- Cape May NJ Travel Guide and Vacation Planner Blog

Month: May 2013

The Garden Club of Cape May Hosts 2013 Flower Show at Convention Hall


The Garden Club of Cape May returned to Convention Hall for its 2013 flower show. The theme, “Victorian Pastimes: The Way It Was” was held Tuesday, April 30 from noon to 5 p.m.  Restricted by social rules and traditions the Victorians successfully communicated through the language of flowers.  The show featured floral design entries in eight artistic classes from tussie-mussies to window box gardens and horticulture exhibits in multiple categories.

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Then and Now: The Impact of Urban Renewal


The Hedges, a private home. The Hedges later became Arnold’s Green Terrace Restaurant and Bar.

Even for people who have been in Cape May for generations, the Cape May of just 50 years ago is a real juxtaposition with today’s town, where houses are generally well-maintained and have median appraisal values exceeding half a million dollars. Who can even remember the invariably white-painted, poorly-maintained, old fashioned houses of the 1960s or Washington Street before it became a mall? Even pictures don’t totally tell the story of how houses fell into – and out of – disrepair.

One story of how Cape May became blighted went like this (as told by a city employee in 1969 Senate testimony). First, large houses were built by wealthy out-of-town families who needed space for their families and servants. Then, various events occurred such as the 1929 depression which resulted in these properties being taken over by people with more moderate incomes who could not afford to maintain them. New owners divided once single family properties into multiple rooms and apartments for summer rental. Hard use by renters contributed to ongoing deterioration right up until the 1960s when summer visitors were drawn to new, modern motel rooms. Cape May’s rooming house era had ended. Once-elegant homes were now viewed as undesirable “white elephants.” Cape May was ripe for change.

So many American communities had fallen into this same disrepair that Lyndon Johnson made the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) a central component of the War on Poverty. With it came funds to eliminate slums and create opportunities for economic development. While Cape May residents wanted to improve their town, not everyone was enamored with accepting federal funds, especially those from Democrats. The townspeople – or at least some of them – were beginning to think about how Cape May could be changed. Some wanted to highlight the Victorian homes. Others wanted to create ratables. Enormous destruction from the 1962 storm forced people to consider state and federal programs to assist in rebuilding the town.


The Tides Condominium complex was built where the Baltimore Inn once stood. The Baltimore Inn was demolished as part of urban renewal.

The first recommendation to pursue federal funds came in 1963 from the Planning Board with recommendations to give the go-ahead to Blair and Stein Associates to prepare an application for an urban renewal project. The application came with a $1000 fee. City officials sold the project by informing citizens that this would be the only taxpayer cost. Even the required city contribution would use previously awarded state funds used to build the promenade following the 1962 storm. Then as now, Cape May residents were conservative about spending taxpayer funds. Blair and Stein were to determine project boundaries, estimate costs, and shape ideas to match renewal fund requirements. The Planning Board suggested a focus on three geographical areas. The Elmira/Bank Street area was destined for complete renewal and for public housing. The Washington Street business center required some demolition and reconfiguring to become a viable commercial center, and the area between the business center and the beach would become an historic area. As part of preliminary planning steps, architectural historian Carolyn Pitts completed a 1964 survey of Victorian properties within what was expected to be the urban renewal district. The survey identified properties for renewal or demolition but, then as now, city decisions about demolition were not necessarily based on the survey. Many historic properties were demolished to accommodate new and non-historic projects.


The landscape of Atlantic Terrace has changed. The gardens have been replaced by small kiosks. The Seven Sisters in the background still remain.

By 1965, the city approved the $3.2 million 77-acre HUD-designated Victorian Village Urban Renewal Project. In the end, there were more than 100 demolished properties, three “new” streets and several large parking lots in the center of town, low income housing projects, beachfront changes, and the massive Victorian Towers to house elderly residents. Then as now, nothing was accomplished without the fights, legal suits, and government changes through which groups express their opinions.

