Nobody Asked Me, But…No. 157: Hotel History: Ocean House (1868), Watch Hill, Rhode Island*

/Nobody Asked Me, But…No. 157: Hotel History: Ocean House (1868), Watch Hill, Rhode Island*

Nobody Asked Me, But…No. 157: Hotel History: Ocean House (1868), Watch Hill, Rhode Island*

|2016-03-07T11:18:40+00:00March 7th, 2016|

Available Now: My New Book “Great American Hoteliers Volume 2: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry”

By Stanley Turkel, CMHS

1. Hotel History: Ocean House (50 rooms)

Well-known for its warm yellow facade and spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean, the Ocean House opened in 1868 just after the Civil War. Over the years, many additions and improvements were made to the hotel but never heating, air conditioning or ventilation. It was a seasonal hotel open only for about three months a year. In 1916, a motion picture starring Douglas Fairbanks called American Aristocracy was filmed at the Ocean House.

After a disastrous fire at the Great White Station nightclub, Rhode Island's fire codes were more rigorously enforced. The 138 year-old Ocean House structure was grossly non-compliant with the new building and life safety codes. Over time, the wooden building's structure had been compromised due to the installation of electric and gas lines, plumbing and changes in room layout to accommodate private bathrooms. The Ocean House had welcomed guests for more than a century but, as with many historic old hotels, time and neglect took its toll.

The Ocean House was closed in 2003 when the new owner, long time Watch Hill summer resident Charles M. Royce, realized that the rambling yellow hotel was too decrepit to be restored. The old historic Ocean House structure was demolished in 2005. Before demolition, the developer saved everything deemed historically significant and planned to reuse it in the new hotel or to reproduce it. The less important items like appliances, lamps and rugs were auctioned off, with some of the proceeds going to a non- profit organization that supports drug recovery programs. Royce hired Connecticut-based Centerbrook Architects and Planning for the restoration and rebuilding project. The guidelines to the architects from Royce were that the exact footprint of the building would be maintained. Centerbrook completely recreated Ocean House on the outside down to the paint color and signage to look exactly like the original. To many people, Royce appeared on the scene like a white knight. Not only did he rescue Ocean House but replicated and improved it far better than the original.

The new Ocean House is positioned precisely on its former footprint overlooking a private ocean-front beach. While it presents a smaller profile to the neighborhood than before, it is significantly larger than the original. Many historical architectural elements, saved from the original building, were restored and reinserted into the new building, including the reception desk, main lobby fireplace made of beach stones, the ornamental oak elevator cab, the iconic Ocean House sign, fan-light doors, an ornate mantel piece, mahogany balustrades, Victorian light fixtures, and an exterior balcony ensemble with a Palladian window over the front door. The hotel now offers fine dining in the replicated dining room, new decks with broad ocean views, a bar with casual dining, an indoor lap pool, banquet halls, a private club room, a corporate board room, a spa and fitness center, 50 guestrooms, 23 residences, underground parking, and an international croquet court. The new north wing contains a few guestrooms but mainly several residences with roof-top decks and gazebos. Its curved shaped bends away from the street to reveal views of the ocean previously hidden. The new east wing, which runs parallel to the beach contains new residences with second floor decks and ground-level gardens, all featuring panoramic ocean views. Both new wings reflect adherence to the original Ocean House design yet offer modern accommodations. The new north wing meets the east wing and encloses two large decks which serves the restaurant, pool and events room. Together, they effectively form a protective enclave that maintains ocean views and offers privacy for hotel guests.

Royce hired Daniel Hostettler as president and managing director of Ocean House Management. Hostettler previously served as managing director of Lajitas – The Ultimate Hideout, an independent luxury destination in western Texas.

David Brussat, Architectural Critic, Providence Journal wrote:

"Few tours of buildings have astonished me as much as this tour of Ocean House. The diligence of Centerbrook…in copying the past was brilliant, including the extensive reuse of lobby furniture, stonework and ornament salvaged from the sainted old Ocean House. Just as amazing was the equally faithful-to-the-past use of the building's historical style in the additions that transform it from an old to a new building. In every corner of the new Ocean House the spirit of the old Ocean House lives on."

