed, it rather set a standard for the Island and its activities produced
much favorable publicity. It may well be that in spite of the precarious
nature of the enterprise, that rebuilding the hotel would be justifiable.
However, as nothing can be done for the duration [of the war], the entire
matter is being held in abeyance.
To add further stress to the Association, the Federal
Government determined that the fire was an involuntary conversion of assets
(from a hotel to insurance) and was taxable at slightly more than $10,000.
Then there was the issue of lost and damaged property of the guests. The
Association had no obligation but a moral one, and did not want to threaten
the good will and good name of the hotel.
At the end of 1942, the Association was free of debt
but lacked cash reserves.
In his February 11, 1943 annual report, Mr. Kraemer
Plans for the future are necessarily
vague. From a dollar and cents standpoint it would appear to be the height
of folly to borrow sufficient money to build anew. The amount of money necessary
to build a first class hotel of the class of Sky-Top, as an instance, where
a $7 to $9 a day charge can be made, is so great that the short season with
which we are faced and the vagaries of the weather make it extremely problematic
whether the fixed charges as interest, taxes, and repairs can be successfully
met from operations. Nevertheless, it may be that other considerations covering
the general good of the Island and the Association are sufficient to out-weigh
this loss, and that it could be overcome with an increase in income from
other source which would profit from the fact that such a hotel was in operation.
Nothing, in any event, can be decided at present because of the total inability
to secure either the necessary labor or material.
By early 1943, the fire ruins had been cleared and the
site had been graded to its present state.
The annual report for the year 1943 shows that ferry
receipts were gratifying and that “such a showing... made in view of gasoline
rationing and a consequent $15,000 drop below 1941 Ferry receipts, is a source
of great gratification to your officers and a harbinger of what may be expected
when normal conditions once more prevail.”
About a decade before, the Ferry Company had purchased
a third ferry, the Islander. The Shelter Island was altered
to give it the carrying capacity of the Islander. And the New Prospect,
which had originally been named the Poggatticut and, built in 1920,
was the first double ended ferry to serve the Island year-round, was sold
in early February 1943. So, now there were two ferries to man, maintain
The Beach Club had regained its popularity and it had
its most successful season in years.
As to plans for the future, your
officers have been gathering data, making preliminary plans, etc., in an
effort to peer ahead and chart a course, whether to expand operations by
building a new hotel, or to follow an alternative scheme. Our Association
must not become moribund. We face the future with confidence. Our combined
efforts will achieve success and prosperity.
In the early Summer of 1943, the Association had inquired
of the North Fork Wrecking Company of Mattituck about the cost for tearing
down the Annex. The company offered to start the job immediately after Labor
Day and to have the job completed by February 1, 1944. The job would cost
$2,200. In the meantime, Marvin Shiebler -- who was constantly writing alarmist
letters to the officers of the Association declaring that it was on the
verge of bankruptcy, needed to fire its manager, and must deal with the
road congestion around the post office and the pharmacy -- was desperately
trying to save it. He declared its value to be $50,000 and tried to find
a buyer. He succeeded for a while.
However, after his death, which was in late October
1944, Celeste Shiebler, his widow, was raising the subject again. In a letter
to Ralph K. Jacobs, her New York attorney:
“I have just heard... that the Association is again
planning to tear down the New Prospect Hotel Annex which Marvin estimated
was worth $50,000...
“Marvin saved this building twice in the past year and
once the year before. He had plans drawn which provided for a Mount Vernon
Mr. Jacobs responded the next day saying that Robert
C. Cummings, a member of the Association Board, had called upon him just yesterday
and said “that there was talk among the trustees about tearing down the annex,
but he was opposed to it.” He continued, “As a very interested party, owning
one-third of the stock of the Association, you have a stake in this proposition...”
On March 27, Mrs. Shiebler wrote to Mr. Kraemer: “A
client of mine has asked me to ascertain the asking price of the Hotel Annex
together with the land on which the New Prospect was formerly situated.”
He replied on April 2: “It was... decided that the Association
would not sell the annex to any other individuals if it was to be used as
a boarding house or an inn. If this is its ultimate use, the Association
would operate it, as it is of course of prime importance that this building,
placed in its location, should remain under close control.”
On April 5, Mrs. Shiebler wrote to Mr. James B. Wray:
“The word from Mr. Kraemer was what I expected. They will not sell to anyone
interested in running a ‘boarding house or inn,’ for under those circumstances
they would want control.”
The annual report dated February 14, 1946 states, “The
Board after grave deliberation, decided that the old Hotel Annex would require
so much work to make it usable that it could not ‘pay out’ -- it and its
contents were sold to a wrecking concern.”
There was no longer talk about the possibility of building
a new hotel on the site of the New Prospect.
Sources for this story were the New York Times,
the papers of Marvin and Celeste Shiebler, and the annual reports of the
Shelter Island Heights Association in the archives of the Shelter Island
Other Island historical research can be viewed at www.shelter-island.org.
Click on the Island
History Revisited button.