A city-distributed urban renewal progress report outlined Cape May goals “to rehabilitate a complete center-city area into a reborn Victorian showplace designed to attract hundreds of thousands of American and foreign tourists; to revitalize downtown shopping areas; provide scores of improvements through new construction and renovation; and most important, to provide new bases of economic security for all its citizens.” Staff were hired to run the project and an office was established in the 300 block of Washington Street. The first project to be completed was the Victorian Village Plaza. Dedicated in 1966 and described as providing “the major nucleus of a revitalized merchant community,” the project required relocating a train station and demolishing a train depot and a number of other properties to create a 200-car parking lot and six retail stores including the Acme grocery store. Right across Washington Street, a whole block of businesses and a hotel were leveled to provide the large parcel of land needed for Victorian Towers. Additional properties were demolished to extend Ocean Street further north to Lafayette Street. A whole area of Cape May had been reconfigured.


Many buildings were demolished in order to build Victorian Towers.

Most of the urban renewal work was centered in the middle of the town. Creating a new business district and clearing out areas around Lafayette Street were primary targets. Three blocks of Washington Street were selected to be closed off into a walking mall, an action that city fathers stated will “engender more life in the main shopping area particularly in the fall and winter.” Numerous properties were demolished on the mall blocks to be replaced by modern “Victorian-like” stores, a trend that has continued right up to the present. On the eastern end, the Liberty Theater was demolished and replaced with a series of small stores lining a newly-created Liberty Walk. A modern two-story building, built as Charles Sandman’s offices, eventually becomes a shopping mall complete with an escalator; another newly constructed building was a mid-century modern building with a front façade of vertical wood boards. Other properties were demolished to create three walkways paralleling Ocean, Decatur, Jackson, and Perry streets named for Cape May heroes, Edwin Draper, MD, Henry Sawyer, and Edwin Hill.

The mall was anchored on the eastern end by the Victorian Village Plaza. The western end, along Perry Street and Congress Place, included Congress Hall’s parking garages and three historic properties – the Pink House, Moon’s Drug Store, and the small hotel/boarding house called the Elberon. One idea was for the Pink House to be moved and turned around so that it faced the end of the mall. But, properties were taken by eminent domain and suddenly seven properties were being demolished to create land space for the modern Victorian Motel, destined to provide city ratables that the Victorian properties may not. Before the wreckers got to the Pink House, it was purchased by Tom Hand and moved across the street to a lot on Perry Street next to his Cape May Star and Wave offices where today it looks as though it has been there forever.

The Washington Street Mall as it appeared in the 1950s. In this photograph you can also see the buildings that were demolished to make way for the Victorian Towers.

The Washington Street Mall as it appeared in the 1950s. In this photograph you can also see the buildings that were demolished to make way for the Victorian Towers.

Creating the pedestrian mall eliminated street parking and store access thereby requiring redesign of the area around the mall to recreate parking and give delivery access. The solution was to carve out two new wide streets on either side behind the mall by demolishing still more existing properties to create roadways with diagonal parking. Although little accommodation was made for trash or storage, most stores had back doors for deliveries and many stores actually fronted on these new streets. Lyle Lane was created on the north from Mansion Street and renamed Lyle Lane in honor of a local Cape May family. A section of Layle Lane was renamed back to Mansion Street when Perry Collier opened the Mansion House restaurant and discovered the street’s original name. Carpenters Alley already existed south of Washington between Decatur and Ocean and was extended over to Ocean Street demolishing four more houses, renamed Carpenters Lane, and continued behind the other two blocks over to Perry Street resulting in another 20 demolitions. In fact, the massive number of demolitions created another problem for the city – how to dispose of the buildings once they were torn down.

