Endless Summer 2018

Staying Power

The Colonnade is Still Going Strong at 135

By Linda Dougherty

The original Colonnade Hotel.

In the late 1800s, the land upon which Sea Isle City now stands was nothing more than a vast expanse of beach, dunes and marshland, accented by stands of holly and cedar trees. The area was primarily used for grazing sheep and cows.


But developer Charles Landis had a vision of creating a resort city that would attract vacationers from the hot, stifling streets of Philadelphia, and began to sell lots and oversee the construction of the first buildings on the island, including 12 parcels for the construction of summer hotels.


One of those built in 1883 was The Colonnade Hotel, located on the corner of Landis Avenue and 46th Street, which is celebrating its 135th anniversary. A four-story Victorian structure with a large wrap-around porch that faces the ocean, The Colonnade is the last surviving hotel from the early days of Sea Isle City, and has undergone a series of renovations to offer today’s visitor modern conveniences while still maintaining its historic charm.


The Colonnade has 19 condominiums in various sizes, ranging from one-bedroom units to three-bedroom suites, each individually owned and available with flexible renting options, especially in the offseason, and complete with room service. It’s owned by The Colonnade Condominium Association, and Lois Likens heads the rental program.


Thomas Dorsam


During its 135 years, The Colonnade has weathered many storms, including several destructive nor’easters at the turn of the century and the devastating storm of 1962, and somehow managed to escape the fate of so many other original structures from that time period, which were either felled by storm or bulldozer. Interestingly, it sits next to another survivor from that era, a house that had been built for the Centennial celebration in Philadelphia and later moved to Sea Isle.


At the height of World War II, The Colonnade was purchased by Thomas Dorsam, a Philadelphia-born entrepreneur who operated it with his wife, Katherine, as a summer boarding house until his death in 1989. Among Dorsam’s other ventures were a bicycle and balloon shop on the Sea Isle Promenade. The Dorsam family continued to own The Colonnade until 1992, when it was sold to Dr. Carolyn Crawford.


Katherin Dorsam


One of Thomas Dorsam’s granddaughters, Mary Listman, had fond childhood memories of summers spent with friends and family in The Colonnade, most of whom came back year after year.


“My grandfather converted The Colonnade from rooms to apartments,” says Listman. “The first floor had four apartments, with a big general room and a shared bathroom. My grandmother cleaned and did the wash, and in the back was a big grassy yard with a clothesline, where we would play.


“Back before all the building began in Sea Isle, there was a big open field directly across Landis Avenue, and you could go to the fourth floor of The Colonnade and see the ocean, while on the other side you could see all the way to Route 9.”


Thomas and Katherine with their children Thomas Jr. and Kathleen.


Listman says that no one minded that there wasn’t air conditioning or a telephone, as there were many ways to relay messages to guests.


“My grandparents thought about getting a telephone, but they decided it would be a lot of trouble,” she says. “And it wasn’t a big problem that there wasn’t air conditioning, because back in those days, there was a lot of grass and trees and nice breezes through the hotel, and everyone would gather on the front porch. I have a lot of good memories about those times.”


The Colonnade in the early 1900s.


Listman says her grandfather was known for his generosity to people in the community, and had many friends.


Upon Dorsam’s death, his widow continued to live in The Colonnade until 1991, when it was put up for sale and purchased by Crawford, who began restoring it as a bed and breakfast. She filled it with Victorian antiques, and converted one of the ground-floor rooms into a wheelchair-accessible suite. Stained-glass windows, facing west, were added to the third-floor apartment.


The hotel boarded up in preparation for the storm of 1962.


“We were heartbroken to sell The Colonnade, but excited that Dr. Crawford planned to restore it,” Listman says.


The Colonnade Investment Group purchased the property in 2004, divided it into condominiums, and began further modernization and restoration.


Thomas Dorsam


In The Colonnade, there are 10 single hotel-style rooms with queen, king or double beds, and nine units that are one-, two- or three-bedroom suites. Each unit has a private bathroom, as well as wireless Internet, cable television, air conditioning and heating. Free tea and coffee is provided each morning in season, and some suites feature full kitchens.


The Colonnade Inn as it appears today.


Several years ago, The Colonnade had a major renovation to the first floor. It was modernized and updated with new furnishings and a large-screen television, and provides a spacious area for business meetings, family reunions, and weddings, with groups of all sizes welcome. Within the past year, more renovations and improvements have taken place.


Entering The Colonnade, a visitor will immediately be impressed by its high ceilings, shining hardwood floors, and finely crafted woodwork, all reminders of the early days of Sea Isle City. It offers something to guests that no one else in town can – a historic landmark with modern accommodations.

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