Summer Work at Beach Haven’s once lavish Hotel Baldwin in 1954

Despite the name, rivertonhistory.com, one realizes real fast that there is much more to this website than just Riverton history. A person across the miles who googles for Long Beach Island or Medford’s Camp Lenape may find that we rank as one of the top results for that topic simply because we display so many vintage images.

The Images/Stone Harbor page, for example, has collected an amazing (for us, anyway) 54 comments from folks who often leave a mini-memoir of their decades-old stay there.

If only a post about Riverton history would arouse such engagement from visitors.

New Hotel Baldwin, Beach Haven, NJ

When Mary Wallis Gutmann sent in this vivid account of her college summer job working at Beach Haven’s long-gone Hotel Baldwin in 1954, I knew it deserved special mention.

Summer Work in 1954
The Baldwin Hotel

Design school was intense. I saw summer jobs as a respite from college work—not work themselves. Getting away from the pressure that was constant at Pratt was necessary. Surviving on my own was important. A live-in job was sometimes the answer: for summer at least.

I left the city between my second and third year at Pratt to work at the Baldwin Hotel on Long Beach Island in New Jersey. The Baldwin was a once grand, now run-down shingle affair with one hundred and fifty-five rooms, some with sweeping beach views. I ran the elevator: a four-sides-open, wrought-iron cage, with a velvet-pillowed bench across the back and a huge spring hidden underneath in case the operator forgot to stop. That was me a few distracted times, to the consternation of guests on board as we were vigorously jounced up and down.

The staircase trailed around the elevator to the top. The owner, Chuck Yokum, and his wife had an apartment in a turret on the top of the hotel. Guests stayed on the second floor, higher-up staff on the floor above, waitresses and other (mostly college) female employees such as me in a wing off the first floor; young male employees lived in another such wing. It was hot and sandy and perfect for summer.

Chuck Yokum loved to cook (or, think he cooked). He carried his ubiquitous can of beer around to sip while he sampled sauces and soups warming in the steam tables. Then he’d invariably add a big splash of his drink to each pot. Diners came from all over. They loved the food: they raved about his chef’s secret ingredient (a spurious name for beer made up by Chuck). They asked for the chef’s name, but Chuck told them that was a secret, too. “I don’t want him to leave…” he’d say.

Philadelphia Inquirer 31 Aug 1954, p16

We were given free room, board, and uniforms. My dress was a sort of liverish color, (ghastly on someone with a tan), a removable-for-washing white collar, and Peter Pan sleeves that were unflattering on a thin girl with scrawny arms. There was no regular pay, just a little weekly pocket money. Chuck kept our wages (he said) in a special Escrow Account so we would stay all summer and not “skip out.” We’d be paid at the end of August (he said).

Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept 11, 1954, p1, 12

On Labor Day, (the hotel closed the next day until the following Spring), Chuck and wife drove off to Mexico in the early hours with suitcases packed full of hundreds. Hundreds of dollars of our money. A major hurricane, I think it was called Edna, blew in immediately after they left. There had been a general evacuation called by the Coast Guard but we (the summer hotel staff) elected to stay. We averaged no more than nineteen years in age and believed we were impervious to injury. We had no place to go and no money to get there if we did. We sat up all night in the lobby, feeding driftwood and then broken bits of the porch furniture into the huge fireplace, drinking all the beer and eating all the food that was left. We had an uproarious time.

The next morning, after the hurricane had roared across the island and smashed windows and banged shutters and blown the wood shingles off the hotel roof all night, we went out to the beach to survey the damage. It was not yet light: the sea was still dark and the white, tumultuous surf was full of brilliantly-colored sparkles from iridescent plankton brought in by the storm. They glowed exquisitely against the white foam and the black water. As the sun rose, some sections of boardwalk, a pavilion, and several small houses appeared, floating gently beyond the surf line on a calm sea. We heard later that at the height of the storm, a rowdy teenager went for a walk and rode a section of boardwalk around the point and into the bay. They said he survived.

Chuck Yokum and his wife and the car and the money (our money), were nowhere to be seen. The police came to tell us where they suspected the Yokums were—or as near as the Police knew: the clues were Mexico vacation flyers in their apartment. Chuck’s car was gone and so was our all summers’ pay.

The policeman had the local bank president with him who was obviously concerned about being sued. Sue? We hadn’t any money to sue. Today I might feel differently. After all, the banker had given Chuck the wads of cash Chuck took with him. We reminded him they were our wads of cash.

Hotel Baldwin, Beach Haven, NJ 1948

The Baldwin Hotel was sold and six months later I got a check for $80 with a note saying the money was my share of the Escrow account for my summer-long elevator operator work (after the lawyers took their cut). I was happy with the unexpected loot and bought a used camera: a Rolleiflex with a pre-war, hand-ground lens. I never hear the term, ‘pre-war,’ today. I took sharp pictures with that camera for years—sometimes almost too sharp.

Copyright © Mary Wallis Gutmann 2019  Ms. Gutman has authored several books ready for consideration by a publisher – a youthful memoir, science fiction novel, light mystery and a murder mystery. We can forward any queries to her.

For more details about the Hotel Baldwin, see these two illustrated google books entries, or click on the covers to purchase at Barnes & Noble. -JMc

Beach Haven by Gretchen F. Coyle, Deborah C. Whitcraft 

Long Beach Island by George C. Hartnett, Kevin Hughes

 

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