The mall may have been the cornerstone project, but large tracts of land in the center city area were cleared of businesses and houses to create parking. Many properties were identified as Victorian in the survey, but they were torn down anyway. Tiny Chestnut Street, running parallel to Perry between Mansion and Broad Street, was virtually obliterated by demolishing all 14 structures on the street to create a city parking lot. Additional properties across from the parking lot and from the corner of Lafayette to Broad were destroyed including the long popular Opera House. Another 10 houses were torn down along Lafayette between Jackson and Decatur to create another parking lot, which at the last minute became Rotary Park, an eventual location for city-sponsored concerts. This area was cleared by destroying businesses and homes of the African American community. Even more African American-owned properties were demolished along Broad Street and further east on Lafayette and replaced with affordable housing units. City fathers created a “War on Blight” in the center of town that physically demolished houses and businesses while simultaneously almost eliminating 60 African-American businesses and simultaneously contributing to the reduction of the town’s African American population from about 800 to the 200 present day residents.

Cape May's former train station was located at Ocean and Washington Streets. After the train station was torn down, a parking lot remained there until the Washington Commons shopping area was built.

Cape May’s former train station was located at Ocean and Washington Streets. After the train station was torn down, a parking lot remained there until the Washington Commons shopping area was built.

Little of the beachfront was included in the renewal project district, to the great relief of developers who were anxious to start building those new motels that line today’s beachfront. Like today, owners of existing hotels within the Victorian Village district wanted to offer tourists better accommodations by becoming more modern and up-to-date. Carl McIntyre, a minister from Collingswood, New Jersey, purchased and moved a number of historic properties so that beachfront land became available for the Colonial and other existing hotels got to build adjacent motels with parking. The saved historic houses became dormitories for Dr. McIntyre’s newly opened Sheldon College and, as the college declined, these same properties took on new life as condominiums and a bed and breakfast inn. Other historic properties did not fare so well. The Baltimore Inn on Jackson Street was demolished by the city to create land for a new motel that eventually failed and was reconfigured into the Tides Condominium. Right next door, on the corner of Jackson and Beach, the Hedges, a private home that had already been converted into the then-popular Arnold’s restaurant, was replaced by miniature golf. The very-Victorian Colton Court hotel was torn down to allow a modern motel, also named Colton Court, to rise in its place. The Lafayette Hotel, one of the oldest and most prominent of the remaining Victorian hotels, became another demolition statistic, torn down and replaced on the same site by a new hotel with in-front parking.

The 68 demolitions achieved in the first half of the urban renewal project were listed in the city’s published progress report as an accomplishment. One can only guess at the percent of Cape May properties that were ultimately razed and be grateful that in the Cape May way, a new administration was voted in to stop the widespread destruction before there was little left of the original Victorian properties.

Where Arnold's once stood, you can now find Carney's Restaurant and Bar and a mini golf course.

Where Arnold’s once stood, you can now find Carney’s Restaurant and Bar and a mini golf course.

A lot might be said looking backward almost 50 years to the onset of urban renewal. The goal of creating a stable year-round economic base for all residents did not materialize. If anything, Cape May’s economy is more dependent on tourism than ever before in its history. Then as now, few elected or employed city officials have provided knowledgeable leadership to guide meaningful historic preservation efforts although nobody has avoided talking the historic preservation talk when useful. Perhaps urban renewal funds were just the ticket to mobilize Cape May residents and provide a base from which newcomers would create the bed and breakfast, restaurant, and cultural changes to come. In hindsight, we do not, after all, look like other New Jersey shore towns where almost anything historic (or not) is gone. On the other hand, there may be more “Victorians” in Cape May now than in the 1960s if we are willing to count all the newly constructed sort-of Victorians that have been added since the real Victorian period ended. historic-endmark

Editor’s Note: This article is based on a Then and Now picture exhibit put together by Harry Bellangy, president, Greater Cape May Historical Association and exhibited at the Association’s Colonial House during the summer of 2011.

It should be noted that Mickie Blomkvest served on Cape May City Council from 1968-1972 during Urban Renewal. Mr. Blomkvest later went on to serve as mayor of Cape May from 1976-1988.

Spring Pictorial

Although it seems to be slow in arriving, spring is in the air and the photographers at have been out and about to record the blooming of our island because, as that great bard Robin Williams once said, “Spring is nature’s way of saying, Let’s party!”  Make sure you tell us what you think about the photos in the comment section or by clicking the like button.