In April 2012, the Ocean House Management, LLC assumed management of the historic 31- room Weekapaug Inn after a $20 million transformation. Originally built in 1899, the Inn is designed in Classic Cape Cod-style architecture covered with red cedar shingles and accented by dark brown trim. The Weekapaug Inn was acquired and restored by Langdon Wheeler and his wife who have rehabbed 21 other buildings. Located just five miles away, the AAA Five Diamond Ocean House serves as a sister property allowing guests of the Inn the use of the Ocean House facilities including Rhode Island's only Forbes Five Star Spa.

The Ocean House has received some of the most prestigious awards in the United States in the past few years:

  • July 2014: Travel & Leisure World’s Best Awards 2014 ranks Rhode Island’s Ocean House as the No. 1 Resort in Continental U.S.
  • January 2015: Watch Hill Inn named to Conde Nast Travelers annual Gold List, one of only 25 properties in the U.S. to make the list
  • February 2015: Ocean House awarded Triple Five-Star Designation by the Forbes Travel Guide for its hotel, OH! Spa and Seasons restaurant. It is the only property to become a triple Five-Star hotel in 2015

*Excerpted (and expanded) from my book “Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi” (AuthorHouse 2013)

2. Available Now: “Great American Hoteliers Volume 2: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry”

In his Foreword, Lawrence Horwitz, Executive Director of Historic Hotels of America describes my new book:

“If you have ever been in a hotel, as a guest, attended a conference, enjoyed a romantic dinner, celebrated a special occasion, or worked as a hotelier in the front or back of the house, Great American Hoteliers, Volume 2: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry is a must read book. This book is recommended for any business person, entrepreneur, student, or aspiring hotelier. This book is an excellent history book with insights into seventeen of the great innovators and visionaries of the hotel industry and their inspirational stories.”

Those seventeen great hotel innovators are:

Stewart Bainum, Sr., Curtis L. Carlson, Cecil B. Day, Louis J. Dinkler, Eugene C. Eppley, Roy C. Kelley, Arnold S. Kirkeby, Julius Manger, Robert R. Meyer, Albert Pick, Jr., Jay Pritzker, Harris Rosen, Ian Schrager, Vernon B. Stouffer, William C. Van Horne, Robert E. Woolley and Stephen A. Wynn.

If you want to order an autographed hardcover copy (with dust jacket), send a check for $36.00 to:

Stanley Turkel

147-03 Jewel Avenue

Flushing, N.Y. 11367

Be sure to include your mailing address.

About Stanley Turkel, CMHS

Stanley Turkel was designated as the 2015 and the 2014 Historian of the Year by Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This award is presented to an individual for making a unique contribution in the research and presentation of hotel history and whose work has encouraged a wide discussion, greater understanding and enthusiasm for American History.

Turkel is a well-known consultant in the hotel industry. He operates his hotel consulting practice serving as an expert witness in hotel-related cases, providing asset management and hotel franchising consultation. He is certified as a Master Hotel Supplier Emeritus by the Educational Institute of the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

Stanley Turkel is one of the most widely-published authors in the hospitality field. More than 275 articles on various hotel subjects have been posted in hotel magazines and on the Hotel-Online, BlueMauMau, HotelNewsResource and eTurboNews websites. Two of his hotel books have been promoted, distributed and sold by the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute (“Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry” and “Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi”). A third hotel book (“Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York”) was called "passionate and informative" by the New York Times. His fourth hotel book was described by the New York Times: “Nostalgia for the City’s caravansaries will be kindled by Stanley Turkel’s... fact-filled... “Hotel Mavens: Lucius M. Boomer, George C. Boldt and Oscar of the Waldorf”.

All of these books can be ordered from the publisher (AuthorHouse) by visiting

Contact: Stanley Turkel

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