THE KELLY FAMILY BEACH HOUSE – Ocean City, New Jersey
When John B. Kelly brought his young and growing family to Ocean City in the summer of 1927, he did what many visitors do and leased an apartment near 8th street. While Atlantic City and Margate were more popular with other Philadelphians, Kelly liked Ocean City, “America’s Greatest Family Resort,” and decided to make it their second home at the shore.
Kelly’s “For Brickwork” construction company was responsible for many of the skyscrapers that make up the Philadelphia skyline, and he wanted a beach house at the shore where his family could escape from the city in the summer. After renting for a few seasons he decided to make permanent arrangements and surveyed the area for a place to build a beach house. At the time Ocean City was underdeveloped, and he could have purchased land practically anywhere on the island, but chose some choice beachfront lots towards the south end at 26th and Wesley Avenues.
There were few other homes in the area when they began construction of the two- story, brick house in 1929, the year Grace was born. “We said we were down in the boondocks,” recalled Grace’s sister Lizanne, who didn’t like the idea of having to walk or hitchhike to the then popular 2nd street beach.
Her mother, Margaret-Majer, a former physical education instructor at the University of Pennsylvania, chose the architectural style, Spanish Mission Revival, which she had seen in Florida and was similar to other buildings in Ocean City, including the Flanders, the Music Pier and the Chatterbox, where Grace worked as a waitress when she was a teenager.
Besides Grace and Lizanne, there was older sister Peggy and brother John, also known as “Kell,” who became an Ocean City lifeguard, and like his father, an Olympic rowing champion. While John B. Kelly won the Olympic gold medal in rowing, he was not allowed to participate in the elite Henley championships on the Thames in London, because he was considered a laborer who worked with his hands, and therefore not a gentleman. John B. took it personally and his son Kell avenged the slight by wining the Henley sculls and returning home a hero. Kell always credited his working summers as an Ocean City lifeguard for preparing him for his Olympic and Henley victories.
Grace became an Academy Award winning actress and while in Monaco to make a movie with Cary Grant, Grace was introduced to Prince Rainier and given a tour of the castle and casino. Within a year they were married in the ceremony of the season, an extremely lavish affair in Monte Carlo that made worldwide headlines. John B. Kelly leased an ocean liner to take the Philadelphia Kellys to Monaco for the wedding.
Grace, Peggy, Lizanne and Kell all had growing families of their own and the additional grandchildren prompted Mrs. Kelly to have the beach house built across the street. As their property had riparian rights to the sea, and the neighborhood had grown up around them, the new house would be right on the beach rather than across the street. Construction of the brick and mortar beach house began in 1960. The up and down duplex included a patio for barbeques and large bell that was rung for the children to return from the beach for lunch and dinner.
For the most part, the Kelly family resided in the downstairs apartment, except during hurricanes, while visiting relatives, cousins and guests lived upstairs. Among the guests were many celebrities, friends and business associates from the Atlantic City Race Track, which John B. Kelly had built with partners Hap Farley and Sonny Fraser of the Atlantic City Country Club. Among the frequent guests were entertainers Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Of course Prince Rainier of Monaco was also a guest, as were his children, Caroline, Stephanie and Albert, all of whom spent their formative years on the 26th street beach. While the press and paparazzi often disturbed them, the neighbors were friends and protectors of the Kelly family and their legacy.
Every Labor Day the family would get together at the beach house and have a beach party, barbeque and sporting competitions, parties that included Grace and her children every year except the year she died in a tragic accident.
Lizanne, who had married Don Levine, a Race Track Steward, was the only Kelly who didn’t attend the wedding in Monaco because she was pregnant and gave birth to a daughter, Grace. Lizanne lived in the beach house until both her husband and daughter died, and sold it in 2001.
The old brick beach house was simple and Spartan, with the cinderblock and brick walls giving it a cold and harsh feeling, so a new duplex was built, with similar up and down stairs units that has all the modern amenities.
The new building is fit for a Prince and Princess, with sweeping views of the ocean and easy access to the beach.