Buy select prints online


Oceanfront and Center


“We were just looking for a beach house,” Armando Pelaez, co-owner of The Peter Shields Inn & Restaurant, recalls. He and his wife, Cathy, and her brother and sister-in-law, ended up buying an historic beachfront property instead. Two years later, their family “beach house” is home to a top-ranked Zagat-rated restaurant and luxury boutique inn.


Chef Carl Messick

Converted into a bed and breakfast in the 1980s, The Peter Shields Inn & Restaurant has upped its game under new owners and a new Executive Chef. With its panoramic views of the Atlantic, stately Georgian Revival architecture, and fine dining, The Peter Shields has stood out from the sea of restaurants historically. Recent changes have accentuated the positives. However, today there is a new sense of adventure in the kitchen. A more relaxed vibe in the atmosphere. A lighter touch in the décor. The Peter Shields also has made front-porch entertaining more fun. No small feat in a town known for porch hospitality.

I had dinner with friends on the front porch the day it opened in May. We had our choice of menus – the main one offering a variety of selections a la carte and a four-course Chef’s Tasting Menu. Going with the former, we ordered two appetizers to share – the Roasted Beet and Maine Lobster Salad with red and yellow beets, lobster, mache lettuce, carrot shavings, fennel, and lemon oil and the Crispy Calamari with micro cilantro and a lemon chili and vinegar reduction. The salad was a winner. The fried squid could have been crispier.

I had the Pan Roasted Free Range Chicken Breast next. It was served on a bed of spinach, prosciutto and oyster mushrooms in a rosemary shallot jus with potato gnocchi on the side. It was an excellent dish and I plan to return for seconds. One of my friends ordered the 10-ounce Grilled Rib-Eye Steak and Jumbo Crab Cake, served with asparagus risotto and sautéed arugula, which she praised. The other ordered the Seared Scottish Salmon with spring succotash and roasted fingerling potatoes, and raved about how nicely it was seared. We passed on dessert but turned in unison when a waiter carried the Chocolate Lava Cake with raspberry coulis and vanilla ice cream past us.

Carl Messick is the new Executive Chef who is re-invigorating The Peter Shields’ kitchen. Hired by the new owners in February, 2011, he shares his bosses’ goal of making The Peter Shields the best restaurant in South Jersey. Carl worked as Executive Chef at the Ebbitt Room at the Virginia Hotel and the White Heron Grill in Stone Harbor before joining The Peter Shields. Growing up in Cape May Courthouse, he gained an appreciation for local seafood and farm produce. His cooking today in deeply rooted in those lessons.


Carl recently ate dinner in the restaurant to experience dining from the guests’ perspective. “It’s helpful being on the other side of the table,” he says. “I usually see something I think we can do better. We’re always trying to perfect things.” He now encourages his staff to eat in the dining room.

The Peter Shields has added two new things to its plate this summer. It began daily lunch service in June that runs through Labor Day. It also launched boxed lunches for guests of the inn and Angel by the Sea next door. One of the owners hints that if boxed lunches take off, the service may be expanded throughout the neighborhood. I’d certainly be neighborly and take a ham and brie sandwich to go to the beach with me.

The Peter Shields Inn & Restaurant is named after the building’s original owner, one of the founders of East Cape May. The eastern end of Cape May was mostly marshland in the early 1900s. Peter Shields, a wealthy businessman from Pittsburgh, and other investors formed the Cape May Real Estate Company in 1903, to dredge Cape May’s harbor and fill in the marshes with the dredged sand. Peter Shields built his home on firm ground in East Cape May in 1907. historic-endmark

Join us for Cape May Restaurant Week, June 2-9! Find all participating restaurants at

The Candyman


Joe Bogle has been a presence in Cape May for all of his 59 years. The Fudge Kitchen, the business he co owns with his brother Paul, celebrates its 41st Anniversary this year. We sat down with the smiling Candyman in his office, happily intoxicated by the sweet aroma of chocolate that filled the air.

