CapeMay.com Blog

Cape May’s Grande Dame: The Chalfonte Hotel

Cape May’s 132-year-old Grande Dame has been sold.

The venerable Chalfonte Hotel on Howard Street, known for its wrap-around porches and Southern comfort, has changed hands, but fear not, it has not gone into the hands of strangers.

Bob Mullock, longtime Cape May resident and owner of Cape May National Golf Club, became the hotel’s new owner at the end of July, making him only the third owner in the past 97 years. Mullock and his wife, Linda, are no strangers to the accommodations business. The couple, who were married at the Chalfonte Hotel in 1980, owned the Victorian Rose Inn on nearby Columbia Avenue for 16 years.

The first owner was Civil War hero, Col. Henry Sawyer. Sawyer built the hotel in 1875 and sold it in 1888. From 1888 until 1911, the Chalfonte changed owners six times, but there have only been two owners (now three) since. In 1911 the Satterfields of Richmond, Virginia bought the hotel and the hotel stayed in the family until 1983 when Anne LeDuc and Judy Bartella stepped in.

When interviewed for a feature carried in the July 2006 issue of Cape May Magazine, Anne LeDuc tried to connect the threads of her Chalfonte connection for the uninitiated.

Anne’s mother and Calvin Satterfield Jr. knew each other in Lexington, Virginia where Calvin attended Virginia Military Academy (VMA). It was Calvin’s mother, Susie Satterfield, who along with her husband Calvin, Sr., bought the Chalfonte in 1911. Calvin Jr. and his wife, Mary Morris (Meenie) Satterfield, bought the hotel from Susie in 1921. But it seems Calvin Jr. wasn’t such a good manager and the hotel was about to go to sheriff’s sale in 1933 when Susie came in and bought it back for $200. Determined that the hotel would be hers again, Meenie and Calvin Jr. repurchased it from Susie’s heirs in 1940. When Calvin died in 1943, Meenie continued to run the Chalfonte until 1983 when Anne and Judy bought the hotel “rather than see it go to strangers.”

When Anne, who is an octogenarian, and Judy decided it was time to sell, they both thought that, rather than see the Chalfonte sold to outside concerns, they would approach BobMullock. He knew exactly what he was in for with this purchase, but decided to take on the challenge just the same. “The Chalfonte,” he acknowledged, “is a major undertaking and will require years of dedication and hard work and investment. Anne LeDuc and Judy Bartella did a yeoman’s job in preserving the hotel over often very difficult times. Where many properties in Cape May were demolished or broken up into condominiums, they were true heroines in saving the hotel. Anne LeDuc and I have been friends for many years and [when] she approached me about this project, I recognized the work ahead.”

For Anne and Judy the sale of the beloved property did not come without struggle and uncertainty. But they felt the agreement to sell the Chalfonte to Mullock was a good match, philosophically and practically.

“My goal,” said Bob, “is to preserve the hotel’s structure, ambiance and sense of community that is so valuable and rare, while upgrading the accommodations which today’s guests desire. Another goal is that I want the hotel to be as green as possible in its environmental stewardship by its practices and supporting local farmers by purchasing produce locally. I look forward to employing the great talents of people in the community and my family to assist me in this effort. Also, the hotel has always supported the local arts and is one of the most unique hotels anywhere in the world.”

Anne has been coming to the hotel since she was two years-old. As a teenager she spent her summers working at the Chalfonte. In 1973 she and her colleague, artist Judy Bartella, took over the management of the hotel. Under their leadership traditions begun with the Satterfields continued and anyone walking into the hotel could feel the strength of these “Steel Magnolias” at the helm.

Each spring, for example, when the Satterfields came up north to open the hotel for the summer season and brought with them, Clementine Young, who worked as the hotel’s head chambermaid for over 60 years. Clementine would bring her young daughter, Helen, along. Helen started working in the kitchen in the 1920s when Meenie and Calvin Jr. took over the Chalfonte. Helen Dickerson’s daughters Dot (Burton) and Lucille (Thompson) also started working in the kitchen as young girls. And for 85 years Helen’s original recipes have been used in the hotel’s kitchen. Buttermilk biscuits, tasty dinner rolls and mouth watering Southern fried chicken have been the star of the evening menu and are still prepared by Dot and Lucille, with Chef Chris Cleary there to “help out.”

When talking about the future, Mullock said, “My goal is to preserve the hotel’s structure, ambiance and sense of community that is so valuable and rare, while upgrading the accommodations which today’s guests desire. Another goal is that I want the hotel to be as green as possible in its environmental stewardship by its practices and supporting local farmers by purchasing produce locally. I look forward to employing the great talents of people in the community and my family to assist me in this effort. Also, the hotel has always supported the local arts and is one of the most unique hotels anywhere in the world.”

Looking back on the long relationship with the Chalfonte, Judy Bartella said, “Anne and I are delighted to have found someone in Bob Mullock, who shares our interest in keeping the Chalfonte traditions and ambience alive while preserving the building and upgrading it with a few more creature comforts.”

“The last 26 years of owning the Chalfonte,” Anne said, “have been challenging, exciting, joyful and a true learning experience. Preservation and restoration of this 132 year-old marvel of a building is an on-going process. We fell in love with her so many years ago and are delighted her welfare will continue with Bob Mullock’s leadership. The Chalfonte is unique — it’s ‘family,’ food, fun and some hard work. Judy and I plan to stay involved as Bob makes this transition, and know that his love of the building and of Cape May will inform his stewardship of the Chalfonte.”

Fortunately for the Chalfonte, she will not have to depend “on the kindness of strangers,” as did Tennessee Williams’ Blanche DuBois.