MASSIVE FIRE DESTROYS MANCHESTER INN
By Charles Layton and Mary Walton
SATURDAY, March 13 — The Manchester Inn, one of Ocean Grove’s most beloved old hotels, burned to the ground early this morning, taking perhaps a half dozen nearby buildings with it.
There were no immediate reports of injuries.
Neighbors were awakened shortly before 5 a.m. by police sirens. From their bedroom windows, through a drizzling pre-dawn rain, they saw smoke pouring from the Manchester. The block was evacuated at approximately 5 a.m. Orange flames could soon be seen licking from roofs of buildings, and the gray smoke grew so thick that almost nothing was visible along much of Ocean Pathway.
Dozens of fire and emergency units responded — from Asbury Park, Allenhurst, Avon, Shark River Hills, Wanamassa, Spring Lake, Bradley Beach and elsewhere. Their hoses were coiled and strung everywhere, like big gray boa constrictors, and lights from emergency vehicles flashed an eerie red in the gloom of the early morning mist and smoke.
Charles Baker, a veteran of the Bradley Beach Fire Department, who grew up in Ocean Grove, said today’s fire reminded him of the storied 1976 fire that destroyed several large hotels on Ocean Pathway. He said the conditions were similar — a cold winter day with powerful winds that caused the fire to spread.
Connie Ogden, who observed the fire from Ocean Pathway, said: “The Manchester is basically gone. The house next to it, to the east on Ocean Pathway, is gone. There was a lot of debris and cinders and wood being blown all the way to Central Avenue.” She said it appeared that the Sandpiper Guest House, at 19 Ocean Pathway, was damaged. Houses on either side of the Manchester were entirely destroyed.
On Bath Avenue, the street running parallel to Ocean Pathway to the north, several homes were either destroyed or badly damaged. The home of Camp Meeting Association president Scott Rasmussen, at 28 Bath, was completely gutted. The home at 30 Bath also caught fire.
Stoll August, who lives across the street on Bath, said: “At 4:45 we heard the police up and down the street. We saw the glow on the other side.”
Baker, the veteran fire fighter, said he thought it was lucky the fire did not spread farther than it did, considering that the wind was so high, gusting to nearly 40 miles per hour at times. “It was a pretty good stop,” he said of the fire departments’ work. Firemen were pouring water on buildings as far away as the Youth Temple, because of the flying cinders all along Ocean Pathway.
Baker said the fire’s cause would not be known until the fire marshall can investigate.
The Manchester Inn was built in the 1870s and had 35 uniquely decorated rooms. It occupied a central place in Ocean Grove’s history and culture. Located one block from the boardwalk and half a block from the Great Auditorium, it was known for its Victorian charm and as a favored location for dinners, wedding receptions and other social functions. As recently as this past Thursday night, the Manchester had hosted the Ocean Grove Beautification Project’s annual dinner. That was the last of many good times that have been enjoyed in this beloved old inn.
The owners, Clark and Margaret Cate, had made arrangements last year to sell the property, but that deal fell through. More recently, they had applied to the township for permission to convert it to condominiums. They said the Manchester was no longer economically viable as an inn and that it needed extensive renovations.