I was two days old the first time I came to Cape May. I was born in July and our summer home was where Dock Mike’s is now. We lived there for years. Then my family bought a home (I still live in that home) on First Avenue. I’m 59 years old; I’ve been here every summer of my life and for the last 30 years, every day of my life.

My brother Paul and I started a little candy store on the Boardwalk in North Wildwood when we were teenagers. Our plan was to make a little money and go to college. We did. My degree is in Political Science with a master’s in Religious Education.

I like selling fudge better than both of those subjects.

The candy store was a natural fit for Paul and me. Before we went out on our own, we worked for Mr. Segal at Segal’s Candies next to the Beach Theater. They were very good to us.

My mother, Catherine, was our first sample lady. We hand whipped the fudge in the window and people started watching us. She used to stand outside all night long handing out samples. If you have something that’s good and you’re proud of it, you should let people taste it. We are very proud of our fudge and we think it’s the best.

I’m in a business surrounded by happy people. My co-workers are not always so happy to see me, but I love what I do, I love being here. I’m very lucky.

There’s a candy called a Sour Patch Kid and it’s sweet and sour. Most of the times I’m very sweet, but once in a blue moon, a little sour streak comes out. I try to be happy and nice all the time.

I ask the people that work for me, no matter what the circumstances, to be nice to our customers. Being nice is as important as the product itself.

When I’m not at work I love to go out to dinner at the Lobster House, the Merion, the Washington Inn, Lucky Bones, Pilot House, but I never order dessert when I’m out. If I want dessert, I take some candy home. Unless they have Key Lime Pie. I love Key Lime Pie.
I also love Frank Sinatra. I’m the Candyman who sings Sinatra. Did you ever hear my commercials on the radio? That’s me singing … “The summer wind came blowing in…”

I have a face made for radio.

Pulling Mussels from a Shell


I never understand why some foods are more popular than others. Mussels are the black sheep of the shellfish world. Inexpensive to buy and simple to prepare, mussels are shunned by the public more readily than an Amish teenager with body piercings and a sports car. Lacking the sex appeal of oysters and not as boldly flavored as clams, mussels need some muscle in the P.R. department.

No shucking required. Mussels, unlike oysters and clams, don’t exact a blood sacrifice on behalf of the kitchen staff. Cleaning mussels only requires the ability to yank the “beard” which doesn’t take a whole lot of effort. There is no strenuous activity needed on the part of the diner in eating mussels, unlike crab or lobster and they pair well with beer or wine.

The best quality mussels come from cold water sources. The black shell varietal that hail from Prince Edward Island and are marketed by the brand name PEI mussels are my personal favorites. This Canadian province harvests some amazing seafood. The line grown mussels are a shining example of sustainable aquaculture. Mussels are also high in protein and low in fat in cholesterol in comparison to other shellfish. As a chef this makes me feel better about adding cream and butter to my mussel dishes.


All a cook needs to make a tasty mussel dish is a deep sauté pan with a tight fitting lid. Armed with these tools, mussels can be transformed into a vast array of dishes by utilizing the same basic technique and varying the aromatic ingredients you choose to add. The mussels will steam releasing their nectar gleaned from the sea laying the foundation for your sauce.

Heat your pan over high heat, and then choose your sautéing fat. Most of the time I opt for olive oil, rendered bacon however is always a close second. Next you are going to add your vegetables, onions, leeks, shallots, carrots, fennel or a combination of all the above. Lower the heat slightly. The goal is to draw out the flavors from the vegetables to accent your sauce. Now it is time for seasoning. Garlic, red pepper flakes, thyme, mustard, red or green curry paste. Sweat these aromatics out and let the flavors fill the air. Toss in your clean mussels and some liquid, such as beer, wine, coconut milk or your favorite red sauce. Cover and wait. Luckily you won’t have to wait long since the aromas will have you salivating.

After about 8-10 minutes, peek to see if all the shells have opened relinquishing their treasures. At this stage a finishing technique such as whipping in chunks of whole butter or splashes of heavy cream can be applied for those who crave rich and decadent flavors. For some extra panache, squeeze a fresh lemon and add chopped fresh herbs into the sauce. Ladle the mussels and sauce into bowls, slice some crusty bread to sop up the sauce and enjoy. Watch the video for a basic mussel preparation. I look forward to hearing about your variations and experimentations. Until next month, Bon Appétit.

Mussels in Wine Sauce

  • 2 lbs Prince Edward Island (PEI) mussels, scrubbed
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 3 tomatoes diced
  • 1 bunch scallions diced
  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • Kosher Salt and pepper
  1. Heat large sauté pan over medium heat. Add oil. Sweat onions over medium heat 2-3 minutes.
  2. Add garlic, tomatoes and mussels.
  3. Add wine. Cover. Steam 7-8 minutes.
  4. Add scallions and parsley.
  5. Whisk in butter season and serve.


Good Sense and Good Senses – Part 3 on A Dog’s Senses!

“Dogs….do not ruin their sleep worrying about how to keep the objects they have, and to obtain the objects they have not. There is nothing of value they have to bequeath except their love and their faith.”

Eugene O’Neill

You have probably already picked up the scent… can probably smell it in the air….so, yes, this month we are going to sniff out some information about a dog’s sense of smell! And, wow, what a sense of smell they have! A dog’s sense of smell may not be magical, but compared to our sense of smell, a dog’s sense of smell is ….. “scent-sational”!

4-legged-May-photoWe mere humans have around 50 million scent receptors in our noses, and that seems pretty amazing until you find out that dog’s can have over 200 million scent receptors in their noses, and that’s only part of the story. The number of scent receptors differs by breed but scent in truly the dog’s primary and strongest sense, even though as we’ve stated their hearing and sight are rather incredible. A blind or deaf dog can manage to get around quite well, because they get so very much information from their nose.

In addition to so many scent receptors, a dog’s nose is built for maximizing the intake of information from a scent. A dog’s nostrils “quiver” when they breath, pulling the air and the scent deeper into the nostrils giving more time and space for the scent to be analyzed. The air escapes from the side slits in a dog’s nostrils which creates a stir in the air, thus allowing more of the air and scent to be pulled into the nose. The cold wet nose, made so from mucus glands, also helps a dog gather scent information since the moisture allows scent molecules to gather and be held in the mucus. Also, a dog’s nose has a pocket which allows unusual scents to be trapped in order to give the scent receptors more time to read the information from the scent. Sniffing also helps a dog maximize scent detection. With the short intakes and outputs which signify sniffing a dog exhaling less air then he/she is inhaling and thus allowing more time for the millions of scent receptors to gather information and send it to the brain to get as many details of the story as possible.

And, read the information is actually a good description since all of the scent information collected by the dog tells the dog a story about his/her surroundings, people, other dogs, and just about everything else, including the history! Where people generally rely mostly on sight and hearing, a dog really relies on sense of smell as their first line of information collection. A dog’s sense of smell is so important and well developed that it is suspected that dogs are using their sense of smell even before birth. A dog’s sense of smell tells the dog time (weaker scents are older, stronger scents are newer), about the sex of whomever he/she smells, about that beings emotional state (nervous, angry, at ease, etc.), whether a stranger or new person has visited a dog’s realm, and all about the latest one to pee on the fire hydrant!

Historically, dogs have been bred with consideration to their strong sense of smell. A dog’s sense of smell is used to help and assist people in activities such as hunting, retrieval, policing, search and rescue, finding missing persons, and detection of drugs or weapons. Now dogs are being trained to use their strong sense of smell to alert people to specific medical conditions such as epilepsy or diabetes.

Right now, with the scent of spring in the air, your dog’s nose is probably remembering his/her last visit to Cape May and how much fun he/she had. He/she is hoping that you have already made reservations or are looking into making reservations for a return visit for a spring jaunt on the beach, a walk thru town, or a little nap on the porch. Oh, the scents and the stories they have to tell. Hopefully we’ll see you “sniffing” around Cape May soon!